March 28, 2012
EDITOR’S NOTE: As we press ahead with Intern Week on the Idea Peepshow, John Reinan — the eldest Pony — restrains the urge to tell the kids to get off his lawn. Instead, he engages in a thoughtful colloquy with fellow Pony and former Fast Horse intern Alex Weaver on the value of internships. Bob Ingrassia weighs in, too. If you’re hunting for a summer internship, check out our Summer Internship Campaign.
John: What’s with the mania for internships? It seems like students can’t get their first job nowadays unless they’ve had an internship every year during college. It’s getting as bad as those New Yorkers who worry the wrong preschool will destroy their kid’s chances of getting into Harvard. What’s the matter with a 19-year-old working at the local Dairy Queen, making some pocket change, having fun and generally enjoying the summer like — gasp! — a 19-year-old?
Alex: I don’t think there is anything wrong with a 19-year-old working at Dairy Queen. But, in my experience, without an internship or volunteer work, you’re holding up the rear of the incoming group of college graduates and those in the job pool. Throughout college I had a job, went to school, held unpaid internships and volunteered.
Luckily, I had parents who were able to help me out financially, so I was able to take on those roles, but the reality today is that the job market is competitive and you have to set yourself apart. Internships show initiative, drive and an interest in learning — all of which are valuable personality traits for job candidates.
Can you turn gallivanting in Europe after college graduation into something more? Yes. Start a blog, submit photos to Nat Geo, have informational interviews, meet people for coffee, etc. You’ll have fun and generally enjoy life like – gasp! – a normal 22-year-old. But you also need to be prepared to come home and face reality. Because, at some point, you’ll have to.
John: I wrote a short story based on my experiences one summer selling vacuum cleaners door-to-door in North Minneapolis. Could I have written a short story about my experience as an intern at a marketing agency? I guess so. After all, Diablo Cody’s first big splash, “Candy Girl,” opened with her clerking at an ad agency. But I’m not sure the book would have been as successful without the part where she went on to become a stripper. That path led her to Oscar glory!! You have no comeback!!
Alex: I bet you wouldn’t be singing that tune if your short story turned into a well-known television series starring Jon Hamm. Bam!
In all seriousness: Nobody is saying you have to get ad/marketing agency experience to make it big. Do what you love, explore, make your experience work for you (not that I’m condoning stripping in an effort to win an Oscar). Aside from various internships, I learned skills hosting at a restaurant and being a nanny that I still use on a daily basis. I may not have learned those in a traditional office setting.
I think this conversation illustrates the challenge about today’s job market. No longer is it about having an internship at an ad agency and becoming a big-shot ad executive. (Was it ever?) The expectation and the challenge, is to explore, learn about yourself and come into a job as well as a well-rounded individual and, essentially, a jack of all (or many) trades.
Bob: Good points on both sides. As John says, you need to live a little. I’d add that you also need to venture outside of your comfort zone. My jobs in high school and college expanded my perceptions of the world — pumping gas at SuperAmerica, working assembly at a factory and clerking in a college admin office. Those jobs didn’t help me become a journalist, but they made me wiser about how the world works. And to bolster Alex’s point: I later hustled for internships related to my chosen profession. Without those internships, there’s almost no chance I would’ve been able to build a successful journalism career. So I’d argue there’s room for both. Live a little and build up your résumé along the way. You’ll be a better person and a better professional.