There’s a lot of talk amidst the millennial generation about internships and if they really are helpful or are they a waste of time. Google “are internships worth it” and you get a large collection of articles saying they are not. Apply for a job in LA and you won’t get a reply, but apply for an internship with the same company, and someone will call you within a few weeks. Are internships only a form of cheap labor for a business or are they actually helpful to the student?
Internships are known for providing valuable experiences for undergraduate or post-graduate students. They give them another name on their resume, and maybe even a job at the end of the 3, 6, or 9 months. Most internships these days are unpaid. Interns work regular 9-5 hours (or more!), carrying a large load of work without any benefits. The cost is high if the student is paying for living expenses, gas, and the price of the college course to earn the credit. Does the learning experience out way the costs? Can you get a job if you skip the internship?
The old saying goes: No experience, no work. No work, no experience. The saying holds true today. Employers want to see that the person they’re hiring has had some type of background in their field. That’s where internships come in hand. Take my story as a case study:
I began looking for a video internship this spring, with the hope to gain experience that would help me chase my dreams of becoming an international video storyteller. I was not hoping for a job at the end, only that I would walk away having learned a thing or two about cameras, editing, and storytelling. I researched several companies in the areas of Birmingham and Chattanooga and Jackson, and after several email chains with a few gropus, SixFootFive Productions allowed me to jump on board with them for the summer in Birmingham.
SixFootFive is a production company made up of three ping-pong loving men that know their stuff. They shoot video and stills for companies all over the world, both commercial and nonprofit. I was excited to join them.
On the first day, I walked into the studio bright-eyed, cheery, nervous, and clueless. For about half an hour, Dan, the producer, talked video language on the phone with a client (he might as well have been speaking Polish) as I sat at a desk wondering what I was supposed to be doing. I did understand the hand motion and mouthed word “coffee” so I headed to the studio’s kitchen to make a large pot, the first of many.
The first few weeks of my internship were glazed over with the rookie excitement of working with a video crew and having expensive cameras take longstanding breaks on my desk. However, once the daze wore off and I was left sitting in the studio for days doing homework and my own editing, I began wondering if this internship was worth my time. I learned that I had joined SixFootFive during their slowest time yet, and no one knew when business would pick up again. For almost two whole months, my schedule mainly consisted of coffee making, a little bit of set/crew research, and a few small editing jobs. I touched a camera once to hold it for one of the guys to rearrange a set, and then again to take the camera to the AC (assistant camera).
Thankfully, during the last month of the internship, business picked up, and the company began cranking out jobs left and right. I was able to be a production assistant (PA) on several sets and did more work as a producer’s assistant behind the computer researching sites and crew members.
Overall, the experience was not what I had been hoping for at the beginning of the summer. I am not walking out of the studio knowing how to operate a RedEpic or how to tell a story better (and I realize some of those wishes were naive). However, I would not consider this time a waste. I have gained production experience and tasted the set life. (I now know how to make airplane sounds on a walkie-talkie. Oh ya, and answer one: “Go for Varina.”) I have experienced the high energy, hard work, and high stress of assembling a crew together for a shoot and budgeting it. I have been humbled by my lack of knowledge and experience when it comes to, well, pretty much everything with video, editing, and production. In three months, I have realized how much of a rookie I am.
But the question remains, was the internship worth the time, energy, effort, and gas from driving thirty minutes to the studio each day? My answer is, for several reasons, yes.
Interning for SixFootFive allowed me to work in a professional environment without the pressure of a paycheck cut but enough pressure to push me to soak in all the new knowledge and perform to my best ability. As an intern, I had permission to ask as many questions as I liked and was not expected to already know how to do everything. I learned (and am still learning) how to handle myself with my bosses, on a production set, and with business clients. I networked with members of set crews, advertising agencies, and local businesses. I witnessed the stress and sweat of running a small production company. I now have experience as a production assistant that will help in applying for future jobs. And, one of the most helpful benefits, I gained constructive criticism from professionals in the field that will help direct my learning and work in the future.
Largely, this job pointed me back to my dreams. I had a conversation with Taylor (THE six foot five man) my last week at the studio that helped me gather my thoughts enough to form a conclusion about this internship. He asked me what I wanted to do with my life, what was my dream. I described to him my desire to tell stories for nonprofits all over the world, tell the stories no one knows, and create awareness that moves people into action. With an incredulous face, he raised his hands and enthusiastically told me that what I have been doing this summer is not going to help me follow that dream! He is right. This internship has not taught me new camera skills or storytelling techniques, but it has given me a small taste of the production world without hurting me or completely knocking me off my course in life. More than anything, the experience has pointed me back to my dream of telling stories overseas and shown me the amount of hours and sweat it will take to get to a point where I see my work as worth something. But, if this is really want I want, Taylor encouraged, the work is worth the sweat.
My internship had the cliché moments of coffee making and errand running, but the experience I got was worth the cost and mundane chores. The experience helped a young mind enter into the professional environment, learn a little more how the real world works, and see which road of life I would like to venture down (or not venture down).
For those out there who still have to complete their internships, I would encourage you to take this story in stride and enter into a workplace with an open, humble mind, ready to work hard. Be wise about finances during the months of free labor (live with your parents or on a friends couch if you have to. Raman noodles are cheap…). Be willing to do the dirty work, but also push yourself to think big and work hard and take the initiative when you see a job that needs to be done. Be resourceful. Have fun. Gain an experience that will help your future.