May 8 2012

Internships: Awesome or Exploitation?

Carlos Portocarrero

Messy desk

Some people think internships suck:

  • The pay is usually terrible (or non-existent)
  • You wind up doing other people’s errands some of the time
  • The work isn’t terribly exciting
  • Nobody calls you by your name (“Hey intern!”)

But you know what? It beats sitting on your sofa watching Jerry Springer every day after class. Try putting that on your resume and see what happens.

Internships are about experience, and you have to get that where you can. Even if it means being “Intern!” for a few months.

Lack of Experience

It’s one of the loudest complaints you’ll hear from employers and from employees, especially young ones.

How am I supposed to get experience if all the jobs I’m looking at demand 1-2 years of experience and I just graduated?

I covered this in Not Enough Experience? Get Some, and one of the best ways to get some experience is through an internship.

It doesn’t matter if you’re getting paid or not.

It doesn’t matter if you think you’re being exploited (you are).

It doesn’t matter if you don’t like getting bossed around (get used to it).

It’s time/money in exchange for experience.

The Benefits

Internships aren’t just about filling out your resume (although that is important), there are a bunch of other reasons why young people should get one:

  • Network: Add everyone you meet to your LinkedIn network on day one, they will come in handy.
  • Potential job: Lots of people get a full-time offer after interning.
  • Variety: Odds are you’ll get to do lots of different things. Find out what you like and don’t like.
  • Skills: Learning a new piece of software, taking some training, interpersonal skills, etc. Soak it all up.
  • References: If you have real people at a real company to vouch for you, it will go a long way at your next interview.
Right now the job market isn’t very good, so landing a full-time job might take a while. So an internship might be your best bet to start getting that experience everyone keeps talking about.


This happens. Some employers don’t see internships as a trade, they see it as cheap labor.

You want to try to stay away from these places, but if you find yourself being exploited try to fight to get what you came for: experience. Do the job they ask of you and try to find a good guy/girl in the company that can help you build up your skills and make the most of it.


Overall, I still think internships are a great way to get the experience you need. There are some bad eggs out there, but  I have nothing but good things to say about them.

What’s been your experience with internships? Good? Bad? Ugly?

Image by dumbledad

May 2 2012

Do Resumes Still Matter?

Carlos Portocarrero

Resumes are interesting documents: everyone has to have one but they’re losing their relevance in an increasingly digital world.

People in my generation were always taught to nail the resume because that’s how employers ultimately decide whether or not they want to hire you.

Was it fair?

No, but that’s not the point. The point is that’s the way it was.

It’s similar to the idea of working hard to get good grades in high school and college: your GPA depended on it. A good GPA got you into a good school and a good GPA once you were there opened the doors to a good job.

That was the idea, anyway.

Theory vs. Reality

That was how we were brought up.

But things have changed:

  • Skills have superseded institutional references like diplomas and resumes
  • Diplomas have gotten increasingly expensive
  • People can’t afford to go into debt to pay for school
  • Entrepreneurship has exploded (what @chrisguillebeau calls microbusinesses)
  • Businesses have been forced into being more efficient with their hires

That paints a pretty grim picture, but it also creates an atmosphere that’s perfect for a person that’s simply good at what they do.

Regardless of where they went to school or what their grades were.

Why Portfolios are Great

When I first started getting into advertising, I remember loving the idea behind the portfolio.

Instead of creating a boring resume, here was a chance to show off what you could do.

In my case, it was to write good copy. Instead of writing “Copywriter with extensive experience in both long and short form copy” on my resume, I now had a chance to show instead of tell.

The best part was reading about all the people who had become incredibly successful copywriters despite never having gone to school to learn advertising.

These were people who worked in all kinds of odd jobs that had figured out they could write compelling copy.

And that’s what mattered.

And that’s what should matter: can you do the job and do it well? Do you have proof of your past successes? Let me hire you based on your work, not on a piece of paper that probably exaggerates what you’ve done in the past.

What’s why everyone needs a portfolio.

As they say in programming, it’s time to deprecate the resume and focus on your portfolio.

Who’s with me?

Image by psd

Mar 12 2012

An Epiphany About Work, Life, and Getting Older

Carlos Portocarrero

I was walking back from getting a hair cut the other day and I was thinking about how clueless I was when I was younger. By younger I mean when I was 20. Even when I was 25 I feel like I was pretty “out of it.” (I’m 30 now, by the way).

Anyway, this is normal. We look back on our younger self and think “wow, look how clueless I was back then compared to now.”

We learn things, pick up new skills, understand how other things work, etc. This is the nature of life.

Nothing shocking about any of it.

But then it hit me: I’m still probably very clueless/ignorant about a LOT of things—I just don’t see it yet because I haven’t been enlightened on everything (otherwise I’d be living on a mountain somewhere). When I’m 40, I’ll look back on today and say “Wow, you really had no idea back then did you?”

This thought made me appreciate the cycle of life and how we can benefit from a small exercise.

Here’s what I did: I asked my current, partially enlightened self one simple question: what advice would you give the 20-year-old Carlos based on what you now know at age 30? What’s the one thing you feel strongly about that you are convinced would’ve been great advice from 20 to 30?

I walked and walked, and thought and thought.

It’s not an easy question, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t come up with an answer I’m pretty proud of. It boils down to five words:

Make things you’re proud of.

That’s it. Whether it’s a website about personal finance, short stories about whatever, or software applications people use on their phones—it doesn’t matter. The key is to create new things that you’ll be proud of when you look back.

Creating things takes time, and it’s often hard to put in the time when you know you’re not going get any satisfaction from it for years and years. But now that I’m older and can look back, I can see how satisfying something like this site has been.

So that’s my advice to the young(er) people out there. And to the older people too.

Make things you’re proud of.

Oct 26 2011

Recent Posts on Career, Bills, and Technology

Carlos Portocarrero

I’ve been doing a lot of writing for Wisebread this month, and I wanted to share some of my favorites here:


How Lessons from Moneyball Can Help Your Career: Loved the book, haven’t seen the movie yet. But the idea of finding something that’s undervalued and dominating it will certainly help you in your job. This post was also quoted by BNET, which was awesome!

6 Tips to Shrink Your Bills Every Year
: I learned a lot of tips when I did my bill audit, and these are some tips I learned from the whole experience. People were pretty impressed with the idea of doing this on an annual basis.

Learn New Skills for Free: The Power of Forums: I’ve always wound up on forums when trying to learn something new. It was only when I was trying to learn how to build my own PVR (kind of like a DVR) that it hit me how useful and helpful forums can be. So I wrote a post about and some things NOT to do.

How Investing Drives Us Crazy: Lessons From a Trade: I made all the right decisions. I wasn’t greedy. I was responsible. I did my homework. And it didn’t matter…this trade wound up driving me nuts regardless.

Any favorites out there? I’ve been writing about career stuff a lot lately, and it was kind of fun to relate Moneyball to something we can all use in our working lives.