Welcome, Interns…


It’s quite amusing to me that there is such a sudden outcry and debate over the fairness and legality of internships. Point blank: if I (and many others) didn’t have the opportunity to intern, there would probably be no Iza the PR Gal… it would be more like Iza the cook, or Iza the electrician (I was an “apprentice” with my dad throughout breaks in college), or even Iza the lifeguard going on almost a decade.  Ahem…

Although I loved and respected waitressing, lifeguarding and working alongside my father because I learned in all of these instances, I can wholeheartedly now admit that those things seem uncanny in my path of life.  The most important point however, is that I would never be able to realize this unless the businesses that took me in as an intern took the chance of teaching me the ways of their businesses.

So think about this: A professor makes a profit because you pay them to teach you. Why then, does a business owner suddenly have to pay an intern (aka student—all the same) when they are completely inexperienced and sometimes tough to deal with?

Not to sound like a broken record, but everyone has struggled in this tough economy and if many small businesses had to pay cash to inexperienced interns and dedicate their valuable, productive time—I believe that they would simply decide to not even deal with internship programs and this would be a disservice to the future workforce.

Bureaucracy has gotten in the way of the basic point of internships: to learn if a certain field of work is compatible with a student’s future ambitions. Even if you are a college graduate with a degree, it’s not like a business owner forced you to take the internship, you chose that path to learn. The piece below is taken from the Employment and Training Administration Advisory System from the U.S. department of Labor, included in the New York Times article, The Unpaid Intern, Legal or Not by Steven Greenhouse.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) has developed the six factors below to evaluate whether a worker is a trainee or an employee for purposes of the FLSA:

1. The training, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to what would be given in a vocational school or academic educational instruction;
2. The training is for the benefit of the trainees;
3. The trainees do not displace regular employees, but work under their close observation;
4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the trainees, and on occasion the employer’s operations may actually be impeded;
5. The trainees are not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the training period; and
6. The employer and the trainees understand that the trainees are not entitled to wages for the time spent in training.

As stated in the article (I’m also not denying that some employers might take advantage of interns as a supplement to hiring a full staff, because I have heard horror stories from friends along the way), these six factors seem hard to misinterpret by the average person.

I believe that unpaid internships are completely fair, and students need to be prepared to sacrifice their few months and, simply, suck it up. Apprenticeships, internships, whatever you want to call it, have been around since the beginning of time. You signed up for it! As for employers, don’t make your interns get you coffee or clean your bathrooms because if you do—I can positively say: FAIL.

I’d love to know: What do you think of internships? Did you have a bad or good experience? What could have made it better?


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4 Responses to “Welcome, Interns…”

  1. Michael Adams Says:

    Great post, Iza! I completely agree with you.

    On top of running my own companies, I have had three internships: One a stipend and the other two unpaid. I actually learned worlds more in my unpaid internships (of course, one was with PMG). Not only was it a blast to go to work, but I took so much away from it, and didn’t mind not getting paid–of course, we got other perks, but it was a great experience. If the internship is unpaid, students expect to be delivered real value in exchange for sacrificing three months lifeguarding or what not.

    I don’t have that much money in my bank account, but I have a ton of valuable experience under my belt that I can use to further grow my companies or apply in the workplace someday.

  2. Lou Says:

    During college, I held several internships at ad agencies. The experiences were invaluable, not only for what I learned about the specific jobs, but also about all of the other stuff – company size, career paths, managerial styles, my OWN work styles, and so much more. By the time I graduated, I had a professional resume listing companies the likes of Viacom and BBDO, and plenty of “learning experience” anecdotes. Without my internships, I would not have known what I wanted to do after graduation, and I wouldn’t have gotten the jobs I did!

    As far as being taken advantage of, some companies were worse than others. (But that doesn’t necessarily change for paid employees!) So yeah, I worked all day at the internship, then worked all evening at Old Navy/Panera/etc to pay my rent, but it was totally worth it.

  3. Chris Says:

    You have mastered the perfect intern state of mind, young Grasshopper.

    Unpaid internships do serve a purpose. Those interns that are able to put nose to grindstone solely for their own benefit are afforded a very unique advantage: they’re impervious to the dips and rises in the economy (I mean, can one really take a pay cut or get laid off from an upaid position?). I can’t agree with your observation more that these business do us, the inexperienced up-and-comings, a service by teaching us the ways of the trade. However Mr. Adams touches on an important point as well.

    I’ve held five internships in the last three years in everything from event management, broadcast communications and public relations and not a single one was paid. Instead of walking away with a few extra bucks in my pocket every week, I now have a recommendation list as long as my arm. Mr. Washington and Mr. Jackson aren’t going pick up the phone and tell my potential employer how hard I worked or how I arrived before and left after everyone in the office that was getting a paycheck. Ultimately, it’s the people you form relationships with that will help you excel in your trade.

    If all potential interns maintain your mind set, we will have a dangerous work force on our hands very soon!

  4. Izabela Socha Says:

    Chris, Lou and Michael– Thanks for your thoughts (great ones)! I see a connection here… it seems like most young professionals that I know have ended up at their current positions by interning all over the place at multiple and very different businesses, professions and cities. Why not! You’re the proof!

    Chris–Funny that you called me Young Grasshopper and I agree, after much anticipation I don’t think I will be getting a phone call from Mr Washington or Mr. Jackson either.

    Good Luck to all!

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