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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