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A New Course for the Internship

In a world where a bachelor’s degree is the new high school diploma and good grades are subjective from school to school, real-world work experience is universally considered the best way for college graduates to stand out. And the best way to get that experience is landing several internships as an undergrad.

VOCATIONAL VALUE

“I think internships are really critical,” said Suzanne Wenz, Regional Director of Public Relations of the Fairmont Hotels and Resorts. “They really help you stand out amidst a crowd of applicants.”

Internships are valuable experiences for students because they provide professional experience, networking opportunities and the opportunity to try out the field they are working in, said Boston University Office of Career Services Director Dick Leger.

“The experience of working in a corporate environment is an absolutely sensational experience, whether you get academic credit or get paid, it’s just great life experience,” said Chris Cakebread, ad interim Associate Dean of the College of Communication and former director of the COM advertising internship program.

Internship can be a dirty word for many students, evoking images of fetching coffee and being glued to a photocopier for eight hours without pay — but every student knows they need them.

There are a variety of different sights and services students can visit to find their niche in the intern world but by time the wild goose chase is up, so are most of the application deadlines. Motivated by personal internship frustrations, two Boston University College of Communication seniors majoring in advertising started a platform where students could offer real insight and where businesses could peruse the reviews and post positions.

INTERNET INTERESTS

The website Intern-U.com was born out of co-founders Anand Chopra-McGowan and Dan Chaparian’s desire for a centralized source in searching for the internships students so desperately need. The idea began in August, and by September they had already begun the early stages of design with School of Management sophomore Jason Kahn and College of Engineering sophomore Jeff Li. In its early stages, the co-founders used their personal networks to get companies to post positions, but earlier this week, they sent a mass email recruiting about 500 companies in Boston to utilize their site.

“We basically want it to be a hub for internships,” Chaparian said, noting he got his first internship from reading an email from COM Student Services. The two hope to eliminate these kinds of variables and solidify the available information.

Anyone can register for Intern-U.com and submit a review, as long or as short as they like. The founding duo said they pride themselves in providing the relevant insight students need before going on an interview and signing away their summer.

The site contains a “How to Land this Internship” category, where intern veterans give the classified information about the necessary character traits and skills companies are looking for — information that can only come from someone who has been there. The reviews also offer insight as to what type of duties will be performed as an intern.

“There are so many agencies out there that look great, but once you’re brought in as an intern, you find out a different story,” said COM senior Rachel Barbarotta, who posted on Intern-U and has interned for Gearon Hoffman Advertising Agency, Modernista! Advertising Agency and Off Campus 101 Magazine. “I had an experience like that with a very highly-respected agency, so I’d like to help others avoid a similar situation.”

At Intern-U, students will get practical insight about all the positions they’re going for, and employers will see what students want and tailor their programs to attract the best interns, “leveling the playing field” on both ends, according to Chopra-McGowan.

That is not to say students should demand to be treated as top-tier associates and employers should simply comply.

MOVIN’ ON UP

“We understand that you are at the bottom as an intern,” Chopra-McGowan said. “But the best situation is where you know your place but are in a position where you can learn the most from the people on top.”

Chaparian, remembering an internship where he made photocopies for hours at a time, said there is no accountability for companies regarding the type of work they delegate to interns.

“Internships are educational, they have to have practical applications,” Chaparian said. “But often interns have no voice to stand up for this.”

SMG senior Morris Alhale said responsibilities often have to be earned, just like any other job.

“They have to be able to trust you. You have to build that trust,” said Alhale, who reviewed his two internships with Morgan Stanley in Boston and one with Citigroup in London on Intern-U.

COM sophomore Nick Ferullo, who interns in the Artist Assistant department for the Boston Pops, said in the process of getting lunch for employees and stapling information packets, he took time to learn about the artists he was working for and ask them questions. Ferullo’s iniative paid off — he was given more responsibilities and was hired back when he applied for a second internship in a different department.

The swarms of college students in Boston make the race for internships a tight one, but the opportunities are out there for assertive students, Chopra-McGowan and Chaparian said.

Not every student will land a dream spot at a prestigious A-list company, but there are plenty of positions available at the smaller companies that can offer equally valuable experience. The companies, however, often lack resources and connections to recruit at big schools and on major websites. Chopra-McGowan and Chaparian hope to remedy this by encouraging many businesses to post on Intern-U.

“For smaller companies, a service like this can become a fantastic way to get their information out,” Chopra-McGowan said.

Leger said he often receives emails from companies who posted on BU internship websites, but have not received any student application.

COSTS AND BENEFITS OF COMPETITON

“I think there are enough internships for students who want them in the City of Boston,” said Marissa Lewis, event coordinator and intern coordinator of the public relations firm Aigner Associates.

Students and employers have recognized heavy competition for the most desirable of positions, though. Aigner Associates receives 50-70 applications every semester and only takes on three to four interns, Lewis said. Ferullo said of 23 students applied for his position, five were called back and one was hired. The sheer number of colleges in Boston flood the intern market, but Ferullo noted he may have had an advantage applying as a BU student because much of the staff at his job are BU alumni.

The competition, however, is good preparation for the post-college world in and of itself, readying students for the “lengthy and arduous” process of interviewing for post-college jobs, Cakebread noted,.

Students who actually land the best internships often have to pay a heavy price for them: no pay at all. Many internships do not offer financial compensation and only academic credit for an entire summer of work. Chopra-McGowan said compensation should depend on the internship — unpaid 40-hour work-weeks are unfair, while 15-20 hour ones are more realistic. Lewis said students willing to take the unpaid positions and take on part-time jobs to subsist show great drive and initiative.

“I think for me it shows what a student is willing to commit. It makes them push themselves harder,” she said, coming from the position as a former unpaid Aigner intern.

Still, most say the learning experience is just as beneficial as monetary compensation. Alhale said sacrificing pay for a summer could lead to greater paying jobs in the future. Alhale, who already has a post-college job lined up at a small investment group in New York City, credited the three internships listed on his resume for “98 percent” of why he got into the first round of the job selection.

Many students won’t like their internships and will realize the field they worked in is not the career path they wanted to pursue, Cakebread said. He also said students’ dissatisfaction with their internship field is just as educational as satisfaction with it, noting many students enter advertising internships with idealistic views of a breezy innovative industry, but are surprised by the reality of long hours and endless unseen tasks.

Alhale said after his first Morgan Stanley internship, he realized he did not like private investing. Ferullo’s Pops internship did the opposite. He found his first Pops internship unintentionally while searching for concert tickets on the Internet, and entered it without knowing what sector of the communications industry he wanted to work in.

“I now know I want to work in arts management,” he said, noting he asks his boss daily if he can steal her job in the future.

Aside from offering the marketable skills for future employment and the learning experience, internships often serve as the direct pathway into full-time employment at the same company. Aigner Associates’ staff of ten is entirely comprised of previous interns, said Lewis. It’s not a rule for hire, but Aigner knows its interns are already fully aware of the job responsibilities.

The co-founders of Intern-U said they hope for jobs at the agencies where they are currently interning, and even though Intern-U won’t directly benefit them as their internship searches are officially over, they still find meaning in their endeavor. Hard-working students deserve the internships that could launch them into career success, they said.

“We’re here for students,” Chaparian said.”They deserve it.”

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