The Intern Trenches: Invaluable Education or Complete Waste of Time?

Are unpaid internships really worth it? How do you turn an internship into a “real” job?

We took our Twitter #careerchat on the road to Spreenkler Talent Labs in Milwaukee, WI. Spreenkler employs interns to work on client projects in a variety of roles, including creative direction and design. Joining us from Spreenkler were Kate Pociask (@kjpociask) and @Spreenkterns Olivia Johnson (@olivia67rae) and Allison Luebke (@amluebke).

Key takeaways from the chat:

  • bizMebizgal: Knowing people is key in finding any position. Many of the internships I did in college were through people I knew.
  • olivia67rae: I didn’t realize how truly important networking is til recently…it’s all in who you know and who you can learn from!
  • buzzandrea: It’s all about providing value – the more value you provide, the better assignments you will receive.
  • lauragainor: Being an unpaid intern can most times motivate you more. The experience is key.
  • olivia67rae: Hesitant about taking an unpaid internship? Do it! Experience will help you and knowing people in the industry is invaluable!
  • WomensAlly: Internships make you stand out in the office -AND- among other job applicants. Demonstrates ambition/pro-activity
  • Jill_Perlberg: You have to ask for the position and if one doesn’t exist, define it and why they need it–YOU!

Links and resources:

Intern Q&A

How did you land your internship?

  • kjpociask: I came to a @Spreenkler meetup about Art and Culture in Milwaukee and was really intrigued by the people behind it.
    • bizMebizgal: so networking plays a big role in finding an internship.
      • kjpociask: definitely networking is important, but I didn’t think of it that way at the meetup. I was just there to learn.
        • MyPath_MP: Sounds like a very natural way to network, actually! People like seeing the “real you.”
        • bizMebizgal: ha! That is the beauty of “meetups” it disguises the networking!
  • olivia67rae: I landed my first internship thanks to help from a UWM prof… then I got to @Spreenkler cuz I was referred by my supervisor
  • MyPath_MP: Referrals can be priceless! Did you ask for the referral or did the supervisor offer?
  • Jill_Perlberg: Definitely tied to networking as well. What we hear is that it’s not much different than a full-time perm job.
  • olivia67rae: @BigShoesNetwork is always a great resource, but everyone looks for job/internships there so there’s a ton of competition
    • MyPath_MP: So true. Find ways to stand out
  • bizMebizgal: Knowing people is key in finding any position. Many of the internships I did in college were through people I knew.

Did your college career center help you out or were you on your own?

  • kjpociask: The career center helped a bit in organizing my resume, but a professor in my field was also a great resource.
    • Jill_Perlberg: great to know..And I imagine had more industry contacts specific to your needs.
  • olivia67rae: The career center did not help me. The prof in charge of internships for credit, however, was AMAZINGLY helpful
  • amluebke:  Landed my first internship through UWM’s Panther Jobs database, and got my Spreenktern gig via networking.
  • bizMebizgal: I love the word networking. . . such a powerful tool.
  • olivia67rae: I didn’t realize how truly important networking is til recently…it’s all in who you know + who you can learn from!
    • bizMebizgal: You did the work to find the internship by putting yourself out there. Can be scary if you don’t network often.
    • amluebke: Very true! It’s amazing what opportunities open up when you network with the right people.
  • kjpociask:  Networking is scary if you are shy. I went alone and forced myself to talk to new ppl
  • bizMebizgal: I believe that networking has solely built my business. Having the right people in ur network is definitely key.
  • amluebke: I had to force myself to start putting myself out there more as well. The more you do it the easier it gets!

Where else have you found positions?

  • olivia67rae: I also intern at M&I Bank in their marketing department… so different from @Spreenkler but I’ve learned a TON
    • bizMebizgal: Can you give us some examples of how it is different?
      • olivia67rae: Helped me land my 1st internship: Showed how passionate I was about improving my skills and making the most of it
  • Jill_Perlberg:  My internship in college was at my mom’s company. Ended up being a great experience. I basically created my own role.
  • lauragainor: If you’re passionate about getting an internship, tell the company why and find a creative way to do so.
  • WomensAlly: My greatest internships and subsequent job opportunities came from mentors. If you don’t have one, get one!
  • lauragainor: Connections are very important in finding great opportunities. Spend 10 min on #LinkedIn everyday connecting.
    • buzzandrea: This is an excellent point. I’ve recently started answering questions via LinkedIn – you should too!
    • bizMebizgal: #LinkedIn is a great tool not only for internships, informational interviews but also growing your business.
    • lauragainor: #LinkedIn is a great platform for posting your recent blog posts. It helps people find you. Share posts in groups.
  • Jill_Perlberg: There’s a new beta internship site that a job board for interns. Might be helpful

Has anyone found an internship via #Facebook?

  • olivia67rae: No, I haven’t found an internhsip via #Facebook. Doesn’t seem like a good source, but unsure why.
    • MyPath_MP: Maybe people still don’t look at #Facebook as a place for biz networking. Even though companies have fan pages.

What’s the biggest advantage to being a @Spreenkler @Spreenktern?

  • Jill_Perlberg:  Interested in finding out how you made the move to make sure you weren’t stapling paper for 3 mos during the summer.
  • olivia67rae: Oh, where to begin! Being a @Spreenktern has given me more independence, ability to make big decisions and branch out
  • Jill_Perlberg: what kind of companies are you working with?
    • olivia67rae: @Spreenkterns have done work for schools, comittees, businesses… it varies!
    • amluebke: Currently working on marketing and social media campaigns for a few different regional companies.
      • Jill_Perlberg: sweet! Definitely not photocopying paper and making coffee!
      • bizMebizgal: do you have a lot of instruction or do you figure it out as you go?
        • amluebke: I’m given a good amount of direction but also given the autonomy to contribute my own ideas & figure out what works.
          • Jill_Perlberg: Things that are priceless when competing for your next role.
          • bizMebizgal: I wish I had the opportunity you are having in college. Real world experience just puts you ahead of the pack.
    • bizMebizgal:  wow! sounds like an awesome place to “get your feet wet”
  • buzzandrea: It’s all about providing value – the more value you provide, the better assignments you will receive.
  • kjpociask:  Oh my goodness! So many good things about being a @spreenktern. Probably the network of people that support us
  • bizMebizgal: the energy here @Spreenkler is awesome! So many people running around. Great environment for creative thinking. Much like Google
  • Jill_Perlberg: Per @spreenktern Sam, you’re in a position to make decisions that typically wouldn’t be able to in other internships
  • Jill_Perlberg: Per @spreenktern Kate: this internship puts others in the dust. It was a huge adjustment to have flexibility, authority, etc.
  • amluebke:  The variety of REAL projects and in-demand skills I have been able to gain experience with is a huge advantage!
    • bizMebizgal: absolutely! You will be further ahead than most of your classmates that sat on their butts all summer!!

What about unpaid vs paid internships?

  • bizMebizgal: I used the experience from an internship I had to start my own business and guess what. . . it was unpaid!!
    • olivia67rae: I want to note that my 1st internship started unpaid but they liked my work and started to pay me halfway through!
      • buzzandrea: Same with me! I think that’s a testament to your value.
  • lauragainor: Being an unpaid intern can most times motivate you more. The experience is key. My first internship was 40 hrs/wk unpaid.
  • bizMebizgal: I am a believer in unpaid internships, opens doors to experience different departments instead of being landlocked
  • olivia67rae: Hesitant about taking an unpaid internship? Do it! Experience will help you and knowing people in the industry is invaluable!
  • Jill_Perlberg: So, I’m hearing that unpaid internships are better than paid…
  • olivia67rae: I had to move home to take my unpaid internship… but here I am so it worked out!
  • LesleyMWeiss:     I think it’s good to get paid for your work. And some people just don’t have the option.
    • bizMebizgal: I agree however, sometimes they don’t have the experience and so unpaid is a great option.
      • LesleyMWeiss:     My paid internship gave me a lot of valuable experience and exposure. Plus, I was able to feed myself, which is a bonus
        • Jill_Perlberg:  I agree. Getting paid is ideal. Working full time and not getting paid is not always an option for people.
  • bizMebizgal: I had many unpaid internships in college and my employers always connected me more than with my paid ones.
  • Michael_Dilks: Unpaid internships offer critical hands on experience. The value of this is immense for both employers and interns
    • MyPath_MP: The trick is to take initiative to learn as much as you can while you’re not being paid.
      • Michael_Dilks: Absolutely, I view an unpaid internship as the best part of my continued education. You have to be hungry for it!
        • Jill_Perlberg: agreed…and you have to be smart, cause you can hungry if you don’t think it through.
        • MyPath_MP: There’s that initiative again! Common theme: Make your internship(s) work FOR you.
        • Jill_Perlberg: unfortunately some companies see interns as free labor and don’t have the programs in place to teach–research!
          • bizMebizgal: if you get into that situation, create your own internship. That is almost the best kind!
          • Michael_Dilks: There is no better education than learning directly from experts. You must be SMART in choosing the “experts”
  • lauragainor: I learned a ton from my unpaid internships for @UnitedAdworkers & BVK back in the day. Very valuable.
  • bizMebizgal: Sometimes I would take my unpaid internships back than my paid real job right now. Internships were way more fun!
    • amluebke: I did have an internship that I didn’t enjoy for various reasons, but the experience was still invaluable to me.
    • amluebke: Major separation between the “interns” and the rest of the team; made it difficult to learn about other roles
      • Jill_Perlberg: that can happen. You already feel like an outsider and then if they don’t foster the relship, it can be hard.
      • MyPath_MP: Way to make lemonade out of those lemons! Take what you can from any experience.

Should you do more than one internship?

  • olivia67rae: Having internships (multiple) also helps you define the kind of job or work environment that you want to be in after college
    • Jill_Perlberg: agreed. You truly get to find out what you like and more imptly what you don’t
    • WomensAlly: You are right! You cannot put a dollar value on that! err, well maybe you could try
  • bizMebizgal: Having multiple internships in your interest also help eliminate what you don’t want to do.
  • MyPath_MP: Great insight! There is no better time to find out what you want from the inside-out.
  • amluebke: Definitely. Ive been able to explore what I enjoy and want to pursue a career in, and what just doesnt work for me.
  • bizMebizgal: In ur 4 years of college, I encourage everyone to do as many internships possible Great hands on experience

How do you ensure the internships offered are valuable?

  • cometbranding:     Employers should ensure internships are valuable. Create a successful learning environment. Mentors!
    • Jill_Perlberg: agreed, but some don’t. I’ve seen it all too often, “we need an intern”, crap “we have an intern” now what?
    • Michael_Dilks: I could not agree more. The right mentors /environment are key. Choose wisely where you want to spend your time

How about turning an internship into a paid position? How possible is it?

  • Jill_Perlberg: Starts with the day you walk in. Show enthusiasm, prove yourself, & when the end is near, start talking about the LT
  • Kblennon: very possible. mine was unpaid and I asked for help with transportation costs. now I get paid hourly
    • Jill_Perlberg: great move!
    • MyPath_MP: Great to hear!
      • Kblennon: I was nervous but the worst they could say was no…so I went for it
        • Jill_Perlberg: Yup. same with salary negotiation in general–the worst that can happen is that you are in the same place.
        • Jill_Perlberg:  If they value you, they’ll make the situation work. So did you get a car, gas money, or bus fare
  • Jill_Perlberg: You have to ask for the position and if one doesn’t exist, define it and why they need it–YOU!
    • lauragainor: Impress!
    • chadschomber: It works!
      • MyPath_MP: Sounds like you have a story!
  • LesleyMWeiss:     I know at my old company former (paid) interns were always top of the list when new full-time positions opened up.
    • MyPath_MP: Great point – interns already know the work & the company culture. Position yourself to be at the top of the list!
  • bizMebizgal: Taking an internship & turning it into a job is possible but u need to take initiative & be a leader even though u are an intern
  • Michael_Dilks: I think you have to add direct client value to be paid. Mentors are going to be spending there limited time on you
  • bizMebizgal: show up everyday like it is your full time position. Embrace the culture, dress like your next position. STAND OUT!
    • MyPath_MP: Exactly! Treating an #internship like a real job might help it become one.

Other tips for interns:

  • bizMebizgal: Have treats by ur desk so people come & talk to u! network within the company u just never know who is hungry throughout the day
    • olivia67rae: I have a treat bowl at my desk at M&I! People LOVE IT!
      • bizMebizgal: I am sure you have gotten to meet a lot of new people that you probably won’t have without the treats!
    • Kblennon: what a great idea about the treats
      • MyPath_MP: Treats really do work (especially if you aren’t eating them all yourself)
        • Kblennon: see I would probably eat them all myself haha
          • MyPath_MP: Then you bring in the treats you don’t like yourself! Works out really well.
      • bizMebizgal: works every time!
    • Jill_Perlberg: Treats are great! I always bake when I’m new (just test them out on someone before you take them to the office)
    • thatwoman_is: Oh, the treats at the desk works! I used to have a bubble gum machine.
      • bizMebizgal: I have gum! Great idea and somewhat healthy. : )
        • thatwoman_is: Funny, back then the goal was to give something Yummy that didn’t affect the waist line but created friendships.
          • MyPath_MP: All this talk is making me want cookies. Just sayin’.
            • thatwoman_is:  That’s my girl! Right up my alley. Cookies. Peanut Butter with a nice glass of milk w/colleagues at work, works!
          • bizMebizgal: now all I find is chocolate which I love but doesn’t do much for my waist!!
            • thatwoman_is: Would you believe I think I’m the only woman on earth that don’t crave Chocolate? Don’t understand the “Jones.”
              • bizMebizgal: I don’t really crave chocolate, I just love it!!
  • bizMebizgal: Be friendly to everyone, even the janitor! You don’t know whose eyes they have.
    • Kblennon: or what connections they have
    • MyPath_MP: And don’t forget the #admin #assistants, bedrocks of the company most of the time!
  • Jill_Perlberg: Don’t be afraid to tell others that you work with in other depts that you are interested in FT. Other teams may want you too.

So how long can an internship last?

  • buzzandrea: My internship lasted three years (yikes!), but I think it was a great experience on both ends.
    • Jill_Perlberg: that sounds like a full time job
      • buzzandrea: It almost was, by the end of it I was leading my own PR campaigns & working directly with the prez of the company
        • Jill_Perlberg: Success!
    • MyPath_MP: Wow, 3 years! You definitely get to know all about the company…

It’s all about initiative:

  • WomensAlly: Go into any internship expecting to give more than you get. You’ll likely receive more than you expected as a result
  • bizMebizgal: Internships are a great way to stand out in the office. Take initiative & get involved. People will remember u & ur work ethic.
  • olivia67rae: Doing “lowly” work like making copies? Initiative! Ask to help on a specific project or to sit in on a meeting. Show your skills
    • bizMebizgal: perfect! You have to want to stand out and make a difference. Believe me, the right people notice!
  • Kblennon: you should take initiative no matter what in an internship. I did and now we implemented a whole SM plan b/c I spoke up
    • MyPath_MP: Fantastic. You clearly are an asset to the company!

Special thanks… To our top participants, @olivia67rae, @amluebke, @lauragainor and @thatwoman_is.

Job seeker? Just want to get ahead in your career?

Join our Twitter #careerchat Tuesdays @ 12 PM CT to talk about everything from friending your boss on Facebook to personal branding to how to get a call back from recruiter.

How to join: Go to and follow the hashtag “careerchat” at noon CT every Tuesday!

Adapted from my post here on MyPath.

One thought on “The Intern Trenches: Invaluable Education or Complete Waste of Time?

  1. Pingback: Just out of high school? Think “permanent” for a summer job. « Career. Food. Environment. Stuff.

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