Monday, November 14, 2011
Work For Free
And here is where we get to the sticky part.
Unpaid internships, while common, are controversial. To say the least.
A recent article from NPR refers to a class action suit against Fox Searchlight for using unpaid interns as entry-level employees. That, dear ones, is illegal. In fact,"the Supreme Court ruled over 50 years ago that only work done for training purposes could go unpaid. The Labor Department says companies began skirting the rule. Last year, it moved to issue six-point test that for-profit internships must pass to comply with labor laws."
In this rough job market, though, people are looking for any foot they can get in the door. Your MatchGirl certainly relates to this. It's something she pondered during the long, hard stretch of unemployment she faced not so long ago. And, at the end, it was not something that was possible for me.
But I have known people who were looking to change careers who took unpaid internships - to get some experience under their belts, to make some connections in a new environment, to get a foot in the door. For some of them, it worked out well. They have new careers and make more than they were before. The internships were a way to meet the right people and kickstart a job change. For others, it worked out not at all, leaving them still unemployed, out of money and back at square one when the internship ended
I recently moderated a panel on breaking into the tech world in NYC and the folks on the panel, all in their early to mid-twenties, were very positive about internships. They all used them to get interviews, if not their current jobs. Even interning at a prestigious place helped them to get a foothold into a world they were trying to break into - even if they mostly were fetching coffee and running errands. A high end name on your resume, as opposed to a bunch of boutique mom'n'pop places gets you further than you may imagine. When I asked these panelists what they thought of these internships, they were all very positive - very excited. They recommended that anyone looking for a job in our field take any internship that they could get. And that if, in the end, it wasn't what they were looking for, they could just leave it.
I'm not of the same generation. And I have mixed thoughts, personally, on this.
At the end of the day, a lot of companies are on really tight budgets right now. But I think there is a need for transparency. If there is no possibility that intern will ever be hired... they need to know. If there is now way that they will be doing meaningful, resume/portfolio building work... they need to know. I've been lucky to work with some very smart, capable, and talented interns over the years. But I always strived to make it a learning experience for them as well. To offer your experience to someone coming up behind you, and to help them grow into a career/life that is going to be great for them, that is worth so much more than someone bringing you a cup of coffee or doing your filing.