Unpaid internships are one of the necessary evils of the modern workforce. When new graduates can’t get hired unless they have experience and they can’t gain experience without getting hired, the only remaining answer has become the unpaid internship. Billed, and only legal, as a way in which to gain knowledge to supplement classes at universities, unpaid interns are not allowed to do work that would otherwise be done by a paid employee.
In recent years, there have been lawsuits filed by interns because their work was either too demeaning, or too important; these interns sued their “employers” for doing work that would have otherwise been done by a paid employee (producing content for which the company got paid), or because they were doing work that shouldn’t be asked of anyone (fetching coffee, working without lunch breaks or working obscene hours). Conde Nast ended their internship program this year after being sued by former interns. The Huffington Post even published a piece this week about unpaid internships.
Currently on my fourth unpaid internship, I have accepted my fate as the unpaid student employee. If only I was an heiress, because I am very lucky to have worked for and gained the tutelage of the people I have. I just wish I didn’t need to eventually feed myself; I wouldn’t trade my experiences for the highest paid position in a field I didn’t love.
As an experienced intern, I believe that I have a lot to teach my fellow, and any future, PDXSX-er. The most important lesson I have learned is that “yes” is the intern’s best friend. “Do you want to write about ____?” “Yes.” “Do you want to help me with _____?” “Yes.” “Can you compile a list of _____?” “Yes.” “Will you pick up _____?” “Yes.”
Always say yes, even if you have to come up with your own task. Is your internship site hosting a big event next Wednesday? Take home the 22,160 inches of ribbon that needs cutting over the weekend and get it done. Are you getting hungry or craving coffee? Offer to pick something up for your coworkers as well; they’ll return the favor when they’re caffeine-deprived tomorrow.
Now, this suggestion may sound demeaning or as if you’re cowing to your superiors. Here’s the unpaid intern’s insight: the nature of the unpaid internship is inherently demeaning, but if you can prove that you’re an invaluable, considerate and helpful coworker, you’re more likely than not to be missed on your days off and be offered a paid position in the department post-graduation. What do you have to lose?
Lucky for those of us in the PDXSX program, graduation is right around the corner.