Duke It Out: Internships

[It’s pretty obvious that the average CollegeCandy reader has some very strong opinions. Opinions that she likes to share with everyone on the site. We love a strong woman (unless she happens to be charging at us with her fists raised), so we thought we’d give her a real forum to discuss her thoughts, feelings, and perspectives. Every Friday I’ll be featuring a hot topic (like the plus size movement! ) and leaving it up to you, the readers, to duke it out. So, read it and get your debate on in the comments section below!]

The last few months a bunch of people (mostly employed people who don’t actually have a stake in the matter, I must note. *Suck it, employed people!*) have made a big deal out of internships – Are they fair? Are they worth it? Are they even legal? Since summer is basically the official season of internships and since we’re really the ones who have a stake in the matter, I think it’s about time we had our say in the matter.

Now, internships vary from profession to profession but there are a few things that have pretty much become standard – you work (usually the bitch grunt work no one else wants to do) and in return you learn skills and get experience in your field to beef up your resume. Like the mythical unicorn, paid internships do exist (so I’ve heard, anyway) but by and large, nowadays you work an internship for free and just accept that it’s an investment in your future. These are the two big aspects that people seem to have a problem with since it ultimately means that you’re doing a crap job and not getting paid for it.

On one side, as someone who is trying to break into media and publishing (two industries that are basically built on the unpaid internship model) I can say without hesitation, the whole arrangement sucks. Of course we deserve to be paid for the work we do, particularly considering that now many businesses are picking up the slack from lay-offs by having interns do the work that used to be done by a paid employee. The truth is (and, admittedly, these are all based on my personal experiences and those of people I know so they aren’t universal) most of us learn something from our internships, but compared to the time and effort we put into them, no, most of what we do isn’t really going to further our career goals in any practical way.

Now, none of that is to say that all internships are soul-sucking slave-labor; I’ve actually enjoyed several of my internships and am damn grateful for the privilege of having been in them. Whether or not they were all the most practically helpful experiences is debatable, but every one of them has added to my resume and made it possible for me to get subsequently better positions. Basically everything I know about my field I learned on the job and I think that’s true with a lot of professions. And here’s the big thing to me – sure, interns get screwed, but we know it going in. Does anyone (at least anyone with half a brain) really walk into an internship and expect that it’s going to be all about them and there’s not going to be any menial bitch work? Really? Employers hire interns because interns can be handy. We do internships because then we can use those names and contacts to make ourselves look better to future employers. Sure, they use us, but we know they’re doing it and we use them right back.

Alright, I’m on the fence about this one. What do you think? Are internships wrong? Has the internship system been corrupted? Has this whole thing been blown way out of proportion? And, right or wrong, are internships worth doing? Duke it out!



  1. JL says:

    I can definitely see both sides to the situation but I generally believe that if you know ahead of time that you're not getting paid, then it's not slave labor since you aren't being forced to it. If unpaid internships were to be made illegal, then there would be less opportunities for college students to get an internship because employers would rather get less work done than having to start paying a bunch of college students who never got a paycheck anyways.

  2. Miriam says:

    Internships are one of several reasons I decided to switch my career goals away from journalism, which was what I originally planned to do. I truly think the internship model exploits students (and yes, even if you go into it willingly, it's still exploitation, because if you don't do an internship, you can't get a job later). Instead I'm studying psychology, and while I'm in college, I can make money AND do something meaningful by working on research with a professor. THAT'S fair.

  3. Bailey says:

    In my experiences, unpaid internships don't expect you to work 40 hours a week. I mean, you can if you want, but they understand that you need income, too, so most of the unpaid internships I've encountered expect about 15-20 hours per week, which leaves a few days a week (and weekends, unfortch) for another part time job. I know that isn't ideal, but at least it's something. At my last internship, they didn't pay me in a check, but they paid for my transportation and lunches, which ended up costing about $1800 or so for a whole summer (train passes are expensive, y'all). So while they didn't pay me directly, I did save a ton of money on those things.

    In my opinion, totally worth it. Then again, I'm also trying to break into publishing, so…maybe my mind is a little warped, too.

    OH, and my other point – don't be afraid to intern with a smaller company. Chances are, they'll be more lenient with hours, maybe pay you in food or something else worth your while, and also you'll get to do a LOT more hands-on work. Maybe the name isn't as prestigious on a resume, but the work you do will stand out in an interview. Promise.

  4. Matthew says:

    Internships are fine, up to a point. When you're clearly working an entry level position then it should be paid. Transportation and a minimal meal expense ($7 or there abouts) shouldn't be an unreasonable request especially if one must drive to the office or take the subway each day. Also, an internship is IDEALLY supposed to lead to a paid position, so even if one isn't available in that company, a letter of recommendation should be given at the end of your time there. Most interns are unpaid workers with no assurance of getting a recommendation much less a paid position and the internship has been abused by a lot of businesses, especially in these economically crappy times.

  5. Vicki says:

    My internship was different from most in regards to the fact that I interned with a police department. I didn't really do a whole lot of "grunt work" or "slave labor" – the most I did was help out on some big projects in the Records division, but it never felt like it was being shoved off on me. The ladies in Records were always grateful and told me how much help I was. I didn't have a problem with it not being a paid internship mainly because I knew upfront and because I was getting a semester's worth of credits for it. Also, I was getting a lot out of it by gaining practical experience in the field of law enforcement. It taught me how to apply all the theories and laws that I learned about in class, and got to see the officers in action. It involved everything from paperwork, sitting outside a bar from 10pm to 2am, traffic stops, to all of the exciting, fast-paced stuff. It also gave me the opportunity to make a few "rookie mistakes" without being admonished and used them as learning opportunities.

  6. Christen says:

    While I don't think that the internship model in the fashion/journalism/liberal arts in general industry is fair at all, its not to say that there aren't fair internships out there. Most finance and IT people I know all have paid internships. My current internship has me actually doing audits on IT controls, and has paid for my hotel/flight/3 meals a day for the two weeks during the audit. That's on top of my monthly salary (yes- a salary, not an hourly wage) and housing stipend. Granted, I'm working for a HUGE company in an industry known to have well paying internships, but there are internships out there that have real experiences and real (good) pay.

  7. Melissa says:

    I currently have an internship this summer. I knew coming into it that it would look good on my resume and that I would obtain valuable experience from it, which is true. It's also only a few days a week so I do have the rest of the week off.

    Yet, I'm still continuously bitter because I had to forfeit my regular job (which was 5 days a week) to do this and can't find another job that is willing to work around the 3 times a week intern schedule I have. I end up not making any money this summer and simply spending money on transportation to get to my internship.

    I do understand that internships are important and people do enter them willingly (I know I did at least), but I wish I did receive at least some stipend maybe at the end, minimal as it may be for all the money I spent on getting there the whole summer and all of the (free) work that I put in. I would have a lot more motivation and enthusiasm to go to my internship if I knew I was getting something tangible out of it.

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