Copy-making, coffee-fetching, envelope delivering. It’s a job description that seems typical of a personal assistant’s job, just like that of Anne Hathaway’s character in The Devil Wears Prada. These days, it’s not uncommon to find the same job description applied to interns, except unlike the college-grad P.A. Hathaway portrays in the movie, interns usually don’t usually get paid for running errands. In recent years, internships have muddled the lines between personal assisting and educational learning experience. In our new series, “Internship Confessions,” we will take a look at the world of college internships by interviewing different NYU students in a variety of fields, to see what makes an internship great and what makes one seem like slave labor.
Meet Lyle, a senior majoring in finance and statistics in Stern. During the summer after his sophomore year, Lyle took an internship position at a commercial real estate investment firm that focused on Latin American investments.
Why did you pursue the internship?
As a sophomore it’s pretty difficult to get any kind of internship. I didn’t know a whole lot. Most classes I had taken didn’t really set you up for Wall Street. I thought I wanted to go into real estate at the time and I thought would be a good opportunity. It was also “paid.”
What do you mean by “paid?”
They advertised it as paid, but we didn’t discuss pay until my first day—when I had already committed to the position. I then found out that the paid portion is a transportation stipend which was $30 a week…I was living off that $30 a week.
What was the application process like?
It was through CareerNet. I got the offer on the spot, after the second interview.
What were their initial expectations?
They just wanted somebody with some basic financial knowledge, interest in real estate, an understanding what opportunities to invest in, and somebody who just wanted to learn.
What tasks were you assigned?
It almost devolved into spending 80% of my time posting apartment rentals to Craigslist and translating their portfolio properties from English to Spanish. It was a very boiler room-type situation.
What were you expecting to learn?
Since my understandings were rudimentary, I wanted to learn how see all of these financial theories get put into practice, how to decide what would be a good investment, and how to go about attracting the capital for those projects. Unfortunately, that wasn’t really what we ended up learning. Basically I was just recreating documents in Excel and throwing numbers everywhere. It was kind of a mess. The people who were in charge were really nice, but they just had absolutely no clue what they were doing.
Were there any characters in the office?
The majority of people who worked there were in the real estate business by day and artists by night. This was the way they supported their artist lifestyle. They were nice people. It was just a very shady business format.
The funny thing is that they tried to poach all of my friends. They assumed that since I went to NYU, I had a lot of wealthy friends. They told me: “Why don’t you go ahead and try to tell them to come to us when they’re trying to find an apartment. We’ll give you a co-broker commission.” I was not comfortable with that whatsoever. On top of just being inappropriate, it just made me incredibly uncomfortable.
Did you ever promote this to your friends?
What kind of grunt work did you do?
I had to go to Kinkos. I would go and pick up lunch for everyone. I was the go-to errand boy. It wasn’t horrible, but when it’s humid in New York City over the summer, it’s probably one of the worst things in the world.
What did you learn?
I learned the tips and tricks of what to avoid on Craigslist. They would tell me “make it sound a little bit nicer” and “be a little liberal with the square footage.” I learned to conduct more due diligence when looking for positions. I’ve learned when to go ahead and realize that enough is enough.
About halfway through summer, I left the firm. Just after that, I found an internship that better suited me.
How did you benefit from this experience?
At the end of the day, I could say that I worked on certain projects. When I said worked on them, it could have meant that I did something as little as printed out the documents.
What’s happened to the firm since you’ve left?
Now the place is broke and their business model fell through. Be weary. It sounded much more professional on CareerNet.