Paying Your Dues

Last week one of my favorite bloggers started a discussion on a topic that is very important to me. As someone who completed four internships and now has almost four years of work experience, the topic of unpaid internships is one that I definitely have a strong feeling about.

I will preface that there are cases of exceptions and cases where people have been far overworked. So I'm not saying that there aren't exceptions to the rule. Please know that.

To me, unpaid internships are vital to achieving growth in your post grad career and landing your dream job some day.

Lately we've seen far too many cases where people are suing magazines, businesses and employers for not paying them for work done as an intern. **Paid internships are few and far between, and usually reserved for older college students or graduates.

Some magazines and businesses have even disbanded their internship programs in the wake of too many lawsuits. Again, I'm sure there are exceptions to this, but a good chunk of these cases have been because the person felt they were owed a stipend instead of experience. To me, you cannot put a monetary amount on valuable experience.

We all have to start somewhere, and with the growing competitiveness for landing your first job offer upon graduation, internships are key to standing out among the highly qualified field. I mean the days of simply basing a job offer off where you went to school and what your GPA was, are far gone. There are a lot of people receiving great education and graduating with honors. So what sets people apart from the lot? Experience. How do you gain experience? Internships.

My first internship was for a local marketing firm. My second? For a local radio station, writing copy for radio commercials. Not exactly what I had in mind for spending my precious summer breaks, but it was vital to landing my dream internship... working in the news production department at Fox News in New York City. Without paying my dues in the other internships, I would have never landed an opportunity that offered me weeks of experience I'd never gain from time in a classroom.

None of my internships were paid. I was offered a small travel stipend at Fox, but that virtually paid for my flight there.

When it came time to apply for jobs my senior year, I had a well-rounded resume that I knew would help place me where I wanted to be... Washington, D.C. And you know what? It worked! I've been here over 3.5 years and I owe my successes thus far to the countless coffee runs, paper cuts, baking cookies (yes, I did bake 200 cookies for an internship), answering phones, inputting data into a computer and writing radio commercials for the local pharmacy. Not glamorous work, but necessary work.

My point? That we all have to pay our dues to get to where we want to be someday. And sometimes that means doing things for free. Yes, free.

So I urge anyone who thinks they're well above doing work for free as an intern, to take a good hard look at where you want to be. Find someone who does that role currently, and interview them. I bet you'll have a hard time finding someone who never worked a day in their life for free. Imagine that.

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Anonymous said...

Love this! I had 3 unpaid internships and 2 of them really kind of gave me a rude awakening (that I needed) about what I thought was my dream career. The third directed me to blogging.

When I was interning with a production company in Philly, I actually put together an internship manual because my boss was so terrified of misusing us- absurd. We got to work hands on with amazing footage and really learn what it was like being a documentary filmmaker. I value that experience so much.
Great post! xoxo

katie // a touch of teal said...

Kristyn - I think this is a great conversation to start, and what a valuable place to do it: on a blog that has created a community of engaged, respectful women!

I recently struggled a lot with this same question. I took two unpaid internships in college - one for a local magazine, and one for a magazine at a big four publisher. The latter was recently sued, lost, and owed interns from 2007 - 2012 backwages. I had an invaluable experience at this publisher, and agree completely that this experience opened doors that I could not have otherwise opened myself. And like you said - it was not all glamorous work. I spent most of my first week making photo copies.

However, despite all of that, I ultimately decided to join the class action lawsuit and take the payout. I did this because a) I would literally be leaving money on the table if I didn't take it, and b) this company could have at the very least afforded to pay me minimum wage even while I was still paying my dues. Yet, I would never, ever think about suing the small publication I worked for because they could not afford to pay me - and like you said, sometimes you bring the talent, and they give you experience, and everyone wins.

The only issue I still have with unpaid internships is that to gain experience like I did, you have to find other ways to fund a summer in a big city or accept the opportunity cost of passing up paid wages. And sometimes, financial situations simply do not allow for either. I know for sure I could not have taken my unpaid internships without the monetary support of my parents.

But like you - regardless of whether it's a paid or unpaid situation - I think everyone should be willing to roll up their sleeves and do whatever is asked of them! Experience is a tough teacher - she gives the test first, and the lesson after. ;]


Primp & Proper said...

Exactly! Internships definitely can help you figure out what you want to do, and more importantly, don't want to do. Glad you got wonderful experience through your internships and have used what you've learned to succeed in your current job! Love that and thanks for sharing!! Xo

Primp & Proper said...

Thanks Katie!! I definitely get that. I too would never sue a company, even if I thought they owed me. It'd be a hard lesson learned, but agree you can't just leave money on the table.

I totally agree that sometimes financially it isn't feasible for some people to participate in big internships in big cities. Like I said, that's definitely the exception to this. Three of my internships were in my hometown and I lived at home. So that definitely helped, but I definitely see and agree with your point.

I guess my issue is with some people in the younger generation, feeling like they're above doing the hard work that helps get them to where they want to be. Or thinking they can start out where they want, without paying dues ya know.

But like you said, it's great to get this conversation going! It's extremely important and I am so thankful for your input!! XOXO

Amanda @ Anchored to Sunshine said...

I've had my fair number of internships that paid nothing, or little to nothing... and they were totally 100% worth it! Love this post!


Sabrina said...

Thanks for continuing the debate and taking a stance - people will not always agree with each other but the best way to develop an educated opinion on something is to hear both sides. You make some great points. I also took an unpaid internship at a domestic violence intake center that definitely could not have afforded to pay me, and I worked on the side because I had to mostly support myself. That means I was working 60-80 hrs/wk. The internship changed my whole outlook on what kind of career I wanted, and I am so blessed and privileged to have had the opportunity to do it. My only issue is that some people cannot pull this off financially and it is not that they don't want to "pay their dues," they just literally cannot afford to.

Primp & Proper said...

Thanks Amanda!! Appreciate you reading and for the comments :))

Primp & Proper said...

Of course!! There are all kinds of view points on this subject, but I agree that it's important to keep the discussion going!

I definitely understand what you're saying about affordability. I probably should have added another paragraph about that, maybe another post, ha? But I totally understand. That's why my first three internships were in my hometown and I lived at home. So there weren't really any expenses. I also interned part time and worked to save up money for my summer in NYC. So there are definitely ways around it financially.

Appreciate you sharing your thoughts Sabrina and for reading!! Xo

Rachel Gault said...

I so agree with this! Most of my internships were unpaid, and I was totally fine with it. It's more about the experience at that point in your life/stage in your career. You're getting paid with knowledge and real life experience!

Primp & Proper said...

Totally agree Rachel!! Thanks for sharing your thoughts as well!