Professional experience, at what price?

By Elizabeth Krupka
August 4, 2010

To be paid, or not to be paid, that is the question for many college students seeking internships around the U.S. today.

It seems students are no longer satisfied with a typical summer job. They are now seeking internships in the field they hope to pursue after college, but why is this? The reason is because professional experience has become a vital attribute to a students resume. Employers are no longer just scanning resumes lightly. They are honing in on experiences the student has gained over time.

“Students with experience for the particular job they’re seeking is what’s important. If I’m hiring I want to see the person with the most experience possible regardless of how it came about it,” Eric Chase said, program director of AM 1470, the Fox radio station.

According to the NYTimes, even high school students are looking for internships with professionals in fear that their applications to schools may be discarded due to lack of experience.

The perfect situation for a student would be to work as a paid intern. Therefore they would receive professional experience, while also being compensated for their professional work. Many businesses can’t or decide not to offer compensation for their interns though, typically due to financial reasons. In this case, an intern is simply an employee who works for free. With the economy and where it stands today, interns are a steal for many businesses.

“I would rather be paid for my time and my efforts at my internship.  I would feel more obligated to get actual work done efficiently and on time instead of dilly-dallying to pass the hours away,” Meghan Kelly, sophomore vocal performance major, from Ithaca College, said.

Kelly is working as an intern for a local theater. Though the application process was very competitive, Kelly feels that she won’t bring any professional experience back to her campus next semester.

“I felt that my time wasn’t utilized. I was doing grunt work or I would end up surfing the web. Then all I would think about was that I could be making money and gaining experience elsewhere,” Kelly said.

Some companies are even auctioning off their internships. According to the NYTimes, The Huffington Post, Vanity Fair and Vogue each had interns pay thousands of dollars for their summer internship position. It sounds insane but those wealthy enough to do so are ultimately paying for their future. With an internship like that on your resume, a student will not be on the open market for too long. This also gives wealthier students a clear advantage over other students. Is this fair?

Some companies think they are doing their interns a favor by offering them college credits for their summer work. However, credits cost money and the student would actually be paying for their experience anyway.

Michael True, director of Messiah College internship center, suggests that credit-bearing internship have beneficial aspects.

“Credit-bearing internships can help a student move more quickly towards graduation, whether the credits are used towards their major or minor requirements, or they are taken from elective credit.  I think there is no better way to spend one’s tuition money than to pursue a credit-bearing, work-learning experience related to one’s major or career goal.”

The question if an internship is paid or unpaid can simply be answered depending on the field itself. “Engineering is almost always paid. Most business related internships seem to be paid. Finding a paid internship in the communication field is difficult,” Laura Garland said, an employee at the Career Center at Muhlenberg College.

Chase believes that interns typically aren’t paid in the media field due to the fact that they lack the experience to be apart of a professional staff. He claimed that interns are essentially apprentices whose hard work and patience may turn into an actual job someday.

However being paid is an incentive that seems to work for every student. Kevin Regan, junior accounting major at Pittsburgh University, feels that being paid helped him to feel like a serious part of the staff. “I really enjoyed my internship because it gave me the opportunity to work with graduate level material, which in turn allows me to learn and grow as a business professional. Also, it is really nice to know that what I do is important work and makes a difference for the company,” Regan said.

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Elizabeth Krupka

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