Beware the Scary Internship

They’re out there – Bad internship programs. Like any good candidate doing your research on a potential opportunity, you pop onto Google to search for information when you see the red flags. Among the company’s website and other news, you stumble upon something you weren’t expecting: scathing reviews and stories of internships gone terribly wrong.

Scary pumpkin

What do you do if your find some scary information about an internship you’re applying or interviewing for? Here are some thoughts:

  • Be a Savvy Review Reader: When you are venting about something that has upset you, do you keep your frustration completely in check? Probably not. The same is likely true of the review writers. If you see a review that is particularly nasty, keep in mind that some of that is pure emotion. It doesn’t mean that the content isn’t true, but it does mean it might be more extreme than reality.
  • Take Note of Themes: Are you seeing the same issue coming up in a lot of the negative reviews of an internship? If one person has a particularly notable experience, it might be a fluke. If lots of people are experiencing the same thing, then there’s likely some truth in that common thread.
  • Talk with a Career Advisor: There are a couple of reasons to discuss a questionable internship opportunity with a career advisor. First, your career advisor might know about the program in question. They may know students who have participated and what their experiences were like. They may know a recruiter with the organization. They may have also heard things from fellow college career advisors. I am a member of a popular email listserv with internship professionals across the country. Discussions about internship programs – if others have heard of them or what others know about them – are very common. The second reason to talk with a career advisor is that he/she can help you process all of the information you are finding. Global advice is helpful, but personalized guidance is better.
  • Talk with Fellow Students: Online reviews can tell part of the story, but it’s nothing compared to discussing the opportunity with someone from your school who has done the internship. So how do you find a fellow student to talk with? Back to the previous point, a career advisor might be able to connect you with a former intern. Otherwise, ask around. If the internship is directly related to your major, you might ask professors in the department (particularly the departmental internship coordinator). Ask students in your classes. Even if none of them did the internship themselves, they may know people who have. This is another great example of the power of networking.

Finally, trust your gut. If all signs are pointing to trouble, don’t ignore them. Internships are important, but you don’t want to get yourself into a situation that might do more harm than good. And while there are valuable lessons to be learned from a bad internship, it’s also valuable to be able to identify a bad opportunity and make the informed decision not to pursue it.

Photo by solyanka

Don’t Call It a Gap Year…

Freshman year – Sophomore year – Junior year – Senior year – City Year.

Many people have heard of the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, or Teach for America programs. Have you heard of City Year? Some of us in Career & Leadership Development had the chance to learn more about the program today.

City Year is an education-focused nonprofit organization that partners with public schools to provide targeted interventions for students most at risk of dropping out of school. The focus is on supporting students in the areas of attendance, behavior, and course performance through tutoring, mentoring, and after school programming. There are City Year programs in 24 cities across the United States, one of which is Milwaukee.

Students from a variety of major/career areas become City Year corps members. Some of the most common areas include:

  • Education
  • Medicine/Public Health
  • Social Work

No matter the field you’re going into, you’ll develop important job skills like team leadership, project planning/management, and communication. But if you are going into education or human/social services, City Year could be invaluable career preparation. Therefore, City Year isn’t a gap year experience. There’s nothing missing. It’s a “leap” year experience that takes you to the next level in whatever direction you might go afterwards.

City Year Milwaukee has a growing relationship with UW-Whitewater, so there will be many future opportunities to meet the Milwaukee team on campus. If you are interested in learning more about the program, check out their virtual open house and their websites:

City Year Milwaukee also has a Shadow Day coming up on Tuesday, October 30th. Contact their recruitment department for more information.

From the Archives with an Update: Suing Over Unpaid Internships

Originally posted on March 19, 2012


Once again, the heat has been turned up on the issue of unpaid internships. This time, instead of just a scathing indictment against unpaid internships, we have actual lawsuits.

This latest lawsuit against the “Charlie Rose” show has once again sparked an intense debate on a listserv for internship professionals, and others in the arena, including the Intern Queen, have weighed in with their opinions. So, where do I stand on this issue?

First, there are clearly some issues with the recent string of lawsuits. As several people have noticed, it appears to be one law firm involved. Out to make a quick buck perhaps? There is also some concern with timeline. The intern in question with “Charlie Rose” worked there during the summer of 2007… close to FIVE years ago! Why the wait? These are troubling details.

The argument being made by university internship professionals is that none of these internships were done for academic credit, so they didn’t have a university’s blessing as an “appropriate” unpaid internship or a structured academic side to the experience. Some of these contributors strongly oppose students participating in internships on their own (i.e. in employer-defined internships) and are calling for a stricter definitions.

Fundamentally, I am not a fan of unpaid internships. In a good internship, an intern is doing real work and adding value, so the student should be compensated for it. Then there are industries where it’s just wrong, like the entertainment industry. I’m sorry, but if you make billions of dollars for making a movie, you can afford to pay interns minimum wage. Just sayin’.

However, unpaid internships are a reality, and whether an internship is for credit or not is largely irrelevant to me. I have known of several specific students who completed unpaid, uncredited internships and had excellent experiences that have launched their careers. These were high quality internships, and the students were making their own informed decision to participate. Should they have been paid? From a legal standpoint, yes…

Ultimately, I believe it is important for students to 1) know their rights and 2) understand what makes a “good” internship.

It does no good to simply freak out about the issue. What’s important is to get solid information into the hands of students, the ones who ultimately get to make the decisions.


The ‘Black Swan’ lawsuit has continued to make progress. And over the summer, the lawsuit started to expand. Read on for the latest details:

Judge OKs Bigger Lawsuit Over Fox’s Intern Programs (Exclusive) 

Where do you stand on this issue? I’d love to hear from you!

Photo by thethreesisters

Get in the Game with an Internship in Sports

Fall is prime time for sports: football season begins, the World Series wraps up another baseball season, and basketball rolls around again. For sports fans, this is an exciting time.

Football in Grass

There are some great career opportunities in the sports industry, but breaking into the field can be a challenge. Openings are limited and are highly competitive. Related experience – and years of it – is crucial, making internships a competitive necessity.

How do you find an internship in the sports industry. Here are some starting points:

Understand the wide range of opportunities in the industry. The sports industry is very interdisciplinary, and there is something for everyone. But as a starting point for any internship search, you want to identify which area you’d like to get experience in. Some industry segments include:

  • Sports Media: Marketing, Broadcasting, Sports Writing, Public Relations
  • Sports Team Administration: Coach, Instructor, Referee, Athletic Director
  • Sports-Related Engineering: Stadium & Sports Facilities Operations, Sporting Goods & Equipment, Product Development & Design (games, computer-assisted training devices)
  • Sports Medicine: Sport Rehabilitation & Orthopedics, Athletic Training, Sports Nutrition, Sports Psychologist
  • Sports – Other: Sports Management & Finance, Sports Law, Sports Statistics, Retail & Wholesale Operations

Familiarize yourself with job boards and other opportunities.

  • Teamwork Online: Job boards for Baseball, Basketball, Football, Hockey, Soccer, Golf/Tennis, Motorsports, College and National Governing Bodies, Arenas/Facilities, as well as “Multiple Entities” like media outlets and sports/entertainment firms.
  • Association for Women in Sports Media: The AWSM has their own Internship/Scholarship Program through which selected students receive up to a $1000 scholarship and are placed in a paid internship. Placements have included ESPN, Sports Illustrated, and Nike.
  • Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association: Search for jobs with retailers such as Dick’s Sporting Goods and Dunhams Sports as well as concessionaires like Delaware North Companies (who serves Miller Park).

Identify organizations you would love to work for. Another key strategy in any internship search – Go right to the source. Here are a few that might interest you:

Find the right contact. Networking and research are always important, and part of the process is figuring out who is the best person to send your resume to. If you are trying to get into a particular department (ex. marketing), reach out to the head of that department.

Stand out from the competition. Many cover letters and resumes look and sound the same. Highlight the value you will bring to the organization. Provide evidence through specific examples. Work with a career counselor/advisor to develop a strong resume and to better understand the purpose of your cover letter.

Be persistent. Again, the sports industry is a competitive one. Especially if you are seeking an internship with a sports team, it can take a couple of tries before you score the internship you want.

An internship in the sports industry can happen, and it can be amazing.

Are you considering a career in the sports industry? What have you been doing to find an internship in the field?

Photo by Jayel Aheram

An Internship By Any Other Name…

With a new fall semester comes presentations to New Student Seminar classes. In our “Your Competitive Advantage” presentation, my colleagues and I cover ways to develop professionally, starting during the freshman year. One of the topics we emphasize is the importance of internships.

Work in Progress

Here’s the problem: In some fields, “internships” don’t exist in the same way as in others. Take psychology for example. Most psychology “internships” are for graduate students in psychology. When you graduate with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, you aren’t qualified to become a Psychologist. You need an advanced degree (master’s, specialist, or doctoral degree) in psychology. Internships are a part of this advanced education.

So what do you do if your find yourself pursuing a career in a field where internships aren’t common? You identify the equivalent experience for your field.

  • Volunteer: If you are going into human services or education, there are some excellent volunteer opportunities out there to help you gain experience. For example, become an America Reads volunteer. You are placed in elementary schools to work one-on-one with students who need additional help in reading. It’s great for students hoping to become teachers as well as anyone seeking to work with children (ex. prospective social workers). The key is to find a volunteer opportunity that it ongoing, so it feels more like a job.
  • Field Study/Field Work: A field study course combines a volunteer placement with a credited course. For example, UW-Whitewater psychology students can enroll in PSYCH 387 (Field Training). You are placed with a human service agency, school, crisis intervention program, etc. You work “in the field” and are supervised by someone at your placement site as well as a faculty member in the psychology department. It’s excellent training for students pursuing graduate training in counseling, clinical psychology, school psychology, or social work.
  • Undergraduate Research: If you are looking at careers in academia (i.e. higher education) or in areas requiring extensive knowledge of and experience with research practices, undergraduate research is something to consider. It gives you the opportunity to conduct research, scholarship, and creative activity in partnership with a faculty mentor. Students in the sciences and social sciences might immediately come to mind, but students from all disciplines at UW-Whitewater engage in undergraduate research.
  • Student Teaching: This work-education experience for students pursuing a degree and career in education puts future teachers in the classroom working with an experienced, licensed teacher. The experience is required for licensure. Alternatively, there is the Teacher Internship Program which fulfills the student teaching requirement. The experiences are fundamentally the same, but Teacher Interns generally assume more responsibility than student teachers.

When you boil it down, “internship” really refers to a career-related work experience. It doesn’t matter what title that experience has. As long as it’s related to the work you hope to do as a professional, it’s the exact experience prospective employers want to see.

Photo by Grant Kwok