By Mel Beasley, CSB Marketing Assistant
Imagine. You spot the perfect internship online and apply. They call you for an interview. They promise college credit, it pays $15 per hour to start, and you get to work from your couch! What could be better than that? Absolutely nothing. Well, that is until you’ve done three weeks of work before you realize that ACME Corporation was actually the evil fictional company from Loony Tunes responsible for falling anvils and other disasters.
You’ve become the victim of an internship scam.
As we discussed in a prior post, internships are great for beefing up your resume after college, and research indicates that those who have internships under their belts are more likely to land a higher paying career position after college. Unfortunately, with all good things come bad.
Here are four mistakes to avoid when dealing with internships.
1. You apply to a fake company or get involved in another type of scam
If it sounds easy and promises a large payout, it’s probably bunk. Scam job postings typically have ridiculous headings: “Make money while you sleep!” “Work at home and make big money with no experience!” “First impressive paycheck attached!” Authentic companies usually aren’t looking to pay inexperienced college students large sums of money for small amounts of work.
Scammers will encourage applicants to send them personal information such as a social security number, banking information or PayPal info right off the bat. This should be a major red flag that the posting is a scam and you should avoid that offering. “In general, applicants do not pay a fee to obtain a job, but there are some rare exceptions – so be careful, and consult with a professional at UNCW Career Center first” (UNCW Red Flags for Job Postings).
It’s always a good idea to never open surprise emails from senders you don’t recognize. If you receive an amazing job offer in your email, we promise it was not the universe sending positive energies for not littering. Try to stick with reputable job posting platforms such as Indeed, Monster or UNCW’s Handshake.
2. You apply for an internship that has nothing to do with your field of study or career interests
Internships have the power to push your resume to the top of the pile, but only if they are relevant to the desired position. For example, my major is creative writing and journalism. The list of internships available to me included a lot of things labeled “writing,” but they had nothing to do with the kind of writing I hoped to do in the future. Writing Facebook posts for a local nonprofit organization, though noble, was not going to get me any closer to becoming a columnist for a major publication. Instead, I chose internships with local publications which fit my long-term goals.
Working an internship that’s related to your desired career can help pinpoint whether it’s a good fit for you. You may realize you absolutely hate the work and go another direction. On the other hand, you may love it and meet someone in the company who is willing to hire you on full time after you graduate.
3. You stay way too long at your internship
An internship should be thought of as an exchange: You provide quality work to gain college credit and experience, or you provide quality work in exchange for experience and an entry-level wage. Once there is no exchange happening between the company and the intern, it’s no longer worthwhile for at least one party. Generally speaking, around three to four months is a good length of time to spend at your internship. Once you’ve received your college credits, you should move on to the next thing. If you’re doing the internship for pay and experience without college credit involved, avoid staying more than three months unless the employer is genuinely interested in hiring you on permanently.
“They want you to stay? It's flattering, but interns often hang around too long—three months should be your maximum in one place,” writes Tanya de Grunwald, contributing writing for Monster.com. “If your internship is unpaid or expenses only, never extend your internship unless they offer you a proper wage. But you shouldn't really wait for them to take charge. It's a much better plan to [take charge yourself].”
4. You work for free with nothing in exchange
The Department of Labor has strict guidelines for what constitutes a true internship, and in each case there must be some exchange happening. If you aren’t working for college credit, the internship must be paid (no highway option). Nonprofit organizations are the only ones that can get away with unpaid internships, but you should not stay more than a few months.
“Based on the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which was created to ensure that all workers be paid at least a fair minimum wage, the federal government is cracking down on unpaid internships to discourage employers from the practice of having interns work for free,” writes Penny Loretto, The Balance Careers contributor.
Learn the law surrounding internships, and make sure to reference them during your internship if necessary. The Cameron School of Business Career Resources site has many more resources for you to utilize in your internship hunt.