The Powerful Intern and the Little Job

One of my duties at Academy of Art University is tracking undergrad and grad student interns as they dip their toe in the job market.

They check in with me a couple of times a week and report their progress and any challenges.

My job is to guide them to the finish line at these companies and help them with questions.

These kids are working at the San Francisco powerhouse NPR affiliate, The Oakland Raiders, CBS Interactive and other organizations, including some in foreign countries.

Much has been reported about the tough spot many young students are in. They’re having trouble finding work. They have loans to pay. The lure of being inside an enterprise, watching and learning, is strong. It’s supposed to be a quid pro quo, this internship. And some get paid for it.

From the Miami Herald: According to a study by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), employers planned to increase internship hires by 8.5 percent over last year. Nearly all planned to pay their interns — the average for bachelor’s degree-level interns was $16.21 per hour, down slightly from the 2011 average of $16.68.

Okay. So there’s a little cash sometimes, and the benefit of experience that can polish rough job skills and possibly even lead to a job offer. And companies get a look at a new generation of worker, arguably bringing fresh thoughts and perspectives.
This is obviously right in my strike zone, working with these sharp kids. They are not so much reinventing as they are exploring. Listening to their expectations and dreams is one of my great passions.
Our conversations are private, so I cannot share their exact words, but I can tell you that I’m proud my school gave them the skills to get inside the doors of these organizations. We did our job, as promised – and they did their part. They did the work. They excelled at it. Now they get a shot.
I tell them to grab the ring – Carpe diem. Take it. They are surrounded by powerful people, decision makers and game changers. I tell them to be relentless, to be curious, and to strike up relationships inside the companies. The window is open for them. They must jump through it.
Doing a job to discover ultimately that your shouldn’t do it is a possibility in the journey they are taking. Some may find eternal bliss in the halls of these companies. Some will do their thing, be done with it, and look elsewhere, but all would likely agree that at these reputable offices the experience was a teachable moment.
When you are headed in a new direction, consider this;  say you take a new position or task and you find out you don’t love it (or worse).  It’s important to remember that you now know what you shouldn’t do. You needed to find out. It should be considered a success, this “failure”. You didn’t fail – you added something to your knowledge base.
This is the beauty of the “little job” you might be able to do while you are working on your reinvention. Taking little jobs gets you some cash and gives you a look inside new environments. It gets you out of your comfort zone, perhaps. Most of us need that shake-up at times in our lives.
I’m proud of my crew of interns. They teach me something every day. Their little jobs are nudging them on an eventual path to a career.
And I get to watch.
John Scott is the national online learning coordinator and a media history professor at the School of Multimedia Communications, Academy of Art University, San Francisco. He also counsels clients and groups on the art of reinvention.
Follow John on Twitter @johnscottsf.

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