Working for free is not a way to jump-start a career… change?

February 26, 2008

Finally, someone who gives advice on internships while warning against unfair ones. The Sun-Sentinel (February 25) provides this piece of advice:

Unless you’re in a formal internship, working without pay for a profit-making company is illegal. That’s the word according to the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, and state labor laws may also apply because free work to benefit a business is considered exploitation of workers.

And my favorite:

Even if it weren’t illegal, giving your time away makes you seem desperate, encouraging unprincipled employers to devalue your talent and abuse your generosity.

Of course, it’s too bad this was written for a 43-year-old who wants a career change and not for some graduate, but the content could be exactly the same. Think about it before accepting an unfair internship: you may be reducing your value rather than increasing it.


How much to be exploited?

February 10, 2008

In December, Newsweek started a trend when it raised the issue of paying for internships (The Price of Success, December 26, 2007). I had asked when we’d hit rock bottom and apparently this time has come.

How much would you pay for a career-making internship? $500? $2,000? Try $6,000.

Working for free is expensive enough, and now this. It’s one step further to make unfair internships more elitists. As Sarah Kiliff puts it:

Meritocracy isn’t dead, but it may be losing out to a handful of internship placement services that promise career-enhancing opportunities-for a price.

Two other articles have raised the issue. In an article for the Washington Square News (Want a dream internship? Pay up, February 6, 2008), Lisa Euker quotes Trudy Stensfeild, the executive director of the Wasserman Center for Career Development (linked to NYU), who gets it right: “It is completely unfair to charge students money for internships” As freshman Michelle Surjaputra points out: “People should pay you for working and helping out, definitely not vice versa.”

Thankfully, it seems to raise eyebrows in student medias and be against the principles of career centers, as the second article comes from Boston College. In the BC Herald (Buying Internships: Trend on the Rise, February 7, 2008), Matthew DeLuca quotes Theresa Harrigan, director of the BC Career Center: “We [at the Career Center] would never recommend that a student pay to get an internship.”

The saddest thing is that getting an un(der)paid internship is unfair in the first place. Now, it’s been taken a step further and one should be grateful not to have to pay for it. These companies operate in full light of day. How much more will it take to realize that the job market is exploiting a certain category of workers?

Make me different

February 8, 2008

Oh, the paradox (Interns bust ‘gofer’ myth, The Rider News, February 1, 2008):

“Students should be required to have an internship,” Brenda Andrzejewski, a 2003 Rider graduate, said. “Nowadays, it’s the only thing that separates you from everyone else.”

Well if everybody has one, it doesn’t differentiate anyone, does it?

So you end up with no choice but taking this internship since everyone else does because everyone else does. That’s how you end up with unfair internships because employers realize that there’s an oversupply of labour.

The road most taken

February 6, 2008

This blog is committed to demonstrate that unfair internships are exploitative in part because they are becoming unavoidable. It is no longer possible to say “It’s not exploitation because students are not forced to take an internship.”

Consider this (Who Will You be This Summer?, Lisa Belkin, New York Times, January 6, 2008):

“Internships are no longer optional, they’re required,” says Peter Vogt, author of “Career Wisdom for College Students” and an adviser to, the student arm of the job-search Web site, which reports that 78 percent of students in college this year plan to complete one or more internships before entering the post-collegiate world.

It’s not enough to have internship experience to land a job, now it takes internship experience to get an internship:

Competition is further heightened because applicants are increasingly qualified. At Ketchum, a New York public relations company, more than 600 students applied for 16 positions last summer, with predictable results.

“This year, for the first time, every candidate selected for this summer’s program came to Ketchum with previous internship experience under their belt,” says Allison Slotnick, a spokeswoman.

This is why we need to go one step back and make these first on-the-job experience proper jobs and not unfair internships. At any rate, the job market needs new blood and students will get hired. We got to stop pitting students against each other in an unfair battle for the job market.