Congrats on the Internship–It’s Gonna Suck

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These days, we view getting internships as a rite of passage for undergrads. But the journey to just getting one is strenuous and stressful. College kids send out dozens of applications hoping to get just one opportunity. Each organization requires different documentation and some want everything from your letters of recommendation to your social security number. While students all jockey for the same positions, who really is the winner–the one who gets to be the office b*tch, or the one that doesn’t?

One internship experience of mine stands out. It was on Capitol Hill in a Congressman’s office. Without a doubt, this internship impresses employers the most, but my tasks rarely had to do with helping the Congressman or his staff and focused more on doing menial tasks the real staff didn’t want to do.

Obviously a college student who has yet to graduate shouldn’t be handling the tasks that a paid employee is responsible for doing. But there’s a fine line between “valuable asset” and “office b*tch.” The grunt work can serve as a necessary part of working and starting at the bottom, but there’s a difference between that and doing things that don’t better the company or its services.

All over the country, advisors and professors preach the importance of gaining real world experience by having internships. I bought into their importance and accepted the fact that if I want to reach my #CareerGoals, I’d need to do things that don’t satisfy me today for a better tomorrow. That “experience” is supposedly more valuable than what is learned in a classroom because it takes place in the work force. But is it? Are answering phone and getting coffee really more valuable than in-class learning? Based on how much my tuition bills are, I hope not. But in all actuality, the real-world experience should be a supplement for what I’m doing in class.

I dreaded going to work. I actually preferred going to class instead. Yes, the internship looked good on my resume, but was it really worth it if I constantly felt like I was wasting my time? Most of my time was spent clock watching and waiting for something to happen. And while I calculated how much time was left until I could leave, my default task was to sort through the emails the office received and label them based on content. But I guess this actually was worth my time considering I got a lot better at the New York Times crossword and sudoku puzzles.

My internship the ensuing semester was the best one yet. I felt like an equal with the employees in every way (except the salary, of course). The projects I worked on were things that real employees would’ve done. Obviously my work needed to be reviewed more closely by my supervisor, but I was doing similar things. I enjoyed working every day. In fact, I wish I could’ve continued there. Who knows–maybe one day I’ll end up on the payroll. It would be all thanks to how they treated me as an intern.

Internships are a fickle b*tch. College students apply to dozens of them for every semester, sending out resumes, cover letters, letters of recommendation and probably an arm and a leg. And for what? That’s right–to work for a company, for free. Hundreds of students apply to work for no money. And the worst part is that if someone gets that coveted spot, there’s no saying it will actually be a good experience worth the time commitment. If my experiences have taught me one thing, it’s that you have to apply to many to hopefully find the one.

I'm a junior at American University. I know my last name is Brest; I'll be impressed if you can think of a joke I haven't already heard.

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