What To Tell Your Little Sister About Her First Internship

mentorsBy Ashley Mosley

These days, internships are a rite of passage for students and young professionals. That rite of passage, however, has recently been tested.

According to ProPublica, more than 30 lawsuits have been filed by interns against firms like Sony and Universal. While most complaints have to do with back pay, discrimination and sexual harassment have also been noted.

Consider this: Your little sister is venturing into her first internship. What sorts of things should you tell her? In order to optimize her role to ensure she’s getting the most out of her internship, here are things she needs to know:

Internships Should Be Educational
Contrary to the movies, internships shouldn’t be about grabbing coffee, running errands, or making photocopy after photocopy. They should directly relate to her field of study or boost her career in some way. Recent reports also suggest this is what the majority of interns want, with 30.2 percent reporting they want the chance to do real work and 47.3 percent reporting they are interested in access to executives and mentorship.

Interns Should Be Compensated For Their Work
Here’s the deal: Interns need to be compensated for their work. There’s no way around it. The majority of the 30+ lawsuits mentioned previously have to deal with compensation; the fact that interns were putting in the work, but not getting paid for it. Plus, paid interns are generally happier and more engaged. Being paid can also help the millions of students who have the burden of student loans.

Consider telling your little sister this: Paid internships not only attract the most diverse candidates, these interns also have an increased shot at getting hired.

If your little sister has taken on an unpaid internship, make sure she’s also aware of her rights — and alternatives she can request if pay is not an option: a stipend, skills training, networking opportunities, event attendance, flexibility, or company outings.

Internships Should Never Be an Excuse For Discrimination
While your little sister may be expecting a rosy experience, there is a dark side to internships: discrimination. Your little sister needs to be aware of this. While standards such as the Fair Labor Standards Act exist, guidelines for internships aren’t clear. An internship employer could read these standards and interpret them as they see fit. If she feels uncomfortable, is not gaining an educational experience, or has a fear that she will be arbitrarily dismissed, encourage her to talk to a mentor, co-worker, or even a legal professional.

Internships Should Allow You to Work with Diverse People
Your little sister probably didn’t think about this: Internships provide the opportunity to work with a diverse group of people, potentially under a variety of settings. From senior leaders of the organization to those from around the world, diversity can be a great way to show her varying perspectives and insights.

Encourage her to push for access and mentorship from diverse leaders. This will allow her to perfect her work skills with people from different backgrounds, education levels, and ranks. In addition, diverse groups of people give your little sister the opportunity to understand how her experience varies from others, giving her a more worldly view of her industry.

Internships Should Enable You to Prove Your Worth
In the end, internships can give your little sister the opportunity to prove her worth. She has the chance to work on different projects, go above and beyond her job duties, and gain valuable experience.

Tell her to look at the bigger picture during her program. What does she want to get out of it? A job? Contacts? Access to big names and influencers? If she’s unsure, tell her to do her best and accomplish more than what’s asked of her. Though she’s allowed to be uncertain about the future, proving her worth to her industry is always something she should strive for.

While your little sister may be excited about her first internship, be sure to fill her in on these important aspects — doing so can be the difference between a good experience and a great one.

Ashley Mosley is the Community Engagement Manager of InternMatch, an online platform connecting the best intern candidates and employers. Connect with Ashley and InternMatch on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.