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I paid $840 to work this summer.
There are a few instances wherein this would be acceptable. Maybe you were paid in self fulfillment after dropping a couple Benjamins on a service trip. In my case, I did not help an impoverished child. I helped a well-nourished, corporate machine. I paid $840 to organize storage lockers, make phone calls, and talk to drunken men about rock and roll- all because I was seduced by the sexiest word a college kid can hear: Internship.
Interning for college credit today is a catch-22. Companies don’t want to pay top dollar to have inexperienced students work for them when they could hire experienced graduates. But, students will never become experienced graduates if they don’t get internships. My C in high school Algebra qualifies me to say: this does not add up. Gotta love a good paradox when you are trying to get that green.
To make matters worse, this system does not do any favors for those who have to pay their own bar tab, (often in quarters). Not all college students can afford to intern for free; a simple, predictable, understandable fact that is often overlooked by students who can afford it, and by organizations that don’t really give a shit.
When an intern is unpaid, it forces them to work towards a payoff in the future. Guess what? Not everyone has that luxury of time. Whether it be for food, housing, or that extra shot to get you through an overly crowded bar night, working a whole summer for nothing is emotionally and financially draining. Those that need a constant influx of cash aren’t the exception. There is phenomenon that has reached epidemic proportions. It’s called I’m in college and I’m frickin poor.
Those stuck waiting tables are no less qualified than those who intern on the house. Their resume however, will portray a different tale. In an interview, this can be easily rationalized and not disadvantageous. Not everyone gets an interview though, and sometimes the resume is the only thing speaking on a candidate’s behalf. That thing will preach sales associate at Dairy Queen till the day it dies.
This is not to say Dairy Queen employee is not a noble profession. I would argue being a “Product Specialist” in reference to cheeseburgers and all things fried is on par with “Glorified PowerPoint Maker” at Goldman Sachs.
It’s all in the fluff my friends.
I have mastered the art of fluffing a resume with tales of customer service and working a cash register, a job that I planned on doing for cash the summer after my freshman year. Oh, but the over-achievers got to me. They lived on my floor, I lived among them, and it was difficult to resist the impending pressures to put on my big girl pants. I overheard talks of their glamorous plans to intern at a marketing agency or financial firm over the summer. It all seemed so mature I could practically feel the wedgie.
And God, I wanted that wedgie.
I found an unpaid internship in marketing and promotions at a radio station. The internship required me to receive college credit as compensation. I contacted Fordham and arranged to receive one credit for my summer of labor.
That one credit cost me $840. I paid $840 to work.
If you are not a business genius, as I so obviously am, I spent a shit ton of money to work. And, while I did learn some, most of the work I did would not require a college degree. I organized storage lockers, made calls and set up promotions- none of which would warrant a slide on a PowerPoint, much less an entire course.
What can be done you ask?
Great question. I have been pondering this myself. You see, interning is a (relatively) excellent opportunity. You learn what it’s like to be immersed in a world of people that ooze professionalism. It is a sneak preview to an impending life stage wherein you will answer most “how are you’s” with “It’s one of those days.” That being said, not every internship will be absolved of its shortcomings by shedding light on why hooking up with a coworker could result in tangible awkwardness from 9-5 on weekdays.
My dear students, don’t intern just to say you did it.
Some unpaid internships are fantastic apprentice style learning experiences where you leave feeling as if you read the entirety “How to Work a Sound Board for Dummies” and are ready to take on the world. And then there are internships where the boss will take advantage of your eagerness and send you out for coffee every time their bowels are irregular.
Research. Know the history of the company’s internship program. Make sure it is worth your time and money. Don’t be so easily swayed by the glamor associated with the word “internship.” Just like you can put lipstick on a pig and it’s still a pig; you can put internship in front a menial labor job description. It’s still menial labor job description. Labor, which you will not be paid for.
Now, wander with me downtown, to a law firm in Manhattan that specializes in fair compensation for interns. Outten & Golden LLP is the name and getting interns paid is their game. The OGs have their “Signs Your Internship is Janky AF”
- They don’t train you. Think Karate Kid. You deserve that kind of hands on training. You deserve your own Jackie Chan Kung Fu Master to teach you how to work a copy machine.
- You’re not the one that benefits the most. Respect yourself here people. Yes, you reached your step goal while getting coffee. No, that wasn’t the point.
- Your presence there prevents a paid person’s presence. Stop taking jobs. Donald Trump will find you. And he will kill you.
- Your presence there never makes their lives harder. You are not supposed to be an expert at the things you are doing. You are supposed to mess up. That’s how you learn. You didn’t know not to drink the abandoned cups of beer on the wall of Mugz, until you did it once. You woke up. Your throat felt like you ate a shag carpet. You never did it again. Same principle applies here.
The bottom line, according to my good friends over at the United States Department of Labor, “if the employer would have hired additional employees or required existing staff to work additional hours had the interns not performed the work, then the interns will be viewed as employees and entitled to compensation.”
Don’t be like me kids, I am broke.