Getting an internship: the changing role of the intern

In the past year, the role of the intern has shifted dramatically. The employer mindset has gone from viewing the internship as a form of corporate community service to a method for accessing free labor. In a thriving economy, employers want to invest in the future workforce by providing opportunities for young emerging professionals to learn about their industry and professions. However, when times get tough, employers want to simply stay alive long enough to get through the recession.

As an intern, you need to adjust to this new mindset and approach the internship differently than in the past. Instead of approaching your next internship as an opportunity to learn about a profession or industry, you’ll want to pursue an internship with the goal of contributing your skills in a way that generates value and substance for the employer. As a result of your contribution, you will no doubt learn about the profession and industry but the goal should be contributing not learning. Employers in this tough economy are trying to make their dollars go farther and their people produce more. Internships help them accomplish both. Promoting yourself as the intern who can help them do more for less is a great way to get noticed.

So what does this mean for you? Well for starters, when asked in an interview, “Why do you want this internship?” focus on what you can do for the employer. Do not talk about how this is a great opportunity for you to learn about the industry and profession. While that might also be true, it is not the most important reason to highlight in the interview. What’s important to the employer is your ability to take initiative and produce quality work as a member of their team.

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2 Comments on “Getting an internship: the changing role of the intern”

  1. nicole Says:

    Thanks! This is a really helpful article, because I think many of us have been taught that the purpose of the internship is to learn. Since the role of the internship is a little different during a recession it is helpful for me at least to know what I should be expecting, so I won’t be disappointed or hurt my chances as a candidate. You are right that if we want to learn, we will learn just by being on the job in any capacity. Keep them coming!

    • Peter Davidowicz Says:

      While I understand the evolving job market, I have severe moral and ethical concerns about internships being considered “free” labor by employers. Labor should never be free for an employer, it is a complete perversion of the capitalist society we live in.
      Certainly, interns can and should be productive when and where they can apply themselves and the skills they are learning. Both employers and interns should also have a vested interest in the advancement of the company/employer.
      Internships are for the experience of the intern. They should not be used to replace job training or as a source of free labor; employers that use interns as such should be ashamed of themselves.

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