Internships Clouded by Increasing Controversy

Internships These days, going to college and getting that coveted degree may not be enough to land your dream career. The job market is so saturated with competition that internships can be a critical step toward getting an entry-level job.

But has the stereotype of interns going on coffee runs, making copies and not getting paid been greatly exaggerated and even tarnished the process? To learn more about the misconceptions and controversies surrounding internships, AOL Jobs recently spoke to Heather R. Huhman (pictured), a career expert, experienced hiring manager and author of "Lies, Damned Lies & Internships: The Truth About Getting From Classroom to Cubicle." She's also been a five-time intern.

How important is it for students to do internships?

Internships are the new rung on the ladder leading to the entry-level job. No longer can you graduate from college with little to no actual experience in your field and expect to land an entry-level job. You'll likely have to complete at least one internship to get your foot in the door. Internships help students and professionals learn how to apply their knowledge and skills in real world situations. They also help build one's professional network before (and after) graduation, and can introduce you to individuals who will help in your job search in the future.

Why all the recent controversies surrounding internships?

There has been quite a bit of controversy surrounding internships in the last year or so. Particularly, unpaid and for-credit-only internships have taken a lot of heat because some employers aren't committed to the education and mentorship that should be a key aspect of an internship program. This can be attributed to the fact that the laws surrounding internship programs don't provide clear enough guidance for companies with internship programs, or that those laws aren't really enforced.

Some current problems surrounding internship programs include the prevalence of full-time, unpaid opportunities, the negative connotation of the word "intern," and employers replacing regular employees with interns. I've said before that full-time, unpaid opportunities should be illegal, and for-profit companies that can afford to pay their interns should do so. Interns also need to have the opportunity to work on real assignments and projects, which is a gray area right now in terms of the law.

What are the characteristics of a good internship program?

Unfortunately, bad internship programs tend to get the most press. But there are great programs out there, too. You just need to know what to look for. In order to determine if an internship program is a good one, look at the following characteristics: mentorship, education, meaningful work, culture, recommendations, and networking opportunities. It shouldn't matter if you intern at a "big name" company -- startups and small businesses provide great experiences, too!

How can companies create an internship program?

Companies looking to start an internship program need to be dedicated to teaching key skills to inexperienced students and new professionals in the field. In order to accomplish this, mentorship and supervision should be a vital part of the program. The internship supervisor must have enough available time to dedicate to intern candidates to provide them with a valuable experience. Other important aspects of a good internship program include proper onboarding, timely feedback, and flexibility.

How can a student turn an internship into full-time employment?

Students and recent graduates have an advantage over other job seekers once they begin interning for a company -- they can prove themselves during the internship period and show the employer why they deserve a full-time job there! Many employers now choose to hire for entry-level positions from their intern pool, because they've seen their work and know them personally. You can turn an internship into a full-time gig by creating results and being irreplaceable within the organization. It's also important to come to work every day with a positive, eager attitude and exhibit strong communication skills.

How can an employer turn interns into full-time employees?

Mentorship is a vital component of any successful internship program. Employers must create an environment where interns feel like an asset by giving them meaningful work, providing feedback and communicating regularly. It's also important to show your interns how they can grow with your organization by talking with them about their future near the end of their internship.

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