Get Your Parents On Board: Advice From A Mom Of 2 Unpaid Interns

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You’ve decided it’s time to get some work experience in your field and you start scrolling through a list of possible student internships.

After reading through a pile that don’t match up with what you’re looking for, you strike gold.

The job title is what you dream of calling yourself one day.

The job description is your ideal “day in the life.”

“To ease your parents’ minds, show them some facts surrounding the benefits of an internship.” —Stephanie Reid, Executive Assistant, BlueCat Networks (and mother of two unpaid interns)

You’re in the midst of doing your very own Lotto 649 “Happy Dance” when you scroll down to find your worst nightmare: compensation? Unpaid.

Unpaid internships, although daunting at first, can be an extremely beneficial (and integral) step in your career path.

Stephanie Reid, an Executive Assistant at BlueCat Networks and mother of two unpaid interns, once had her own hesitations about the workin’-for-free lifestyle.

However, as her two children became success stories, she realized the value of unpaid internships and was more than happy to share her initial fears and lessons learned.

If you’ve taken on an unpaid internship this summer and it’s not going over well with your parents, share this article with them – Stephanie’s experience and advice might help put them at ease.

Tell us a bit about your kids. How did they get where they are now?

Stephanie: Christian graduated last May from the College of Sports Media and is currently working part-time as an Editorial Assistant at World Fishing Network, owned by Insight Sports. He secured this position by fulfilling his school’s required three-month internship, as well as completing an additional three-month extension.

Emily just completed her second year at the University of Guelph-Humber studying Media Studies and majoring in PR. She is currently interning at The Kit, a Canadian online fashion and beauty magazine owned by the Toronto Star.  She got the position by entering a blogging contest last summer and was chosen to write articles as a freelancer. Once the school year was finished, Emily applied for a summer internship and was offered the position.

How did you help your kids evaluate whether an unpaid experience was a good one or not?

Stephanie: After Christian’s initial three-month session didn’t land him a job, we were all surprised and a bit worried – prematurely, it turns out. I learned – from TalentEgg – that another few months would be beneficial only if it met the following criteria, that he is:

  • learning more career-related skills
  • making industry connections
  • using the education he just earned

For us, he was meeting all the above criteria and we felt it was reasonable that a new grad may not “prove themselves” to an employer in just three months.

For Emily, the description of the internship was surprisingly relevant and seemed to meet the above criteria.  Once again, we found ourselves supporting a student who was spending three days a week downtown and not making a dime.  However, in her career-related position she is making valuable contacts and contributing in ways that match her degree.

What are you hoping your kids will get out of their work experiences?

Stephanie: After hearing about how many kids change course, I guess the main thing I was hoping for was confirmation that they were on the right track at school – or not, and fixing that quickly.  Both of them interned at places which they imagine are similar to their own career aspirations.  It’s not the same experience if an intern is doing solitary photocopying all day and thus not learning anything or meeting people.  I also hope my kids see the variety of positions out there which they may not have otherwise learned about.

What advice do you have for students whose parents aren’t so supportive of them pursuing unpaid work?

Stephanie: I realize that not everyone can afford to do three to 12 months of unpaid work in the summer or immediately following graduation. If you’re early in your education and covering your own expenses, try to budget for an internship.

To ease your parents’ minds, show them some facts surrounding the benefits of an internship. Parents need to hear some positive results and need to see you using your degree, networking and updating your resume.

Also, have a time-limit.  If your parents know that, at nine months, for example, you’ll re-evaluate how it’s going, they won’t be constantly questioning why you’re working for free.

How did you manage your concerns about your kids’ unpaid experiences?

Stephanie: When Christian’s internship was extended, he was actually the one who felt bad since he thought he should be working full-time after graduation. We did discuss how difficult it would be to go on much longer, and what we discovered by talking openly was the confidence and experience he’d already gained while interning.  Together, we looked at jobs posted online at a level above his and saw that he was now experienced and competent in so many of the requirements.  We felt then that we were definitely on the right track and his unpaid position was leading him somewhere.

My concern with “go-getter” Emily was that interning at a larger organization may result in her being given small tasks and not much responsibility. We knew any coffee-fetching internship would make her miserable, but because we already had one good experience we agreed she should learn more. By the first day it was clear that she was given a lot more responsibility than we’d imagined and she continues to be happily contributing and being treated like a colleague.

Often people don’t realize how legitimate an internship is. “When Emily was chosen for her internship we took her picture, told Grandma, whatever,” Stephanie says. “We had no idea it was something real that she was going to gain so many valuable experiences and soft skills from.”

My advice to those looking to explore the internship path: do your “Happy Dance” before calling Grandma. It is more deserved than you may realize!

Photo credit: American Parents by Offbeat Photography on Flickr
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