Unless you’re a member of the small fraternity of genius-wunderkind-dropouts, it’s no longer possible to succeed in business—or any professional field—without really trying. And if you want to acquaint yourself with any sort of career advancement, you’re going to be an intern.
1. confine (someone) as a prisoner, esp. for political or military reasons.
2. serve as an intern.
The internship is an inevitable fate for bright young professionals, and while I’m sure there are some rewarding and downright fun internships out there, most ex-interns would circle definition one as the most accurate description of the word (especially since most are unpaid). A descendant of the apprenticeship, the internship rose to prominence in the 1980s when business schools began using them as a training tool. Thirty years later, the word intern conjures images of latte runs, mail carts, and poorly executed Windsor knots. But there’s so much more to an internship than that.
Those brave interns who tirelessly churn the gerbil wheel that is the internship position are often debased and humiliated in pursuit of professional glory. Some are forced to wear elaborate costumes, others must canvass the streets for petition signatures, and the lucky few get to witness an office fistfight.
With the spring semester now complete, a cadre of fine young collegians are descending upon office buildings everywhere, eager to gain professional experience and no money whatsoever. As an homage to these lemmings, we’ve collected horror stories from now-thriving professionals who triumphed over intern adversity. Let their recounts give you hope, and remember: a latte is the one with steamed milk, a cappuccino is the one with all the foam.
B. F. – Horrible Bosses
Breanne Fultz was on the top of the world when she secured a paid internship in a social media position. The unfortunate thing is that she never got paid and the only position she was in was unemployed. After quitting her full time job, she showed up for her first day of work only to learn the position had been put on hold. “It turned out the two owners had vastly different ideas on how to proceed with their business and had had a giant fight the night before,” said Breanne. She never heard back from the horrible bosses and spent three months struggling to find a job. She is now a Social Media Coordinator for a spa in Canada.
Terri Huggins – Going Postal
As a college senior, Terri Huggins received a coveted internship at a national publication she preferred not to mention. One of her many responsibilities as an editorial intern in the features department was the mailing of various packages. When one of the packages she sent did not find its way to the intended recipient, her boss went postal. “My supervisor had the audacity to insult my intelligence in public by implying that I did not know how to mail a letter,” said Terry. To make matters worse, she was never reimbursed for the money she spent on cab and subway fare during work-related errands. Terri is now a thriving freelance writer at TerrificWords.com.
Justin Lee – Networking
Justin Lee had a guy’s dream gig when he landed a summer internship with the NFL’s Houston Texans back in 2003. His daily responsibilities were relatively painless and the job seemed like a touchdown for a while. That all changed when the dude who played the team mascot double-booked his services and guilt-tripped Justin into subbing for him at a youth center event. Drenched in sweat and being mauled by rambunctious 12-year-olds, Justin was beginning to regret his decision. “The added bonus was when several fathers at the event barged into the bathroom as I was changing so they could hand me their business cards with hopes that I would refer Texans players to their home building company or stereo shop,” said Justin. Though the experience was more like a missed field goal than a touchdown, Justin went on to co-found the popular office, retail, and industrial real estate website, TheSquareFoot.com.
Mark Hughes – It’s All Who You Know
Mark’s story is a little different as his is from a boss’s perspective. When he was an electronics engineering instructor for a university, one of his interns landed a haymaker on another intern after a verbal disagreement. “Both of the interns’ parents worked for a Fortune 500 company so no charges were filed,” said Mark. Some interns receive positions based on the status of their parents, and people tend to not thrive in a situation when they haven’t earned it. Let’s hope the tough guy interns put all that testosterone to good use with an MMA or WWE job; though their dad’s probably just got them a well-earned position at a Fortune 500 company.
Victoria Garment – Worst Places to Work
As a college senior in May 2009, Victoria Garment thought she had a great opportunity when she advanced to a second interview with the consumer and political watchdog organization U.S. PIRG. Upon arriving to the interview and noticing the 30 other candidates, it “…turned into a day long, grueling experience that involved having us immediately go out and canvas on a busy Boston street corner to try to get signatures for a recycling position,” said Vicky. She was offered the internship, but wisdom tooth surgery forced her to arrive a couple days late to the two-week training camp in Portland, Maine. Leery, and never having a chance to drop her bags at the hotel, Vicky quickly found herself drumming up signatures on a street corner again. “You were ignored, cursed at, shoved aside—you name it,” said Vicky. The job required 12 hour days canvassing in the hot sun, and she had to share a two-bedroom hotel room with four other girls. “The irony of all this is that U.S. PIRG advocates for better working environments… I found it outrageous that they would treat their employees in such a way.” Like most interns, Vicky stuck it out and paid her dues, and now works as the Contributed Content Editor at a company called Software Advice.
Deborah Schwarz Hirschhorn, Ph. D. – Freedom of Speech
Dr. Deb Hirschhorn was pursuing her master’s in psychology when she got an internship at a hospital’s psychiatric ward. She was mortified when she had to assist with ECT, or electroshock therapy, not only because it’s a possibly damaging and torturous medical practice, but because her focus was on behavior modification through counseling. “I never felt right about medical interventions,” said Dr. Deb. “I was especially annoyed when we had to attend a seminar in which depression was called a ‘disease.’” At lunch in the cafeteria the next day, she unknowingly sat next to various department heads at the hospital and “naively” voiced her disdain for the hospital’s practices. Said Dr. Deb, “Why was I not surprised when I was fired the next day?”. Despite the early setback, Deborah has had a long and distinguished career as a marriage and family therapist, and has her own popular medical website at Dr.Deb.com.