Internships Clouded by Increasing Controversy

Internships These days, going to college and getting that coveted degree may not be enough to land your dream career. The job market is so saturated with competition that internships can be a critical step toward getting an entry-level job.

But has the stereotype of interns going on coffee runs, making copies and not getting paid been greatly exaggerated and even tarnished the process? To learn more about the misconceptions and controversies surrounding internships, AOL Jobs recently spoke to Heather R. Huhman (pictured), a career expert, experienced hiring manager and author of "Lies, Damned Lies & Internships: The Truth About Getting From Classroom to Cubicle." She's also been a five-time intern.

How important is it for students to do internships?

Internships are the new rung on the ladder leading to the entry-level job. No longer can you graduate from college with little to no actual experience in your field and expect to land an entry-level job. You'll likely have to complete at least one internship to get your foot in the door. Internships help students and professionals learn how to apply their knowledge and skills in real world situations. They also help build one's professional network before (and after) graduation, and can introduce you to individuals who will help in your job search in the future.

Why all the recent controversies surrounding internships?

There has been quite a bit of controversy surrounding internships in the last year or so. Particularly, unpaid and for-credit-only internships have taken a lot of heat because some employers aren't committed to the education and mentorship that should be a key aspect of an internship program. This can be attributed to the fact that the laws surrounding internship programs don't provide clear enough guidance for companies with internship programs, or that those laws aren't really enforced.

Some current problems surrounding internship programs include the prevalence of full-time, unpaid opportunities, the negative connotation of the word "intern," and employers replacing regular employees with interns. I've said before that full-time, unpaid opportunities should be illegal, and for-profit companies that can afford to pay their interns should do so. Interns also need to have the opportunity to work on real assignments and projects, which is a gray area right now in terms of the law.

What are the characteristics of a good internship program?

Unfortunately, bad internship programs tend to get the most press. But there are great programs out there, too. You just need to know what to look for. In order to determine if an internship program is a good one, look at the following characteristics: mentorship, education, meaningful work, culture, recommendations, and networking opportunities. It shouldn't matter if you intern at a "big name" company -- startups and small businesses provide great experiences, too!

How can companies create an internship program?

Companies looking to start an internship program need to be dedicated to teaching key skills to inexperienced students and new professionals in the field. In order to accomplish this, mentorship and supervision should be a vital part of the program. The internship supervisor must have enough available time to dedicate to intern candidates to provide them with a valuable experience. Other important aspects of a good internship program include proper onboarding, timely feedback, and flexibility.

How can a student turn an internship into full-time employment?

Students and recent graduates have an advantage over other job seekers once they begin interning for a company -- they can prove themselves during the internship period and show the employer why they deserve a full-time job there! Many employers now choose to hire for entry-level positions from their intern pool, because they've seen their work and know them personally. You can turn an internship into a full-time gig by creating results and being irreplaceable within the organization. It's also important to come to work every day with a positive, eager attitude and exhibit strong communication skills.

How can an employer turn interns into full-time employees?

Mentorship is a vital component of any successful internship program. Employers must create an environment where interns feel like an asset by giving them meaningful work, providing feedback and communicating regularly. It's also important to show your interns how they can grow with your organization by talking with them about their future near the end of their internship.

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"Internship" is management-speak for free labor ... !

June 07 2011 at 4:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

One more time everybody!!! Corporations don't want to pay can put internships in the basket with...layoffs (less labor), paycuts (cheaper labor), downsizing (less and cheaper labor), prison facilities investments(free labor), exporting jobs off shore (Cheap labor)...people needed jobs long before the economy slipped...face it people government can't create jobs in the private industry, if the industries unending qwest for profits, now tells the industry you want to have as little labour (Societal) responsibility as possible; More profit, less liability, and less regualation...This has become our problem!

June 07 2011 at 3:51 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Between internships and straight commission indpendent contractor jobs, this is why profits are way up and employment is down. It's just a way for companies to get something for nothing. Don't fall for it; keep looking until you find someone who values your work.

June 07 2011 at 3:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I had an internship my senior year in college. It was unpaid, but at the end of it I was offered a job making $20/hr. When I decided to move, my employer gave a wonderful letter of recommendation and mentioned my work as an intern as a big factor in his decision to hire me. It's a good way to get your foot in the door. Not all internships are unpaid, and they're not all 6 months long. It depends on the program and it requires some research (oh gasp) on the part of the student to get in to the program that works best for them.

June 07 2011 at 3:02 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

internship is just a perk for pols and the big donators I think

June 07 2011 at 1:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I think internships are a way of a company getting free work. They can do this indefinitely and never hire unless it's a person who has no life in order to impress. These kids work all the time with no reward and no promise of being hired. It's outrageous, while these company CEO's make unbelieveable salaries. they should be paid even if it's minimum wage. These kids must dress for the office and cloths aren't cheap today. After all they have bills too. At least at McDonalds they are getting paid.

June 07 2011 at 12:32 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

I've never thought internships were a good idea, they are often abused and seldom rewarded. These companies should be willing to pay for their new hires and that in itself would make them appreciate them for who they are. Once a company invest any money in you they are less likely to brush you aside and they will take a more active role in properly training you for their industry. If the colleges would do their jobs properly then there would be no need to have an internship program because the students would be prepared right out of college to work in the real world.

June 07 2011 at 11:55 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

I've never DONE an internship--I REFUSE to work for 6 months for ZERO PAY. Many of the companies I've worked for are EXTREMELY PLEASED to get YOUNG, EDUCATED, future professionals and work them to death (OK, FIGURATIVELY TO DEATH) and not PAY them.


June 07 2011 at 11:42 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

My department had one for 4 years. She finished undergrad, worked two jobs for a bit (ours and retail), started grad school. I think HR and management were confused as to the difference between intern and temp. Well not really, they understood enough to know they could pay the intern less. I often wondered how she showed those 4 years on her resume.

June 07 2011 at 11:41 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

I work in media / advertising. Our workforce has been cut to a point where there is little backup for each position. The intern on our floor has been invaluable for covering extra workloads. Definitely a great foot in the door. In comparing two people, an internship would be a major advantage as these days they were probably replacing a full time position.

June 07 2011 at 11:35 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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