“Internships” and “Administrative Support”

I think I’m grumpy today, so this post may sound a little sour. However, the sentiment is spot-on, so I’m going to attempt to write about it in a balanced, professional manner. We’ll see how it goes!

First, let’s talk about “internships”. I’m not talking about the legitimate, paid, really-gives-you-a-hands-on-look at the business internships, I’m talking about requests for free labor disguised as internships. As a marketer, I possess a soft skill, which means that my role and abilities are often hard to quantify and measure. This makes my role much more susceptible to offers for “internships”. The postings usually go something like this: “Seeking a Marketing Intern for a great opportunity! We can’t pay you, but we’ll provide a fun, passionate environment to help you grow your skills! You’ll learn from some of the industry’s best, with talented mentors and a variety of projects. We expect everyone to pitch in around here, so we’ll need someone who doesn’t mind a little administrative work when it’s needed. Are you ambitious? We’re the company for you!” They proceed to require something like 3-5 years of experience in Marketing, a bachelor’s degree, and several special skills in design software, social media management, event management, and PR or advertising. I’m sorry, but with those credentials, you better stinkin’ pay me! If I’m a freshman in college with a complete lack of experience, you might get away with this, but years of experience and a degree? This is not an internship, it’s a request for free labor. Don’t fall for this, and don’t under-value yourself. You have valuable skills and expertise that this company needs, and you deserve to be compensated for it. Internships should offer some form of compensation, and many will offer college credit as a form of payment. However, be aware that many colleges, particularly for Business majors, require that the internship be paid. Why? Because the whole point of majoring in business is to learn to make money… so there’s a fundamental flaw in working without pay. Don’t get suckered in to an “internship”, but harshly evaluate any opportunities that pretend that a “cool workplace” is a valid form of compensation. (Note that volunteering or pro bono work is completely different. It’s categorized as such, and you know that your compensation is your own personal fulfillment for helping others).

Second, let’s talk about administrative support. Again, I recognize that my skills may be hard to measure and quantify (I make sure that I include specific goals and a “measurement” piece in all my projects to combat this), but they are special skills nonetheless . No, a Marketing Coordinator should not double as a secretary by inputting expense reports and taking phone calls for the boss. If you need someone for these tasks, hire an office manager. It’s not a marketer’s job to keep the white-out and staples stocked. Again, I get frustrated when I see postings that require multiple years of experience, a bachelor’s (and sometimes master’s) degree, specialized skills in a particular area of marketing, and then mention that it’s also the marketer’s job to do admin work. I know that sometimes the lines are a little blurred, as sometimes a marketing role includes activities like “scheduling travel” or “organizing presentation files”. However, the Tradeshow and Event Coordinator should not be required to book random travel for executives and do data entry for their expense reports. This person is responsible for travel related to a trade show, and accounting is responsible for processing expense reports. Individuals should be responsible for collecting their own receipts and putting them into the Excel template that’s given to accounting. Organizing presentation files should not spill over into “filing” random items that have nothing to do with my projects. Again, let each department file their own papers, or hire an “Archival Specialist” to do the filing for the whole company. From a business perspective, it makes no sense to pay a marketer’s salary to someone who is just going to file papers or do data entry (and no, the solution is not to just offer a marketer an admin’s salary, see point #1 about “internships”). If you don’t have enough work to hire a full-time marketing person, just say so, and tell them you need someone for 15-20 hours a week! Just like you need someone with special skills in accounting, engineering, and operations, you need someone with special skills in marketing. Don’t waste your time or money on marketing if you think it’s something that “anyone can do” in between filing papers and ordering office supplies.

All this grumpiness to say, marketers have valuable skills. Experienced professionals with degrees deserve compensation. Your expertise is WORTH something, so be selective in your job hunt and career path. This economy makes people feel desperate, but don’t succumb to an employer’s lowest expectation. Challenge yourself to make the right choice to showcase your skills and expertise, and don’t waste time with dead-end “opportunities”.

One thought on ““Internships” and “Administrative Support”

  1. Great post (and we all get grumpy sometimes. 🙂

    You bring up a lot of good points. At my (paid) internship in college, my boss had a “marketing assistant” who was basically the receptionist. His reasoning was that she was the first point of contact, updated the website, and put together proposals (which I wrote), therefore she was marketing. Keep in mind, this was a tiny company…five employees including me and the president/CEO. Needless to say, he couldn’t keep that position filled.

    On the other hand, depending on where you are on the ladder in a marketing department, sometimes there just isn’t anyone else to do some of the admin tasks. I’m not talking about your boss’s expense reports, but stuff like keeping track of inventory, ordering supplies, etc. Sometimes an admin asst is just not in the books. At my last job, I was managing print counts and supplies even as a manager, because the only person lower than me on the food chain was a web coordinator (organization and tracking was not his strong suit). We just didn’t have the funds for any admin help, and admin tasks only took up about 5% of my time, so it wasn’t a huge deal.

    So I think it’s okay up to a point, depending on the overall situation. But admin definitely shouldn’t be the bulk of a marketer’s job. Eventually I got an intern to help with the admin stuff, although the majority of projects I gave her were of substance, too, so she could learn.

    But yes, great post…I totally agree that marketing gets glossed over a lot as something they could hire anyone to do. Realistically…not so easy. Tons of bad “marketers” out there.


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