Tag Archives: internships

Unpaid Internships

28 Aug

Pictured: average intern's salary

Following up on Leslie’s post regarding her experience with The Onion, I thought I would throw in my unsolicited two cents regarding internships.

Let me first be straight with you, dudes and lady dudes: I’ve never had an unpaid internship.  I was a paid employee of Teach For America last summer, and a camp counselor in summer 2008.  And before that, I helped my family move from Upstate NY to Florida in-between my freshmen and sophomore years of college.  So I really can’t speak as to why internships suck in practice, I can only speculate as to why they would suck in theory. And I’ve speculated so hard.

I’ve refused to apply to internships, both in the past and as a grad, because I take issue with the fact that a company will make me clamor for the right to work for free, without any guarantee of securing the right to work for free.  Rather than wonder what credential or personality trait I’m missing that renders me incapable of making copies, I avoid the ego-bruising altogether by totally ignoring unpaid internships when they turn up in my job search results.

However, my main issue with unpaid internships concerns respect.  If you’re going to be benefiting from whatever I contribute to your company, however small or menial, I deserve compensation.  I’m not doing you a favor.  I’m completing a task that would otherwise be done by employees on your payroll.   To not pay me is disrespectful to my time, and indicates to my uninformed little brain that your company doesn’t value me enough to throw even a couple bucks my way for bus fare.  It comes down to principle: I work hard, you give me something in return.  Minimum wage, living stipend, lunch money, anything to make me feel less like a cheap secretarial-messenger whore. (WHOA. Naughty word.)

“But Sarah!” you’re probably saying, “Unpaid internships are valuable because you get experience, which will in turn get you hired, and that counts as your payment! CHA-CHING.”  Oh.  Okay.  So, promises act as currency now?  Well, apparently I don’t need a job, because over the years, I have accrued millions of dollars in Promises from my family.  “Sure Sarah, we can go to Disneyworld this year.” “Alright, I promise to buy you a Baby Alive.” “Yes, anyone can become a princess.” “No, Bambi’s mother is just sleeping.”

But seriously, the promise of future employment through connections and experiences from your internship can’t take the place of actual compensation, because again, there is no guarantee that your free labor will lead to a job.  It’s like telling a starving man, “Well, I won’t give you any food, but over the next three months, I’ll teach you how to cook.  And then, you’ll be able to cook in kitchens anywhere.  But, by anywhere, I mean the kitchens whose owners I know who are hiring right now, or in the next few months.  So, maybe you can have a sandwich in like, half a year or something?” It’s really not a great process, especially if, like me, you don’t have the means to support yourself where all the truly enticing internships are.  And, oftentimes, one unpaid internship isn’t enough.  You need several before you can hit bank.  Oi vey.

So, companies, cut your interns some slack.  Their internships mean just as much to them as your “real jobs” do to you.  How about you reward them as such, eh?

UPDATE: For more on unpaid internships, check out Ryan’s post questioning the legality of many practices used by employers today.


News Flash: Many Unpaid Internships Are Illegal

3 Apr

I know what you did last summer…

An unpaid internship, most likely. We all think about it — do I suck up and make negative money for a summer to make the “connections” or do I try to make some bank or do I sit at home playing video games?

Well, as the NY Times points out today, your unpaid internship may be illegal:

Ms. Leppink said many employers failed to pay even though their internships did not comply with the six federal legal criteria that must be satisfied for internships to be unpaid. Among those criteria are that the internship should be similar to the training given in a vocational school or academic institution, that the intern does not displace regular paid workers and that the employer “derives no immediate advantage” from the intern’s activities — in other words, it’s largely a benevolent contribution to the intern.

Well, well, well. Feeling better about yourself already? I wouldn’t get too excited. Unpaid internships are still going to happen (like child labor). But know that you have some leverage to get at least minimum wage at many intern spots. I wouldn’t be confrontational with employers but the law is (likely) on your side.

(more on internship and labor laws)

UPDATE 4/6: Atlantic Media kicks things off by offering their current interns and last year’s interns pay. As a former (paid) intern for NPR, if that announcement in the Atlantic offices wasn’t met with cheers, I’ll be devastated. Those interns better be planning a parade for their publisher because they don’t know how lucky they are.