Being an intern means you’re at the bottom of the heap — low or unpaid staffers have to prove themselves before landing those plum assignments and paid positions.
It’s a rite of passage that many people endure, sometimes more than once.
Before they became successful CEOs, journalists, fashion designers and sports stars, these individuals paid their dues as interns.
Steve Jobs got his first gig at age 12, after calling Hewlett-Packard President Bill Hewlett
Jobs told Playboy:
When I was 12 or 13, I wanted to build something and I needed some parts, so I picked up the phone and called Bill Hewlett—he was listed in the Palo Alto phone book. He answered the phone and he was real nice. He chatted with me for, like, 20 minutes. He didn’t know me at all, but he ended up giving me some parts and he got me a job that summer working at Hewlett- Packard on the line, assembling frequency counters. Assembling may be too strong. I was putting in screws. It didn’t matter; I was in heaven. I remember my first day, expressing my complete enthusiasm and bliss at being at Hewlett-Packard for the summer to my supervisor, a guy named Chris, telling him that my favorite thing in the whole world was electronics. I asked him what his favorite thing to do was and he looked at me and said, “To f*ck!” [Laughs] I learned a lot that summer.
17-year-old Bill Gates spent a summer as a congressional page in the U.S. House of Representatives
As a high school junior, Gates spent his summer in Washington D.C. as a Congressional page. His responsibilities included delivering messages, preparing the House chambers for each day’s session and performing other administrative tasks.
Years later at a Senate hearing about a possible Microsoft monopoly, Gates reminded reporters of his internship and said that was when he learned to stay out of politics.
Brian Williams opted for an internship with the administration of President Carter over classes at the Catholic University of America.
Williams attended Brookdale Community College, George Washington University and the Catholic University of America. He never graduated from any of them. After completing 18 college credits, he took an internship with President Jimmy Carter and never returned.
Williams described his internship toHemispheres: Well, he was president at the time, but I worked in the building next door. He exerted no choice over my selection. I did meet him once. I opened mail, I put letters under a signature machine, got coffee—everything an intern is supposed to do. I was never a college student per se. I went to a community college, failed miserably and transferred to two other colleges. The most I can say is that I was willing to take chances, and I was in no mood to give up. And I’ve been the beneficiary of good deeds by good people all my life.
Fashion designer Betsey Johnson caught the eye of Mademoiselle’s editor, Betsey Blackwell, inadvertently — with a thank you card
Johnson interned at Mademoisellemagazine’s fabric library after graduating from Syracuse in 1964. Johnson caught the eye of Mademoiselle‘s editor, Betsey Blackwell, when she sent her a thank you card on which she had drawn a shoe after noticing that Blackwell had dozens of shoes in her office.
“She had shoe collections coming out of her ears,” Johnson says in The Internship Bible.“The next day, she goes to the art director and says, ‘Betsey can draw!’ Mademoisellethen started giving me a lot of freelance artwork to do. That’s how I really started to like fashion.”
When he was in high school, Andrew Ross Sorkin used to stand outside the New York Times building and wait for his boss
Sorkin was an intern at Inside Edition during the summer of OJ Simpson and when Bill O’Reilly was host.
He got his big break when he got an internship at The New York Times as a senior in high school. He also worked for the paper while he was at Cornell University, publishing 71 articles before he graduated.
Xerox CEO Ursula Burns started out as an intern — years later she became the first black woman to head a Fortune 500 company
While growing up the projects of Manhattan with two siblings, Burns said her single mother often told her, “Where you are is not who you are.”
Burns took those words to heart when she started working at Xerox in 1980 as a mechanical engineering summer intern while completing a master’s degree at Columbia University.
From there, Burns worked her way up from positions in product development and planning to executive assistant and vice president.
Burns was named CEO in July 2009, succeeding Anne Mulcahy.
The CEO of Rosetta Stone, Tom Adams, interned for a reinsurance broker in London — and found insurance coverage for celebrities like Meat Loaf
“My first internship was in London, when I was 20 years old and attending the University of Bristol,” Adams tells Forbes.
“The big lesson I learned was that business is not about avoiding risk so much as it’s about taking on managed and diversified risk. That has helped shape my work at Rosetta Stone, where we’re working to change the way people learn languages. In running an entrepreneurial venture, it has been crucial that we have a good handle on the risks we take.”
While at Yale, Anderson Cooper spent his sophomore and junior summers interning for the CIA
Cooper spent his summers interning at the agency’s headquarters in Langley, Virginia, in a program for students interested in intelligence work, reported Radar.
The future CNN news anchor chose not to pursue a job with the agency after graduation and instead set his sights on journalism.
“Whatever summer jobs or internships our anchors had in college couldn’t be less consequential,” according to a CNN spokeswoman, who confirmed details of Cooper’s CIA involvement to Radar.
Cooper has kept his experience at the CIA a secret, reported Radar, out of concern that it could compromise his ability to travel in foreign countries.
Andrea Jung, the CEO of Avon Products, landed a coveted summer internship at Bloomingdale’s
Jung was born in Canada and interned at Bloomingdale’s in New York City before graduating magna cum laude from Princeton University in 1979.
After working for a retail chain in San Francisco for several years, Jung was the executive vice president at Neiman Marcus from 1991 to 1993.
She joined Avon in January 1994 as president of the U.S. product marketing group. From there she ascended to senior level positions within Avon’s product marketing group and in 1999 she was appointed CEO before being elected Chairman in 2001.
Before he was a New York Knick, Patrick Ewing interned for the Senate Finance Committee
During his internship in 1983, Ewing, who was already a basketball star at Georgetown University, met his now ex-wife, Rita, who was interning for then-Senator Bill Bradley, reported Sports Illustrated.
Steven Spielberg started his career in the movie industry as an unpaid, full-time intern at Universal Studios
After Sidney Sheinberg, then vice president of production for Universal’s television arm, saw the film, Spielberg became the youngest director ever to be signed for a long-term deal with a major Hollywood studio.
Chris Gardner was a homeless single father when he scored an internship at stock brokerage firm Dean Witter Reynolds
Will Smith played Gardner in the movie “The Pursuit of Happyness.”
It’s a true story: Gardner happened to share a cab ride with a manager of the stock brokerage firm Dean Witter Reynolds, who offered Gardner an internship at his firm.
Despite his limited work hours and the challenges of living in poverty while raising a son, Gardner beat the odds by building his client contacts and eventually earned a paid position as a stockbroker.