A few months ago I gave a presentation to an upper level Restaurant and Hospitality Management class here at the University of Alabama. First of all, this was a HUGE honor for me since both of my degrees are not only from UA but also from the RHM program. I was really excited about sharing my knowledge and experience with these students as well as passing on advice that I have learned over my years of working in the hospitality field.
Of course, all they wanted to know more about was interning. <major head slap> Really kids? All this great working information and you want to know about my crummy miserable internship? (please note, my internship was in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and really was kind of awesome) But that’s when it hit me: college kids think internships are the golden ticket to the chocolate factory.
Not to burst your bubble, but they’re not.
Here’s what internships are:
- Cheap labor
- A way to weed out the weak
- Networking tool
- A way to go further into debt for a semester
- Opportunity to realize you should have majored in something else
Sure, this sounds pessimistic and is not the standard “internships are a great way to get a foot in the door and learn more about your future career” description we all like to think of internships as. But I promise I’m not all doom and gloom about internships. They really are a great way to get a foot in the door and learn more about your future career.
Trust me when I say that internships are cheap labor. Luckily for you who are still in school and pursuing an internship, a new law now requires companies to pay interns. However, the downside to this is that companies are probably going to hire fewer interns. But even with the new law it’s still cheap labor. While this does sound gripable, especially considering how much you’re paying in college tuition to be an intern, being cheap labor for a company does have its upsides. You’re probably going to be the gofer, the person who gets lattes for your boss or makes a bajillion copies on the copier. It’s grunt work and you should love it. Why? Because you’re being watched as cheap labor. If you shine while bringing coffee, making copies or hauling equipment from one side of the building to the other, future employers will take that into account. Work isn’t glamorous. Don’t think it is.
Companies looking for interns are looking for those who have a passion for the field and want to gain experience in that field. It’s also a great way to play Survivor. Internships weed out the weak. But in a good way. Successful companies know what type of employees they need and are able to spot a potential employee in interns in a heartbeat. While they may make mistakes (see Gilmore Girls’ Rory’s internship disaster for example) chances are they’re able to tell which interns will make it in the industry and which ones won’t. I went through this – being told my 3rd week of my internship that I would never make it in the hospitality field with my personality – and it sucks. As an intern though, what do you do with that harrowing bit of information? You have one of two choices: you tell them to suck it and start finding ways to make yourself be successful in that industry or you move on to another industry. Clearly the latter is how internships can weed out the weak.
During your internship you’ll meet many people. Guess what these people are? CONTACTS! Don’t forget them after you end your internship, no matter how awful it was. Even if your boss was a real tool, send them a thank you card after you finish your internship. Thank them for taking the time to teach you and mentor you. Take down email addresses of people you interacted with on a daily basis, even if it was just a fellow gofer like yourself. One of the people I interned with is now a super high manager and makes over $50k a year. You never know what will happen in the future or what you may need; everyone is a friend when you’re an intern. (On the flip side: be a friend to everyone. Don’t be that jerk intern who everyone hates because that will get you nowhere.)
Internships are becoming more commonly required by majors and schools. So you’ll probably have to do one, whether you want to or not. And they’ll probably cost you. A lot. It’s a gamble; most people want a good return on their investment, but as with anything, internships are a gamble as to how much return you’ll get on that investment. Sometimes, you just have to bite the bullet and take what you can get.
Finally, it’s okay to make mistakes. Even when it’s a major mistake, such as choosing restaurant and hospitality management over accounting as your major. Get it? A major mistake! Internships are sometimes just a way for you to realize that you’re in the wrong industry. And that’s okay. Not everyone is cut out for everything and it’s better to find that out in college than out of college.
So while internships aren’t necessarily the golden ticket, they are great opportunities for you to help beef up your resume while gaining valuable hands on training in your industry. But going into your internship prepared for the reality of it is a much better way than going in there thinking everything is going to be rainbows and lollipops. Unless you’re interning for Willy Wonka; then it most likely will be.