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The Truth About the Fact: An International Journal of Literary Nonfiction

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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Does Unpaid Pay Off?

I always thought senior year of college would be a time savor the last year before entering “the real world" but I’ve come to realize is more accurately a time of stress, over involvement, and being underpaid and underappreciated and more accurately in today’s economy, a time of not being paid at all.

According to the recent New York Times article “The Unpaid Intern Legal or Not” for today’s generation, internships are a must regardless of what you field pursue after graduation. However as the importance and demand for internships among students continues to grow, employers have caught on and realized that they can get away with providing unpaid positions that students will actually fight over. This article presented an inside look from director of Career Development Center at Stanford University, Lance Choy, which illustrates there is definitive evidence that the number of unpaid internships is mushrooming — fueled by employers’ desire to hold down costs and students’ eagerness to gain experience for their résumés. Employers posted 643 unpaid internships on Stanford’s job board this academic year, more than triple the 174 posted two years ago. My Universities job website “LionJobs” is strikingly similar, there are many more unpaid internship listing than actual paid jobs and I’m sure throughout the U.S. most universities are similar.

Since I was sixteen years old I have worked fulltime in the summer and parttime during the school year in order to save money and pay for college and be able to take care of my own expenses. Since I had been in this mindset since a young age I thought it was ridiculous how many of my friends weren’t actually working and doing unpaid internships instead. However somewhere between freshman and junior year of college this mindset changed. Going to a school that most of the student body was upper middle class and had the connections and financial security to do unpaid internships and the growing pressure to build a solid resume and to achieve my "dream job" I found myself working extra paid hours to make the money so I could do something unpaid.

I participated in my first unpaid internship in the summer after my junior year of college. It was for a small nonprofit agency. They only required I work 15 hours a week and bought me a bus pass so that I didn’t have to worry about the cost of transportation. I got the opportunity to learn the inner workings of a successful organization, go out into the community and interview people of all types, learn more about marketing and nonprofit world, build a writing portfolio, and be surrounded by very successful and inspirational people who wanted to help me succeed in anyway they could. I could have not imagined a better situation, and I didn’t realize until two unpaid internships later how good I had it at my first internship. Although it was unpaid I knew it was for an organization I felt passionate about and that they did a lot of good for the community and physically didn’t have the funds to pay me. They were understanding if I ever needed to rearrange hours to accommodate my paying job and were supportive of whatever I needed to do.

My current unpaid internship is much different (I will not mention names because I am still currently “employed” there). It is at a prestigious company and is a very competitive internship to obtain although it is unpaid. It will most likely be an amazing resume builder as I enter the job force and hopefully help me land a good job. Regardless I have had to make a lot of sacrifices in order to do it. Only time will tell if it was actually worth it.

As I began to search for other sources to see what other people were saying about unpaid internships I stumbled across a satirical popcultural blog post on a website titled "Stuffwhitepeoplelike". This blog targets fads among white middle class Americans and number 105 of of the list was not surprisingly "unpaid internships". The post about unpaid internships starts out stating "In most of the world when a person works long hours without pay, it is referred to as “slavery” or “forced labor.” which immediately made me think back to the New York Times article and how unlawful this whole concept really does seem yet it seems like a trend that is here to stay.

Internships are a great way to test the waters of a various fields and gain great firsthand experience. I have learned so much from all of my unpaid internships, made great connections, and realized what I am passionate in pursuing as I start the next stage of life but whether or not I agree with the concept is a whole other arguement. Regardless, after I graduate in May, I will never, mark my words NEVER, do an unpaid internship again. Although 2010 is the year that highest number of college grads doing unpaid internship and the job market especially for entry level jobs is scarce, I chose to take my chances and hope that unpaid does pay off.



Anonymous Courtney M. Myers said...

Upon arriving to college I too have felt tremendous pressure to take on internships on top of two part time jobs and a full academic work load. It is sickening to think that I have worked 200 plus hours unpaid when I am up to my ears in debt from student loans. It doesn't seem logical does it? I think that during this particular time in our life, our generation feels the need (and not only the need but feels it is necessary) to 'do it all.' I would agree that internships are a great way to learn and discover whether a job is right for you, but working for free? ... not okay with me!

April 18, 2010 at 7:16 PM  

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