Will Work for Experience: Woes of Desperate Interns


BY SARAH CORNETT – EDITOR-IN-CHIEF

Each year, students across the nation begin the crucial and chaotic hunt for the perfect internship. If they’re smart, the search begins in the early fall.

Several hours are spent scouring through internship directories and databases, organization’s websites, and emails to find a few hundred possibilities.

By the winter break they’ve cranked out more cover letters and versions of their résumé than they thought humanly possible.

Finally, by mid-spring they are stuck in an endless loop of first round interviews, second round interviews, and even third round interviews, all for a chance at an esteemed internship.

For the millennial generation, it is no secret that internships are a necessary part of any competitive résumé.

In fact, many professionals are starting to claim that internships and work experience are more important than a high college GPA.

Yet, no matter how wonderful these internships might appear, the majority of them are unpaid.

Despite the fact that interns are still expected to work at least 40 hours per week, report to a supervisor, and complete assigned tasks like regular employees, they receive no hard currency.

Instead, companies have opted to pay interns in cold, hard “experience.”

But don’t fret, because experience is a golden ticket to the future!

Experience will send any lowly intern on a bullet train to the top of their profession.

In the mean time, interns shouldn’t bother thinking about how experience won’t buy groceries, a ticket on the public transportation system in that big new city, a new professional wardrobe, or pay the rent on that over-priced, one-bedroom apartment.

Why would anyone worry about all of that unimportant nonsense when they have experience?

While in some cases an unpaid internship may help supply the individual with contacts, a portfolio, and certain skills, none of this is guaranteed.

So if experience is the currency, then who exactly is paying the price?

It seems that companies are getting quite the deal by exploiting labor and time from interns for virtually no cost.

Interns, on the other hand, are forced to take on other (paying) jobs, scholarships, or even loans to help with the basic cost of living. Other students, however, end in even worse circumstances, realizing that they cannot afford to travel and live with an unpaid internship.

So the real question is: Are unpaid internships fair?

Many businesses and corporations argue that while unpaid internships might not be ideal, it is still a decision that the company can legally choose to make.

However, other organizations like the Fair Pay Campaign believe differently. This group is focused on creating and proposing legislation aimed at ending unpaid internships.

They believe that each intern should be paid at least minimum wage with a capped working week of 40 hours.

The second goal stems from numerous lawsuits that have recently been filed by interns against their past employers.

In 2009, a lawsuit was brought against W Magazine from a former intern who claimed she worked 12-hour days for about $1 a day in the publication’s jewelry and accessories department.

In 2012, a young intern for the public relations company Hearts Corporation began a lawsuit soon after she quit the company after several months of working a 55-hour week for no pay.

In 2013, Eric Glatt filed an intensive lawsuit against Fox Searchlight Productions after his internship on a production set where he worked 14-hour days seven days a week for about minimum wage.

The list of these lawsuits is ever-growing and ever-worsening.

In an attempt to help change the culture surrounding these unpaid internships, the U.S. Department of Labor released a fact sheet detailing the criteria for unpaid employment.

The six criteria state that the internship should be: similar to educational training, beneficial for the intern, ensure that no current employees are displaced, clarify that a job is not promised to an intern after the internship is concluded, and ensure that the intern understands that they will be compensated in a non-monetary way.

If the employers have satisfied everything on this list then they are free, according to the United States Department of Labor, to hire interns with no monetary compensation.

Notice that this fact sheet does not discuss a cap on work hours, working conditions, or the need for other forms of compensation if paychecks are not given.

In other words, this system ensures that there are nothing but unpaid internships out there – the interns are just paying to work for someone else.

The fact sheet is certainly a step in the right direction, but this is the only action the government has taken.

While the idea of an internship is a wonderful concept, the reality needs to be improved.

The exploitative conditions and lack of pay have reached a ridiculous level and the only way conditions will improve is if students stop taking internships or someone steps in to regulate them.

As a past and future intern myself, I understand the need and challenges of having an internship.

Although it isn’t a requirement for a career, it certainly feels like one.

Especially as a Centre student, a top internship would make us all feel like we are on an equal playing field with those Ivy League applicants.

But be careful.

It is all too tempting to take anything and everything in the pursuit of “work experience,” but make sure the long hours, the lack of pay, and all of the stress is worth that experience.


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