Unpaid Internships: Hate the Game, Not the Player

For many recent grads looking to land their dream job, internships (often unpaid) are a necessary step to take towards career success.

According to Ross Perlin, author of Intern Nation: How to Earn Nothing and Learn Little in the Brave New Economy, the U.S. and Canada are experiencing an “intern boom.” Synonymously, interns across the nation are experiencing a wallet bust.

Fortunately, I don’t have anything bad to say about my intern experiences (aside from the fact that most were not paid).  I’m lucky enough to live in commuting distance to a big city and was able to finance myself through saving and part-time work while I held my unpaid positions. Although my unpaid internships were definitely worth it, that doesn’t mean that I completely agree with the unpaid internship.

Disclaimer: I have absolutely no bad feeling towards any of the companies I interned for. For many publishing and creative companies, there is simply no budget to hire for anymore paid positions, and with 100’s of interns who will apply to jobs to work for free, I don’t see how blame can be placed on the ‘employer’ of unpaid interns. 

There are of course moments when it is very frustrating that people looking to get into the creative industry are expected to work for free, while people looking to get into HR, banking or just about any other field would never be expected to take on a completely unpaid position.

Who is to blame? The interns who will keep working for free, or the companies who will keep taking on free interns? Is there even a place for blame?

I say: hate the game, not the player.

Is there a point when the unpaid internship goes too far?

I’m not a lawyer, but from my research on the legality of internships in Canada, it seems that many unpaid internship could be called illegal. Legal or illegal, unpaid internships aren’t going anywhere any time soon. No one is forcing the unpaid intern to come to work and many companies are very upfront with their interns about the possibility of being hired before their intership starts.

Are the interns to blame?

To form an answer to this question, I ask the people of the creative industry: What would happen if all interns banded together in an intern revolution and refused to take on another unpaid internship? Would paid positions open? Would companies make do without the extra staff?

From my intern experiences, I think it many companies would struggle to complete their workload without their intern staff.

When it comes down to it, you’ve got to play the game to become a winner.

Wannabe writers, editors, creative advertisers and even people looking to get into nonprofit are probably going to have to complete one, two, three, maybe even 6 internships before they build the network connections and experience that will position them to he hired as a contract or full-time staff member.

How to play to win

Once you’ve resolved that an unpaid internship is destined to be a stop on the way to your dream job, there isn’t much else you can do expect play your absolute best, network like crazy, hope for some good luck and create your own luck. Or, you could become the leader of an intern revolution.

I hope I’ve stirred a little contraversy here. Please share your thoughts on unpaid internship or share your input on one of the many questions that I’ve raised about the topic.

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