Working it: Demystifying the world of college internships

The college internship: It's a rite of passage for students, one so critical to the college experience that if you Google the word "internship," more than 91.7 million results overtake the computer screen. It used to be that prospective interns had to scrape up on-the-job experience with the help of advisers and on-campus internship offices that worked with local companies to help ambitious students find businesses willing to put them to work. These days, though, Googlers can search repetitive internship-listing websites, which are really just job boards specializing in internship placements., for instance, identifies itself as "the world's largest internship marketplace, [and] boasts 59,629 internship positions from 24,156 companies located in 9,171 cities across all 50 states."

Likewise, some businesses have come to rely on college interns to help fill out their staffs – and colleges know it. Some schools (including the University of Central Florida) hold internship fairs where businesses pay to meet students who want experiential learning. Over the past several years, the number of students participating in internships has sky-rocketed. According to the Economic Policy Institute, more than a million four-year college students work as interns each year. If you add high schoolers, community college students, post-grads and even mid-career adults who participate in internships, as many as two million interns can be counted as part of the U.S. workforce, according to the institute.

And there's a good reason internships have become so popular: According to a study released in July by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, 61 percent of 2012 graduates with a paid internship under their belts received at least one job offer from the company they interned at after they graduated. Only 36 percent of graduates without internships while in school had offers.

Dan Schawbel, managing partner of Millennial Branding, a Generation Y research and management consulting company in Boston, says internships are not what they were 10 years ago, when people used internships as a direct funnel to employment – students completed an internship and the company hired them. These days, though an internship might help a student's job prospects, mmost don't get hired when they finish interning.

In May, Millennial Branding published its Student Employment Gap study, which discovered that 91 percent of companies expect job seekers to have one or two internships on their résumé, but only half of those companies have hired interns within the past six months.

"It's a huge problem because [students] think a degree is going to get them a job. They think an internship is going to get them a job," Schawbel says. "Then employers are requiring these internships, but they're not hiring their interns. It's a huge dilemma; that's why we called it the student unemployment gap."

And not all internships are created equal – some are paid, some work with universities to offer college credit. Some give students valuable real-world experience, but others don't prepare students for much more than data entry or using the photocopier. Orlando Weekly spoke with interns across Central Florida to provide students with a behind-the-scenes glimpse of local (and some non-local) internships.

Kacie Davidow, senior at University of Central Florida
Major: Journalism

News intern, January through April 2011 (Upon completion of her internship, WESH hired Davidow as a part-time associate producer.)

College Credit: Two credits
Paid: No
Hours: 16 hours per week

One day, I worked on the website, learning how to use their software, and the other day, I worked in the newsroom, shadowing reporters.
[My overall experience was very] positive. I was not expecting the support I received. The best part would have to be the support and willingness of the team to help you learn.

Megan Clancy, spring 2011 alumna of University of Central Florida, B.A. in advertising and public relations
Clancy now works at Starwood Vacation Ownership in Orlando as its social media coordinator.

Amway Center
Marketing intern, December 2010 through May 2011

Paid: Yes
College credit: No. I did not receive credit because I was paid and had already completed the internship credit hours.
Hours: I worked a full work week, 40 hours.

Day-to-day responsibilities included monitoring the Amway Center Facebook and Twitter [accounts], drafting social media content calendars, conducting social media contests and sweeps, assisting the marketing manager and director, and drafting day-of-show collateral. Day-of-show responsibilities included being responsible for all radio personnel, assisting with photographer duties and venue presentation to artists, bands, musicians.
I previously interned for the city of Orlando and was referred by my supervisor to the Amway Center. To be honest, the entire experience was priceless. I gained more knowledge about the real world and had the opportunity to encounter people I would have never had the chance otherwise. It was an invaluable internship that I will remember for a lifetime.
Yes, [I think that the internship helped me get the job I have now]. My work ethic and social media roots come from the Amway Center experience I gained.

Baileigh Johnson
Junior at University of Central Florida
Major: Journalism

Orlando Home & Leisure
Editorial assistant intern, May to December 2011

College credit: Optional
Paid: No
Hours: Two days per week
Orlando Home & Leisure was the best local experience I've ever gotten. I started out as a regular summer intern, and I decided to stay with them through fall because I liked the publication so much, and they liked me.
It opened a lot of doors for me. In September, I became the fashion writer – anything happening in Orlando that was fashion-related, I covered. I wrote about September Fashion Week, Park Avenue Fashion Week. I went to every fashion shoot I could. I helped the stylist dress models, and they used some of my own fashion picks. I also got to go on a media trip in St. Augustine for a week. I would go on a tour and then write a city guide for the publication.
They really, really let me do a lot. Most of the stuff on my résumé is stuff I did for them.

Orlando Magazine
Editorial intern, January to April 2012

College credit: Optional
Paid: No
Hours: Two days per week

I didn't do as much with them because they're sort of a bigger magazine. I did a lot of copy editing, and I did a lot of fact checking and a lot of stuff for the Web. I did write three pieces for them.
It was the last place I could intern locally, so when it ended, it was time to take things to the next level – New York.

Marie Claire
Fashion editor assistant intern, May to July 2012

College credit: Required, received three credit hours
Paid: No
Hours: Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. or later

I sent out about 52 packets to anywhere I could think of, anyone's name and any email addresses I could get a hold of. I spent hours and hours and hours researching online during Christmas break, and in January, I sent the packets out.
I ended up hearing back from about 13 publications, but Marie Claire [in New York City] was actually the first interview. It was about a 30-minute phone interview, and she let me know on the spot that I had it. I accepted right away because I didn't want to risk shopping around. I just felt lucky I got it in the first place.
It's funny, it is a little Devil Wears Prada. I do a lot of coffee runs. I do a lot of personal things sometimes. [She'll] be like, 'Go pick up my dog, go get my dry cleaning.' I mean, I do some of that, but it's only because they have so much work to do that they don't have time to do it themselves.

Victor Sverdlin
Junior at University of Central Florida
Major: Digital media
Extra credit: Sverdlin is the owner of Victory Computer Systems

E2i Creative Studio
Design and math consultant intern, May through August 2012

College credit: Three credit hours
Paid: No
Hours: Monday through Friday, noon to 3 p.m.

Internships, in my opinion, fall into two categories: the skilled internship and the body internship.
The body internship is just like it sounds: Companies will take on interns, and they'll sit around and do nothing – or if they are doing something they're running coffee or working in the mail room or doing anything that's not important.
Then there's the skilled internships, and these are internships where companies will take a student on, and they will train the student, like when I took on interns for my computer company. I would train my students on network installation, maintenance and IT sales, and several of those interns I later hired.
I myself have been to body internships, where all I would do was sit in the corner and browse Facebook, and I have also been to internships where they use my expertise to no end. They'll run me ragged, but it's still a body internship because an intern should get something out of where they're interning. That's where a skilled internship comes in, and that's just my opinion from both sides of the fence.
E2i is clearly a skilled internship, from my experience. It is an excellent internship program.

Diana Galvin
Senior at University of Central Florida
Major: Journalism

Orlando Business Journal
Editorial intern, May to August 2012

College credit: Three credit hours
Paid: No, but they compensate for mileage for interns working on stories.
Hours: Thursday 1:30-5:30 p.m., Friday 9:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m.

They give us one assignment per week, just to keep us on track. It's a lot of gathering data and mostly writing profiles.
I was expecting to be more overwhelmed. I have a job that I work at 16 hours a week, and my job is more stressful than the internship.
I've been getting what I want out of it: working with the editors, writing stories, getting feedback – just knowing the process. It's a chill atmosphere. The editors have been really helpful.

Anonymous intern
University of Central Florida alumna

The Disney College Program does not permit its interns to disclose internship duties, so this intern wished to conceal her identity.

Walt Disney World
Disney College Program entertainment intern, May through December 2011

College credit: Interns automatically get six credits, but I chose to take a class at Disney – Disney communications – so I didn't go to class for that semester, but I received college credit for going: nine credits.
Paid: Yes. I made $130 per week after rent ($75 per week) was deducted.
Hours: I was working 30-40 hours per week. Also, I was there at a time when they were cutting hours. I've heard people say that they worked 60 hours a week when they were on their program, and I was like 'What? I've never worked that much.' They would get overtime, but I was just working at a time when they were cutting hours, and they were only giving me the hours that I had to get.

It is mandatory that all interns live on property but, for example, if you're married, and you wanted to live with your significant other, then you can get approved by Disney to live off of the Disney College Program property. I lived in Vista Way [with five roommates], which is like the oldest apartment building of the four. … We used to call it Vista Lay. There were a lot of parties that went on. I never really participated in any, but I heard a lot of stories about people hooking up, and they would tell us never to go in the hot tub because you could get pregnant by just stepping inside of it.
Most of the time I worked at Hollywood Studios as a Playhouse Disney character – like the Little Einsteins – for the little ones.
We would get our costume ready, get our headpieces ready, and we would get into the costume. Then we would go to our first set.
Each set was probably around 20 minutes to 30 minutes depending on how hot it was. After each set, we would get a 30-minute break then we would change and go out again – every 30 minutes.
Sometimes I worked eight hours. Sometimes I worked 10 hours. It really just depended on what I did, but we always got an hour break for lunch.
I had a great experience. I know that some people didn't have a good experience, so I think it depends on what your job title is and what you're doing.
I made a lot of great friends. I still keep in touch with my roommate from Texas. We see each other every year, and I still go to Disney on a regular basis.
One of my roommates got fired because she failed an audit. She was a lifeguard, so they audited her, and they failed her on the spot. Basically, they would have someone watch you, and if you took your eyes off the water for like 10 seconds that could make you fail. Basically, they would just check up on you and make sure you're doing your job, and she was having an off-day so she failed along with a couple of other people.
One day, when I was walking around the dining room, I noticed a Make-A-Wish family. I always pay a little more attention to them. So the mom came up to me and said: 'Your show saved my son's life. I just want to thank you guys so much.' She gave me a hug. … Then I saw her crying out of the corner of my eye so I went back over to her, and she collapsed into my arms and said his cancer is cured just because of you guys, so that was just kind of special.

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