North Texas Daily

There is nothing wrong with unpaid internships

There is nothing wrong with unpaid internships

There is nothing wrong with unpaid internships
July 25
15:15 2017

Internships are important. They get your foot in the door, you get a little cash and experience for the career you want, and in most cases, you get college credit hours.

The unpopular internship, however, is the unpaid one.

I took on an unpaid internship with D Magazine in Summer 2016. Since I wasn’t taking classes at the time, it was easier for me to work more and save my money.

Yes, it wasn’t ideal not to be paid for working and writing for this publication, but I met so many powerful people in the city of Dallas, became a stronger writer through learning from my editors, made so many lifelong friends and more importantly, created clips for my resume.

I loved that internship so much I went back, and also wrote a little in-between, for the Spring 2017 semester. During that time, I had two serving jobs on top of school and writing for the North Texas Daily.

Was it hard? Yes. But I did it, and it is something I will never regret. I can sleep when I’m dead.

A study from Viscardi Center showed 61 percent of “graduating seniors had an internship or co-op experience,” 52 percent of those who received “job offers before graduation held internships,” and “46.5 percent of internships were unpaid.”

As a millennial, a lot of my friends disagree with the prospect of unpaid internships in favor of undertaking paid ones. While working for free is commonly frowned upon in this day and age, I found there were many perks.

I have yet to do a paid internship, but I believe I learned as much as the next person who worked a paid internship.

Experience and connections are what us young college students are yearning for, right? At any internship, that’s what you get.

We are all afraid of what the future may hold and whether we will have jobs or not, but regardless if your internship is paid or not, that’s not what shows on your resume.

A debate I have come across with this topic is with unpaid internships, you are working for free and being taken advantage of for your work. This sounds true, but beyond that is the big goal of forging a stronger future.

We are all just normal, broke, tired college students, but this part of our lives is meant for learning and getting our feet in the door. We shouldn’t expect to be paid like we’re a full-time employee anyways.

You can argue against me on this, but as an intern anywhere, especially if you are still working on getting your degree, it is all about the experience and not the money. Regardless of the internship, you get a taste of what the real world is like and what your career choice is like.

Nothing is more invaluable than an internship, paid or not. The hard work and experience you gain will be worth it and pay off in the end, literally.

Featured Illustration: Samuel Wiggins

About Author

Julia Falcon

Julia Falcon

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  1. cv
    cv July 26, 08:50

    Experience and being compensated for your labor are not mutually exclusive. Much of your support for unpaid internships stems from the valuable things you walked away with after your experience, but paid internships offer the same experiences without exploiting the labor of students while pretending that they’re giving students some sort of gift by not paying them in anything but “life experience”.

    You shouldn’t be paid like a full-time employee as an intern. You should be paid like an intern. The point is fair compensation for the work performed.

    Maybe there are benefits to unpaid internships (certainly there are benefits to companies – free labor!), but to say that there is NOTHING wrong with unpaid internships is irresponsible.

    Reply to this comment
  2. Ann
    Ann July 26, 17:26

    Julia; as a former executive and employer, now retired, I’ll start by saying that I am—in general—quite strongly opposed to the idea of ‘unpaid’ internship. By your title, you have approached this matter incorrectly. There is—potentially and often—a great deal wrong with son-disant ‘unpaid’ internships. Alternately, a properly defined, negotiated and managed internship can prove extraordinarily valuable.
    To orient my comments to the summary point I wish to make—that absent a written agreement between intern and business the chances of an internship being a positive and meaningful career experience are slight and expensive—it be called ‘a self-financed business observation opportunity. This is a description much closer to the reality many unpaid interns face.
    An internship is not an informal, non-business relationship. An internship must be viewed—particularly by the young intern—as a fair and equitable exchange of the intern’s time for a meaningful observational/existential experience that they could not otherwise obtain elsewhere and/or be paid for. A prospective intern must never lose sight of the fact that their time is worth something—it has value. Even the unfortunate intern whose duties go no further than fetching coffee or shuffling paper has *saved* the business the cost of a paid employee’s time. Remember, the intern has the alternative opportunity to work at a MacDonald’s or Dunkin Donuts albeit for minimum wage. Minimum wage is still a wage. The bar might be low, but it is a bar and it’s not zero. An intern must negotiate to be ‘paid’ in something of value (technically called a non-pecuniary benefit) for the time that they commit to a business. For example, a meaningful internship might comprise a lot of menial, undesirable tasks BUT if in ‘compensation’ the intern is granted time to then shadow an employee in a position the intern aspires to, that is a meaningful internship.
    Note (and I absolutely believe this) there is no experience however miserable or menial that does not produce a meaningful life experience. However, if on your résumé you attach value to internship absent such value (e.g. it will make success more difficult if a job is awarded on the basis of experience presumed from that internship.
    Otherwise, and I want to emphasis this very strongly, the intern is ‘paying’ the business to be there. How’s that? If you take a bus, purchase clothes you otherwise wouldn’t, pay for a lunch or incur any expense whatsoever to be an intern, those are tangible (you paid real money for) expenses. In compensation for what it is costing the intern to be there and for the value of whatever duties they carry out as the intern, the assumption is that the intern will be compensated with ‘experience’. No moral, responsible business person would do otherwise. This is particularly important (drawing on an experience in the cited article) where an intern is given duties that would otherwise go to a paid employee. If the intern is not willingly—enthusiastically—provided with experience not otherwise obtainable any other way (again such as a few hours shadowing an occupation you aspire to be, you are simply an unpaid employee and the company is breaking the law for failing to meet minimum wage.
    A quick internet search returns an abundance of guidance on negotiating an internship. Approached in a professional, business-like manner with the absolute, unshakable belief in one’s value, where between intern and company it is agreed on and documented what specific ‘non-pecuniary’ benefits the intern will receive for the time and effort they commit. It may be opportunities to job shadow, privileged (fly-on-the-wall access) to a particular situation, mentoring-moments with a particular employee, or even—and highly recommended—your presence and activities noted by an employee from whom you will receive a personal written recommendation of the value of the intern experience to your prospective career.

    Reply to this comment
  3. SJB
    SJB July 26, 21:33

    I agree that internships are important and it doesn’t matter to prospective employers if they’re paid or for credit or neither–they want you to have experience. However, unpaid internships–even for academic credit–are technically illegal, and the Department of Labor has strict guidelines regarding them. The work done is not supposed to benefit the company, yet I’ve seen numerous PR and advertising agencies require unpaid interns to track their time, and I know they billed clients for that time. That’s unconscionable to profit off unpaid labor. I had companies call me and ask for “interns” for a weekend event, when they just wanted free labor. However a larger problem is prestige internships with major media organizations in LA, NYC, London, Washington DC, etc. Without a stipend or living arrangements, those unpaid internships usually go to students with family able to finance their room and board. I remember a student with an internship at the London bureau of a.major US TV network–he had to do a GoFunMe campaign to get his airfare and living expenses paid for. That is just wrong.

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