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 Ray*, a sophomore studying finance at NYU’s Stern School of Business. This past year, Ray interned at a small financial firm, similar to a hedge fund, in the Lower East Side.
What was your role within the firm?
I was an intern and research assistant.
What were your expectations for this internship?
I made it pretty clear to my employers that I wanted to learn how they value companies. I wanted to learn how they used financial models and what evaluations they used. I came into the internship not knowing about finance. They said that it was going to be a tough internship, but that I would learn a lot.
Did you learn much?
Not really, and the reason I took the internship was for the learning experience.
What was a day at the office like?
They would give me two or three research projects that they wouldn’t follow up on. They would just give them to me [to keep me busy]. Usually, my day-to-day tasks were booking flights, making sure that the break room was clean, going to Walgreens and picking up things for my boss, filing, copying, proofreading, etc. My tasks were more like that of a personal assistant rather than a firm intern.
Did you ever have to do any tasks that you felt like you shouldn’t have been doing?
One of the tests to get the internship during my trial period was to fix the big boss’s motorcycle. I also had to get my boss’ wife’s birth control. It was just about the same as getting him candy, which he always made me do. They definitely told me that I would be doing a lot of bitch work, but that was supposed to be in return for them teaching me. I just didn’t get the educational experience that I expected.
Did you have to make any sacrifices for this internship?
Oh yeah. I worked almost full-time every week and during spring break I put in almost 100 hours. The sacrifice was time. I couldn’t do anything else during the internship because they wanted me to be at the ready for any of their personal requests. Homework was a no-go, even when a good amount of the time I spent at work was just downtime.
What was the most disappointing thing about this internship?
The amount of time that I put into it. My main job was to make sure that they were super comfortable. At the same time, I wouldn’t have minded doing that if I was able to learn more from them. The world of finance is learned through experience, and I was sequestered to a tiny back office. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, I didn’t know what they were doing, and people weren’t willing to share any knowledge. I also wasn’t paid overtime, even though I often exceeded my weekly hours.
Was there any way for you to speak to a manager or to someone in HR about improving your internship experience?
There was really no HR representative. I didn’t think that talking to a manager about my experience was a good idea because the basis in which I was hired was very general.
What did you learn?
I learned to make my expectations very clear from the get go. I didn’t build on my weakness—knowledge of the financial industry.
Did this internship help you advance in your career field?
Absolutely not. It is something I can put on my resume, but I didn’t really learn anything from it that I didn’t know already.
*Name has been changed.