Sunday, October 19, 2008

Internships: What to Do With Conflicting Opportunities

A friend just told me about her college-age son and his dilemma with internships this past summer.

It seems that he was promised an internship for which he stayed in D.C. for. But the weeks dragged on with no word, and he got a call for a really good internship in New York. He wanted to accept this second internship, but he was worried that he had promised the first internship.

His parents explained to him that it was perfectly acceptable to take the bird in the hand rather than waiting for the bird in the bush.

He went to New York and had a great unpaid internship. Only, near the end of that internship, he got a call to work (paid this time) for the Obama campaign, although he would have to leave his New York internship early.

Again he was conflicted. Until his parents pointed out that this was a paid internship (as opposed to the NY unpaid internship) and was also a unique opportunity to work for a Presidential campaign. He took this unique opportunity.

Why have I recounted this one college student’s internship experience? Because I think there’s an important lesson here.

Yes, you want to be true to your word. But when someone keeps you hanging for weeks without making a decision, you have the perfect right to accept an internship that is ready right now. And when a paid internship for the whole fall semester presents itself, you have the right to leave your unpaid summer internship a week or two early. After all, it isn’t as if you’re leaving early to spend two weeks lying in the sun at a beach. You’re leaving two weeks early for a paid fall semester internship.

The moral of this story? While I think that your integrity is very important, you do have to do what is right for you. If someone keeps you dangling for weeks, you have the right to take an internship that is being offered right now. And if someone offers to pay you for the entire fall semester, you have the right to leave an unpaid internship a couple of weeks early.

Bottom line? Your integrity has to be combined with what makes good sense for you as you find your own path through high school, college and life.

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