When I took a semester off between my sophomore and junior year of college and interned for a public relations firm in Los Angeles, not only did I find myself running coffee errands around Melrose Avenue, but also doing a considerable amount of grunt work necessary at a real job. Despite the typical intern tasks I was presented with, interning for eight hours a day for six months taught me valuable life lessons that showed me why internships—paid or unpaid—matter, and why they are beneficial in every young adult’s life.
1. A chance to test drive a career.
During my first week at a fashion PR firm, high-powered stylist Jeanne Yang, whose clients include Katie Holmes and Christian Bale, came in for an appointment. The moment Yang greeted me with the words, “I only have fifteen minutes,” I knew I had to hustle right before she could thumb through the racks and choose the clothes she’d borrow for a fitting. The hustle was not easy, and I had to lather, rinse, repeat for the next six months for different clients, while juggling other intern tasks such as preparing client reports and inventorying. I enjoyed working in the industry but within those months, I reassessed my career path and wondered if I was properly sewn for a professional life in fashion. I didn’t think I was; however, tedious tasks and quarter-life crisis aside, my internship did provide the hands-on experience I was after, and gave me insight into my own happiness regarding a career I was considering.
2. Internships help build your resume.
Before I became an intern, my resume consisted of school accomplishments I used as space fillers, a list of qualifications that showcased my extensive vocabulary, and my old job in healthcare that had nothing to do with neither writing nor public relations. I lacked the experience and the exposure that employers wanted in their potential employees. The summer after I finished my internship, I applied for two jobs: one at another PR company and one at Bloomingdale’s. To my surprise, both companies responded to my resume and invited me for an interview. While my resume still contained a few space fillers, having my internship on there showcased the newfound skills and responsibilities I handled as an intern, which were relevant in the field I wanted to enter.
3. Internships make for great wake-up calls.
My internship brought me back to reality during a period where I expected to be an overnight success. “By the end of the year, I’m going to publish a book,” I said to myself. I didn’t publish one. I didn’t even write a chapter. Instead, I ended up doing computer work when I wasn’t trotting around with garment bags or trying to learn the difference between a circle skirt and an A-line skirt. Although there were moments when the work made me want to bang my head against the desk, I realized I would be doing the same type of work—or something worse—at another entry-level job. The work I did taught me patience and understanding, and that our ideal jobs are not always easy or as movie-perfect as we would like to believe.
4. A chance for self-improvement and taking risks.
Interning in fashion PR put me in the same room with fashionistas. My bosses, my fellow interns, and our clients would show up to the office like they just stepped out of a lookbook, while I stood in the corner in my Levi’s and Jack Purcell. Rather than finding it intimidating, however, I found it inspiring. Despite being a fashion admirer, I was afraid to take risks and to try something new with my wardrobe choices. When it came to my own style, I had a look in mind but my doubt and fear of being different made me hesitant to try. It wasn’t until one morning, when I showed up to work wearing an asymmetrical jacket I had bought but never wore, that I finally took on the risk to try something different. Shortly thereafter, my confidence grew and I found myself trading in my Jack Purcell for a pair of boots and a pair of oxfords. Being surrounded by people who were not afraid to look different inspired me to take risks, and as I took the risks I slowly improved and gained confidence in myself.
5. Teaches and improves self-motivation.
When you’re an unpaid intern, there is a double-edged feeling in knowing you’re not an actual employee listed on the payroll: you don’t have to be there, but at the same time you also have to be there. The feeling is the perfect way to hone self-motivation, to see how much we are willing to work for something despite the lack of reward. My morning commute to LA made me realize an internship was worth the bus and the train ride because contrary to capitalist belief, not all rewards come in paychecks or stipends. Some rewards come in letters of recommendation, a chance to network with people in the business, and a pair of Roberto Cavalli sunglasses from your bosses.
Ramon Lontok is a writer from California. He has written for the online journal Thought Catalog, and is currently a student at California State University, Long Beach. Follow him on Instagram here.