These days, it seems like interns everywhere are suing their old bosses.
Hey interns — cut it out. You are extremely lucky to have an internship, even if it’s unpaid.
Look, I feel you. I had six internships before I was officially hired as a reporter. Out of those six jobs, two of them were unpaid.
So I can relate to interns like Alex Footman and Eric Glatt, two former Fox Searchlight interns who told The New York Times they had to make coffee, take out the trash, and clean up the production room on the “Black Swan” film set.
Or Diana Wang, who unsuccessfully sued Hearst in 2012 for back wages from Harper’s Bazaar, alleging to magazine internship website Ed2010 that “the type of work that interns were doing at Bazaar put them at risk safety-wise” by returning bags of clothes and accessories around New York City.
I even had virtually the same experience as the two Condé Nast interns Lauren Ballinger and Matthew Leib who recently launched yet another lawsuit. Both were barely paid during their time at the media conglomerate, and were doing the jobs of full-time employees.
A few of my “paid” internships were barely paid, too. I once received a stipend of $400 a month to live in New York City while working 45 hours a week. Another internship was a sponsored position through my college’s art history program, where I received $1,000 a month while living in an MIT frat house over the summer to save money.
For a year before I was officially hired full-time at Business Insider (where all interns are paid), I also served and hosted at various restaurants on weekends and the odd weeknight to supplement my income, if I had one. It was normal for me to work seven days a week, and I was exhausted.
But I also recognised how fortunate I was. Not only did my parents help me financially when I was in dire straights, but they also let their grown daughter live with them for six months while she interned and saved money to move to New York City.
I could afford to take unpaid internships (or virtually unpaid), learn from my coworkers, and network. So that’s exactly what I did.
Many internships suck. You’re the lowest on the totem pole, and your responsibilities aren’t always the exciting start in the industry you thought they’d be. You won’t always feel appreciated. Sometimes, you might actually feel invisible.*
But not every young adult has the luxury of working an internship, paid or not. In the real world, people take jobs that they don’t love all the time because they need to make ends meet. And those who dream of going into creative careers are often held back because they can’t afford to take an unpaid job, even if they work a second one.
I strongly believe that all internships should be paid. It makes interns feel valued and gives them a financial boost, even if it’s a small one.
But this is not always the reality we live in. And I’m not convinced that suing huge companies (with more money and more lawyers than you) helps, apart from making a whole lot more “unpaid” internships for school credit only (which opens up a whole other can of worms, because you’re paying for school while working — you are essentially paying to work).
Plus, suing is a long, drawn out process that could hurt your career as well as the company you were originally so excited to join.
If you have the privilege and the opportunity to take an unpaid internship — even if it means taking a second job to support yourself — do it. Learn from it. Work your hardest and impress your boss. You are investing in your future career, networking with people in your chosen field, and getting hands-on experience.
And after work, grab a drink with your fellow beleaguered interns. Complain about your boss, your apartment, and your financial situation. Wish that you were paid, and loudly complain that you aren’t.
But leave the bitching at the bar.
*If you’re being sexually harassed, working inhumane hours, or are in any way being abused, you absolutely need to stand up for yourself. Ignore everything I just said and sue, sue, sue!
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