Each summer, 20,000 college students descend on the nation's capital in search of the elusive "perfect internship."
College students believe that an internship at a prestigious Washington institution is a prerequisite for graduate school and later employment. Studies by online career research institute Vault Inc. found that almost 90% of 2003 college graduates had completed an internship.
There has been a rising tide of skepticism about the value of internships. We've all heard the horror stories of interns who are practically indentured slaves. But there are also stories of students who run errands, make photocopies and play computer games, only to later pad their resumes. Bringing the boss coffee transforms into "performed vital administrative functions directly for the company's chief executive."
Insofar as internships offer any substantive rewards, they usually involve networking links rather than solid experience.
Highly motivated and idealistic -- albeit relatively untested -- students can have a positive effect, provided there is sufficient commitment from the employer and the intern. Those offering internships should engage students in purposeful work, rather than regard them as live voice-mail functionaries. Interns should take the initiative in drafting projects that represent a serious contribution, rather than passively wait for instructions that may never come.