Friday, April 2, 2010

Unpaid Internships are Evil, the New York Times Said So!

I read an interesting article in the New York Times that talked about unpaid internships, and I got yet another glimpse into the abyss that is the current entry-level job market. The number of unpaid internships is sky-rocketing, and some of them are just plain illegal. It seems that because students are so desperate for experience that can bolster their resume, they are taking jobs which should be paid and thanking their employers for giving them squat. That, in turn, probably lessens the overall number of entry-level positions available when they graduate, because why pay someone when you can get a whole new batch of freshman next semester?

I also learned a few things. Did you know that internships are supposed to be about benefitting the intern, not the employer? That's kind of the main idea. The majority of your time spent should be in educational tasks, shadowing and learning from people whose jobs match up with your future goals. The cliche of the coffee-fetching intern is actually illegal if that person is unpaid. More disturbing is the fact that apparently, because interns aren't technically employees, they aren't protected under certain laws, leaving them vulnerable to discrimination and sexual harassment with no way to seek help.

Sometimes things just look freaking bleak. The fact that we're continually willing to let younger people suffer through the ritual of the bottom rungs of the corporate ladder, to me speaks to a horrible masochism. It's this groupthink of, "We had to go through these terrible trials, they should too." Except it's getting to the point where the things my parents would have to do are what I should have done in high school, and their first jobs are today's unpaid college internships. And doing those things isn't a guarantee of the position you want when you graduate. It's just the least you can do to hope to be in the running. Because now you're competing with people who were laid off with five years experience. It's like fraternity hazing gone extreme.

But eventually you have to think we're all going to get through it. I just hope that I'm never jaded enough to be willing to save money by underpaying an intern who deserves more. Break the cycle? Yes we can.

This indignant and depressing blog post brought to you by Friday nights.

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