INTERNSHIPS – good opportunities to learn or soul-sucking advantage takers?

Over the past few months, I’ve been reading a lot of negative stories about how badly treated interns are – how there are no benefits to working one’s butt off for no (or limited) financial rewards and the mistreatment of these poor poor put-upon students. Yeah right! So here’s a blog that may anger, enrage and piss-off a lot of people but this is based on MY experience as an industry professional who pays a modest monthly honorarium as well as full-time mentoring and investment of my time, knowledge and expertise for my interns…but I am constantly disappointed by their lack of commitment or any sustained level of enthusiasm.


As a marketing, PR and events professional who is always looking to mentor and support newbies to the industry, let me tell you that internships are not a one-way street and are not always as they’re portrayed by this group of “entitlement focused” dis-engaged  and frequently under-educated university students.  Over the past ten years, I have sought out interns from Toronto universities and colleges offering specialized programs for events, marketing and public relations and on each and every occasion, have found the students or recent graduates frighteningly under-educated. Who graduates a student from a PR program without teaching them how to write effective media releases? How come they don’t know the importance of developing (and keeping current) media contact lists that include print, broadcast, outdoor, transit as well as web-based news sources? And how come they don’t understand the importance of tracking time allocations for clients – I have yet to receive a full series of completed weekly time sheets from any of my previous interns!? This impacts client billings and yet they don’t understand this important factor and simply shrug off my pleas for time sheets. And when given the opportunity to go out and secure their own client where they can keep ALL fees associated with that client to themselves, they never bother to do so or come up with excuses why they can’t find a potential project for themselves. Isn’t this what you went to school for anyway?   thCACSWW99

When taking on interns, I ask them their preferred area of business – do you want to focus on managing/producing special events or create and manage public relations or publicity campaigns for clients? Based on their response, I tailor an internship that focuses responsibilities in those areas where they can shadow me, learn and then take ownership of projects and at the same time, learn and work on all the less-glamorous administrative chores that support these projects. I illustrate how important it is to track hours spent working for each client or project, how to calculate and quote on fees and retainers for clients, how to cross-promote, I give them an understanding of the sponsorship process and, of course, all media relations processes. Interns are given easy chores to complete each week including updating media lists, sourcing promotional opportunities for my clients, social media populating and engagement based on easy to follow parameters I have set….but after an initial rush of enthusiasm the first month, by weeks 7 or 8, I find that each and every intern loses interest, slacks off and ceases to bother with even contacting me for follow-ups. All I ask is for a 10-12hr per week commitment which is not a lot.

I insure interns are empowered and involved in every aspect of events management and promotions, media relations, client presentations and social media. I never expect them to pay-to-play: I reimburse all and any expenses incurred, transportation and they are given all sorts of perks and samples as well as getting paid AND having access to my contacts, my templates and marketing collateral, and my brain! How much is that all worth? They are treated with respect and their hours are scheduled to accommodate classes or other part-time work to the detriment of my own needs. So….who’s the bad guy here? If interns do not step up and ask questions, offer their own input and opinions, use their initiative to contribute why are WE the bad guys? Sure there are lots of jerks out there who do take advantage of unpaid interns but it’s up to those interns to report the “abuse” to their colleges, or simply walk away. You are not indentured to these “mentors”, nor are you forcibly confined. Quit being such cry babies!! Get out there and create your own opportunities – you interview the companies or individuals offering prospective internships, not the other way around. This is your career, your education, your life so take responsibility.

interns  Tough love? You betcha…but I’m fed up with continually investing time and energy in young people who do not respect or appreciate the amount of time being given them and knowledge imparted.  Stop wasting MY time.

I’d love to hear from other professionals and business owners who have gone thru the internship process – how do you mentor and help the neophytes? How have you benefited from intern assistance? What are your horror stories? And I’d love to hear from interns, too – what has been your experience and how did you survive inequitable situations or enjoy a fruitful and empowering relationship?

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