Internship application process should be regulated
Published: Monday, May 14, 2012
Updated: Monday, May 14, 2012 20:05
A few months ago, I rolled up a message, slipped it into a bottle and threw it into the ocean. In other words, I applied to more than 30 internships.
But before this, I was one of the many excited students who filed into the Trabant Theatre, notebook in hand, to learn the secrets of landing an internship from the famous Intern Queen, Lauren Berger. Having had 15 internships herself, she giddily walked around the stage, telling us her proven rules for strengthening our resumes, cover letters and interview skills. She enthusiastically discussed the value of an internship in today’s job market.
I had just started filling out applications, and her speech gave me hope for the summer, because I was sure I would land many opportunities and would be able to choose my best option.
A main part of Berger’s message was the importance of obtaining an internship. Millions of students and I already understand that part — with research showing that 91 percent of employers believe applicants should have had one or two internships. What Berger did not delve into was the sketchy, confusing and unregulated underside of these resume-building opportunities.
According to Ross Perlin, author of Intern Nation, internships are the only employment group that the Bureau of Labor Studies does not monitor. While there has been recent media attention about how companies often break labor laws by overworking and underpaying, or not paying, their interns, I want to talk about the application process itself.
From January through April, I spent hours, painstakingly rereading and editing my resume and cover letters, tailoring each one to the specific company to which I was applying. My resume includes two internships and my current position at The Review. A career counselor at the Career Services Center approved it, so I believed I was a strong applicant who had nothing to worry about.
With all the time and effort these applications took, I felt like I was going through the college process again. I discussed with friends which places I was applying for but didn’t go into too much detail, because I feared rejection.
But now I realize I shouldn’t have feared rejection. The worst, most agonizing feeling is the non-response. Waiting, thinking has anyone even read what I sent them? Would I even know? So many of these applications are through an external site, so there was no way to check the status of my application by asking a person. Companies are given all of the power.
Out of the 30 different companies I applied to, I only heard back from about five. I even appreciated receiving a rejection, because at least I knew where I stood.
I understand that many companies may have received thousands of applications. Even if that is the case, they could at least send out an automated message telling me I was rejected. Then I would be able to move on and think about other plans.
I’ve noticed many companies also have no sense of our time frame. A friend of mine applied to an advertising agency in January. By Berger’s standards, she did all the “right” things — sending in her materials on time and following up. She found out last week that she was accepted. That means she waited almost five months for them to make a decision. Other friends of mine are in similar situations, having only recently heard back after months of waiting, and some are still waiting.
What makes this waiting game so much worse, is that, according to Perlin, approximately one-third of internships are unpaid. Thousands of students (and now, more recent graduates) are willingly signing up to give these companies free labor.
Almost every position I applied for is unpaid. For most of them, I have to receive college credit as a way-out for the company to avoid breaking labor laws while paying me nothing, but I don’t need the excess credit. It is now also a financial burden to add to the time spent applying.
After inquiring about the status of his decision, a contact at my local newspaper said he could not officially accept me without proof of credit. Even after I do purchase the credit, he cannot guarantee that he will hire me.
With two recent cases of suing for over-work at an internship, and this ridiculous waiting game, the internship process needs to be regulated.
Some might say that this is the reality of applying for any job, welcome to the real world. Except, unlike graduates or adults who are applying for jobs and are probably unemployed, most intern applicants are busy being students – which is their primary job. We are writing papers, studying for finals and doing extracurricular activities, so when it does come time to get a job, we are qualified.
I guess this process is an eye-opener. If the competition is this fierce for unpaid internships, I hesitate to even think about the real job market.
Applying for internships can be as unpredictable and mysterious as sending off a message in a bottle. I can wait, hoping a wave will gently return it soon, with an invitation to come aboard their company. Until then, there is no way to know who will respond, when they will respond, or if my message has even been received at all.
I know interns are not extremely important to employers. In fact, they may seem like a hassle. Interns take extra effort because they need to be trained, then just leave after a couple of months. But, regardless of how low I am as an intern applicant, I put in the time and effort to research and write about each company I applied for, and all I want is some respect back. If a company can’t see the value in interns or follow labor regulations, they shouldn’t be asking for interns in the first place.
Danielle Brody is a managing news editor for The Review. Her viewpoints do not necessarily represent those of the Review staff. Please send comments to email@example.com.