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Thread: How long is too long at an internship?

  1. #1
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    How long is too long at an internship?

    Hello everyone,

    I have a question about internships. How long should internships last, realistically? Do employers look critically upon lengthy internships where a person is not hired by the organization or does not get higher-level experience over time?

    Here is the context: I have been interning with an organization for eight months now. I have applied for one of their job openings as a general planner, but there is no guarantee that I will be chosen for this position for various reasons. I'm applying at other places but I've been able to stay on and keep working as an intern here because I've made myself useful and they have more work that I can do. I just got my Master's degree in City Planning in May, and this is my primary "planning" experience thus far, so I'm taking as much as I can get right now. The internship itself has no defined parameters for when it may end, so if there is still work to do, I can stay. However, this is the problem I have with it. Without an end date it seems like I can get stuck doing work, getting experience, but with little pay and no benefits, without it appreciating into a full-time position (assuming my application is turned down). I am already aware of at least two other people who have been interning long-term (we're talking four years) and I have no desire to end up in a situation like that. If they decide not to hire me, I am thinking ahead to how long I would want to continue with this internship. I am thinking that a year is probably long enough, after which I will take my chances elsewhere or expand my job searching to opportunities beyond simply planning.

    What do you think? Is there such a thing as an internship that runs on so long that it is a negative on your resume? Am I simply being paranoid?

  2. #2
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    You intern until you land a job. But as one approaches two years or more, I call that abuse of the intern. In the good old days an internship was one semester.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by D-Amz View post
    Without an end date it seems like I can get stuck doing work, getting experience, but with little pay and no benefits, without it appreciating into a full-time position (assuming my application is turned down). I am already aware of at least two other people who have been interning long-term (we're talking four years) and I have no desire to end up in a situation like that.
    With no ability to raise taxes...erm..."revenue"...to hire real actual staff, in the New Normal this is the only way many governments can get the job done.
    -------
    Give a man a gun, and he can rob a bank. Give a man a bank, and he can rob the world.

  4. #4
    Any "internship" that lasts longer than a few months in the planning industry is immoral on the part of the employers. Firms will hire a bunch of interns and bill their work at a higher rate in order to increase their profit. They're exploiting you and practically lying to their clients about who produces work.

    An internship gets you a bit of experience to prepare you for entry-level jobs. If it's not serving that purpose, then move on.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    In public administration it is not uncommon to see people work in the same internship position for two years while in graduate school. I see no reason why it should not be the same in planning. Working that long in a good internship shuold expose the student to many aspects of planning that are not part of the college curriculum, and can produce a very employable planner. I don't think there is as much of an issue working in an internship position after receiving an undergrad degree, especially if there is a possibility a person will continue to graduate school at the end of the internship. I do raise an eyebrow at a person working an internship after graduating with their masters degree. It seems a bit odd - that person should be readily employable. I know the economic situation and can reason my way around it, but it still seems odd.
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

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    there's no reason not to look for any and all opportunities right now both in and out of planning.

    the only reason to quit your internship if you don't have another gig lined up would be because it interferes with your job search - i.e. can't take days off to go interview.

    it can be tempting to quit right now if you feel you are being taken advantage of by your employer, and you probably are, but it doesn't really help you in the end.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian
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    Whatever happened to the burden falling on the intern to making the most out of an opportunity? There was a previous thread about what should and shouldn't be an internship. Architecture, landscape architecture, engineering, and other LICENSED professions have very rigid criteria over the content and shape of the internship because it is a component TOWARDS a state licensure exam. So what if an internship extends past a semester or a year? I agree that there is a big difference between a regular internship and using an internship as an excuse not to pay someone at least a part time wage. BUT MOST internships do not equate to full time work (I worked in seven of them over a five year stretch, and a certain points 2 at a time with coursework). I also think most students confuse their often first exposure to a working environment and a tough learning curve to forced labor. If the bulk of an intern's job is filing plans or doing light research but doesn't change responsibilities over a long stretch of time, do we call them a planner? No. They are still an intern.
    "This is great, honey. What's the crunchy stuff?"
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  8. #8
    Quote Originally posted by Cardinal View post
    I do raise an eyebrow at a person working an internship after graduating with their masters degree. It seems a bit odd - that person should be readily employable. I know the economic situation and can reason my way around it, but it still seems odd.
    How long you you gonna scratch your head, there, Cardinal? Are you that out of touch with the basic principles of supply and demand and the inflation of near valueless graduate planning degrees?

  9. #9
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    Thanks for the comments, everyone. Your input is appreciated!

    Just to clarify, the internship is with a public agency, so there is no extra profit they are getting from not employing someone full time. There have actually been a number of retirements and resignations taking place recently. While I wouldn't say that I feel "abused," I am starting to get restless as we move into Fall. My hope is to nail something down by the end of the year (though I have heard some friends say it has taken them many months to get something).

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally posted by D-Amz View post
    Just to clarify, the internship is with a public agency, so there is no extra profit they are getting from not employing someone full time.
    Mmm, there's no 'profit', but you can bet that the head of your department gets evaluated based on the amount of work the department accomplishes divided by the number of employees, and likely has a bonus based on that ratio.

    The more work done by interns and not by employees, the better the ratio and the more the bonus.

    Quote Originally posted by D-Amz View post
    My hope is to nail something down by the end of the year.
    Then get cracking NOW. Finding a job takes a while even in good times. You should be working hard on your job search every day.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by chocolatechip View post
    How long you you gonna scratch your head, there, Cardinal? Are you that out of touch with the basic principles of supply and demand and the inflation of near valueless graduate planning degrees?
    I do understand the situation faced by planners today. I see it in my own business and in the many very qualified people I know who have lost jobs. I see it with my neices and nephews who have graduated and still not found work in their field after a year, or worked for a year or two and then were laid off because of government cutbacks (in education). My point is that an internship is usually part of an education, and after being awarded a degree that education is over. The poster was concerned that remaining in an internship for a lengthy period after graduating might raise questions for potential employers. I tend to agree with his concern. My wife is a recruiter and tells me of many companies that will only look at people who are currently employed. That same mentality applies to internships. Many hiring authorities will ask "Why is this person still in an internship a six months or year after getting their masters degree?". Maybe they shouldn't, but they will. (And yes, I understand the problem of being unemployed as the option.) I am not offering a solution, only an observation of what they may face.

    As for a graduate degree being "near valueless", I would disagree with you. But we have already been down that road.
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  12. #12
    ^ excellent points

    It would be wise to pursue other options outside of planning rather than staying in a planning internship for an extended period of time after graduation. It would presumably pay much better, it would avoid a potentially red flag on a resume, and it shows that the individual is capable/versatile/well rounded.

    Avoid the situation Cardinal described in which a potential employers scratches their heads trying to figure out why someone has chosen to stay in an internship long after graduation. It's much easier to justify working in another field temporarily as the planning field continues its (slow) recovery.
    The content contrarian

  13. #13
    Cyburbian Tide's avatar
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    Personally if I was looking at a resume any internship over a year would be a red flag. You should be looking for work almost as soon as you start that internship, or at the least looking for your next internship.
    The company I work for has several interns, but they are part time and paid positions - just no guarantee of follow on work though we do hire many of our interns. In all reality it isn't an "intern" position but a part time temporary position.
    @GigCityPlanner

  14. #14
    Cyburbian dw914er's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Tide View post
    Personally if I was looking at a resume any internship over a year would be a red flag. You should be looking for work almost as soon as you start that internship, or at the least looking for your next internship.
    The company I work for has several interns, but they are part time and paid positions - just no guarantee of follow on work though we do hire many of our interns. In all reality it isn't an "intern" position but a part time temporary position.
    I know of plenty of interns in my area who have been working in their position for 2-3 years post graduation. If one year plus is a red flag, then many planning hopefuls are going to be in trouble. The reality is that their internships are no longer focused on educational training, but instead are geared towards providing cheap labor, aka the New Normal as ColoGl put it. And while the interns are applying elsewhere, they're probably hoping that where they're working might open up a full-time opportunity.

    Quote Originally posted by chocolatechip View post
    Any "internship" that lasts longer than a few months in the planning industry is immoral on the part of the employers.
    I kinda agree, and I think it cheapens the profession. I have read articles related to architecture that say the same thing. However, those employers consider that these internships (or volunteer hours for non-profit and gov't sectors) are apart of the journey. They chose to enforce the idea that a college degree does not mean you have earned a job.
    And that concludes staff’s presentation...

  15. #15
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Tide View post
    Personally if I was looking at a resume any internship over a year would be a red flag. You should be looking for work almost as soon as you start that internship, or at the least looking for your next internship.
    The company I work for has several interns, but they are part time and paid positions - just no guarantee of follow on work though we do hire many of our interns. In all reality it isn't an "intern" position but a part time temporary position.
    Can we quit using the term 'intern' for these situations?

  16. #16
    Cyburbian
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    Even in good times, it can STILL take a new planning graduate (either undergrad or grad) to find a full time entry-level position. I had two internships after I graduated college and I did intern "stuff. I eventually was hired on the strengths of my portfolio and interviewing skills.
    "This is great, honey. What's the crunchy stuff?"
    "M&Ms. I ran out of paprika."

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  17. #17
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by mike gurnee View post
    Can we quit using the term 'intern' for these situations?
    +1.
    -------
    Give a man a gun, and he can rob a bank. Give a man a bank, and he can rob the world.

  18. #18
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    I stayed in a full-time paid intern position for a year after graduation. I was in a situation where I kept being promised a permanent position that just wasn't materializing but I also had a decent fallback if things didn't work out there. So I saw no downside in hanging around to see what happened, especially when my boss knew my intent. It took several months for the permanent position to materialize but in that time my fallback opportunity (the Peace Corps) is coming ever closer. So I'll have to make a decision in a couple months as to what to do.

  19. #19
    Cyburbian
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    I would say that by about three to five years after your graduate degree you should have come to the realization that you aren't getting anywhere and that this is a dead-end profession and that there are better ways to spend your time/serve your community/put $ in your pocket, etc.

    Bottom line: the other posters present a bleak but accurate portrayal of the difficulties in entering the planning profession. Most planning firms and government agencies will be all too happy to go on exploiting the "new normal" and use you for cheap (or free) labor. There are simply too many planning graduates out there too desperate to work for nothing. Additionally, prospective employers will take an unfairly harsh view of your resume when you do begin actively searching for full-time work and will question why you spent so many years interning, along with other irrelevant and arbitrary critiques. And that's IF your resume happens to somehow make it to that level. Hiring staff and HR depts. will likely continue to be inundated with hundreds of resumes per vacancy for the next decade as throngs of aspiring urban planners attempt to cash in on that "valueless" master's degree in city planning.

    On the off chance that you're getting compensated for your services, i.e. a stipend, hourly rate, etc., then consider yourself lucky to not have to be waiting tables or bagging groceries for minimum wage and hold on that internship like dear life. However, if you're interning for free and betting on a $40,000-50,000 a year job with full benefits after a year or two, you'll probably be very disappointed.

  20. #20
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by crummmountain View post
    I would say that by about three to five years after your graduate degree you should have come to the realization that you aren't getting anywhere and that this is a dead-end profession and that there are better ways to spend your time/serve your community/put $ in your pocket, etc.

    Bottom line: the other posters present a bleak but accurate portrayal of the difficulties in entering the planning profession. .
    I'm certainly...erm...sanguine about the profession, but I wouldn't blanketly say that it is dead-end for everyone. There will be a need, just much reduced. There will be too many people looking for too few jobs for some years. That doesn't mean we throw the baby out with the bathwater, it just means we lay it out for the prospective entrant.
    -------
    Give a man a gun, and he can rob a bank. Give a man a bank, and he can rob the world.

  21. #21
    Quote Originally posted by ColoGI View post
    I'm certainly...erm...sanguine about the profession, but I wouldn't blanketly say that it is dead-end for everyone. There will be a need, just much reduced. There will be too many people looking for too few jobs for some years. That doesn't mean we throw the baby out with the bathwater, it just means we lay it out for the prospective entrant.
    Numbers, numbers. What do they all mean, anyway?


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  22. #22
    Cyburbian
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    Ok, "dead profession"? Perhaps not. But I would still say that all but the most die-hard of aspiring urban planners should be strongly dissuaded from pursuing this profession.

    However, it is ultimately up to the OP and others in the same situation if it is worth it to squander four years as an intern waiting for a big break when you could be using that time to re-train for something with better employment prospects.

    There are two things to keep in mind here: 1.) planning as a profession is suffering as a result not only of cyclical contraction, but of a more long-term correction of previous years' excess hiring. Further, like lawyers, the system has produced far too many urban planners than are needed, so there is a long-term structural constraint as well. 2.) Urban planning is a very high maintenance career requiring just the right choices about career moves and timing to get ahead. It's not like getting a license to practice medicine. If you miss out on 3 to 5 years after a getting your master's degree you may well be in your 30s before getting a full time position, putting you at a lifelong competitive disadvantage.

    Why throw good time and money after bad? Go back to school for computer programming or physical therapy.

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    Quote Originally posted by crummmountain View post
    Go back to school for computer programming or physical therapy.
    Getting a second bachelor's in computer science ain't a bad idea if you have the aptitude and are prepared to move to a city with a tech sector (away from the coasts, most cities have VERY slim pickings for programmers).

    Better bet, become a cop. More here:
    http://www.cyburbia.org/forums/showt...t-requirements

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    Quote Originally posted by nrschmid View post
    Whatever happened to the burden falling on the intern to making the most out of an opportunity? There was a previous thread about what should and shouldn't be an internship. Architecture, landscape architecture, engineering, and other LICENSED professions have very rigid criteria over the content and shape of the internship because it is a component TOWARDS a state licensure exam. So what if an internship extends past a semester or a year? I agree that there is a big difference between a regular internship and using an internship as an excuse not to pay someone at least a part time wage. BUT MOST internships do not equate to full time work (I worked in seven of them over a five year stretch, and a certain points 2 at a time with coursework). I also think most students confuse their often first exposure to a working environment and a tough learning curve to forced labor. If the bulk of an intern's job is filing plans or doing light research but doesn't change responsibilities over a long stretch of time, do we call them a planner? No. They are still an intern.
    he should leave

    Quote Originally posted by Blide View post
    I stayed in a full-time paid intern position for a year after graduation. I was in a situation where I kept being promised a permanent position that just wasn't materializing but I also had a decent fallback if things didn't work out there. So I saw no downside in hanging around to see what happened, especially when my boss knew my intent. It took several months for the permanent position to materialize but in that time my fallback opportunity (the Peace Corps) is coming ever closer. So I'll have to make a decision in a couple months as to what to do.
    I'm in the same position now but my intern has no intent on hiring me even though i was told that at the interview and i have prior knowledge of them hiring the last intern in a month. I've overheard him a few times and he doesn't seem to have any intentions to hire me even though he knew my intent. Even if i got offered a position now i know it wouldn't have been his doing like the last intern but probably being convinced by someone else which i would probably decline . I'm not getting hired i assume and if i got hired i don't really want it anymore i'm gonna start looking elsewhere. I've proven that i can do multiple jobs and i'm a hard woker.I'm ending my second semester there soon so it's almost over though

  25. #25
    Cyburbian Vancity's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by crummmountain View post
    If you miss out on 3 to 5 years after a getting your master's degree you may well be in your 30s before getting a full time position, putting you at a lifelong competitive disadvantage.
    What does age matter? Due to my having to work full-time, school part-time to get by, and having a late start on figuring out what I want to do, I expect to graduate with my Bachelors at 26, and my Master's at 28/29. Do interviewers really care how old somebody is? All they'll see is my 2018 graduation date. Maybe the US is different, but this is fairly normal for many Canadian folks these days as far as I know-- especially the lower middle classes who can't afford not to work a dead-end job during school (okay... maybe I'll be a couple years older than your average grad... but I know lots of people still screwing around in their 30's). Secondly, nobody I know with a bachelor's degree is interning... They're all either jobless or pursueing higher education. My understanding has been that bachelor's degrees (in the arts at least) are of no worth whatsoever in the job market. That said we don't have a school that offers Bachelors in planning in my area, so I don't know what those students would come out like of we had them here, hah. I, personally, will not have the option to intern during school, because I can't afford to give up my stable, fairly well-paid job. I can't fully understand how people support themselves on part time/intern/free wages!?

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