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New York City Intern Survival Guide

Empire State Building
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While interns seem to flood New York City during the summer months, the Big Apple is host to an incredible amount of the often unpaid, ambitious young workers year-round. This article, by CBS' own intern, is an inside look at the life of long hours, far commutes and no paycheck.

By Ellie Gonso

She had been checking her email obsessively all week. Before she closed her laptop for the afternoon, Claire Evans decided to log on one last time. Finally, there it was, the email she had been anticipating all week. Evans scanned the text quickly. New York! She got the internship with Country Living Magazine! Her mouth dropped as she realized what this opportunity could mean. Not only was she about to position herself for a great potential job opportunity, she would also be living in the most glamorous city in the world for the summer. Now, 10 weeks later, as she reflects back on her first day of work, she remembers feeling excited, but a bit overwhelmed.

Reality Checking In

(credit: File Photo/Clip Art)

Like Evans, thousands of interns venture to the Big Apple every summer, but many of them soon discover that New York is not the sensational fairytale that the movies depict. While legislation has aimed to regulate unpaid internships by requiring college credit, many interns still feel unfairly compensated, unsupervised, and disenchanted.Claire Clark, a marketing intern, is just one of thousands of interns working for college credit. However, she thinks that this credit is useless on her college transcripts since she is graduating next year.

"I feel like I do so much of the work there," Clark said. "I work long hours and I have to pay for all of my expenses including food and transportation."

No Money? No Problem!

No Paycheck
(credit: File Photo/Clip Art)

With the average rent in New York City at about $2,900 a month, it is easy to see how the "glamorous" image of the city is quickly reevaluated. Pulse Magazine recently ranked New York in the five worst cities for unpaid internships based on the cost of living and companies that do not pay their interns.But for Evans, it was never about the money. Rather, she hoped that someone might remember her name; that somewhere down the road, they would pull her resume from the thousands that would pour in as college seniors prepare to graduate. Maybe she could impress someone enough that they would advocate for her candidacy for a job next year. She didn't mind that she was dusting file cabinets, spending hours on end filing and other performing menial tasks that no one else had time to do.

When The Goings Get Tough…

Unfamiliar Faces
(credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

In a sea of over 18 million people, she just simply felt alone.

"I had never been by myself for such long hours, riding the train, riding the subway and having to entertain myself," she said.Her legs hurt from walking the 15 blocks from the train station every day. She was lonely. As much as she had thought she'd died of boredom if she'd taken a summer job in her hometown, now she felt desperate to see a familiar face. Someone who recognized her and seemed happy to see her. She began to feel invisible. And she decided maybe she wasn't cut out for the big city after all.

When the going gets tough, the tough get going. No proverb emulates New York City better. Jody Queen, director of career services at St. John's University's School of Risk Management, urges students to stick with their internships.

"I think that you have to look at the benefits. If a student has already put in substantial weeks of work and contribution, they will see the value of sticking it out and having it on their resume," said Queen.

Pros vs. Cons

(credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Although Queen recognizes that the fast-paced working environment can be very overwhelming for some interns, she says internships really do open doors for a job in the city. Of her students who graduated with jobs, 70% had an internship in New York City."We know that having an internship is absolutely a ticket to the top of the pile for a job opportunity," said Queen.

Upon reflection, even Evans knows her internship was one of the most valuable experiences she has had in working towards her career goal. She has always dreamed of working for a home décor magazine like Veranda or Elle Décor.

"New York City is just an adjustment. I had to work really hard, but it was worth it because I know there no other place that opens doors like this," said Evans.

New York City may not be the glitzy, glamorous place that we often imagine. Where there is extreme wealth, there is also unspeakable poverty. But the ability to appreciate the city for what it is can give you a great experience.
"I've never grown so much as a person, and I'm really happy for all that I learned in my internship. I don't think I would've had this experience anywhere else," said Evans.

Tips and Tricks

Tips and Tricks
(credit: File Photo/Clip Art)

For students interning in New York City, Queen offered several pieces of advice to make the most of their internship:

  1. Students who are driven and motivated and want to work in a fast paced environment need to show that to their summer intern employer.
  2. Dress professionally and you need to be on time. Come in early and stay late as much as you can.
  3. Ask for assignments, to attend meetings, and show that you're willing to put in 150% not just 100%.
  4. Have a positive attitude and show enthusiasm for what you're doing.
  5. Don't leave your cell phone in plain sight on your desk.
  6. Try to set some goals with your supervisor and be willing to help out when you see the opportunity.
  7. If you've got eight weeks to make a good impression you may have to forgo some of that social stuff and seize every opportunity.
  8. Focus on how you can contribute to the organization, don't be afraid to ask questions. Show that you're hungry for knowledge.
  9. Students should look at the networking opportunities while they're interning to make it a huge success.
  10. It's much more productive to leave on a positive note so that the people you worked with will think highly of you and you can get a positive reference.
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