Internships — Networking or Slavery?

Internships — Networking or Slavery?

Jason was stoked. He’d scored an internship with a small but prestigious law firm.

His dad’s cousin, a dentist, knew an insider and made some calls. Jason wanted to become an investment banker, but law has to be relevant, right? Sure, it wasn’t Goldman-Sachs, but it was a great way to learn from the inside.

Communications is the number one major in America today. CNN had 25,000 applicants for five intern jobs this summer. ---Larry King

Jason’s friends in his business classes at college were envious. After all, good internships were hard to find. Jason was on the first rung of the ladder.

After a few weeks, though, Jason found that most of what he learned was where to dump the garbage, which Staples was closest, and who liked cream in their coffee and who liked it black. And who was a screamer and who gave you the silent treatment, instead. Oh, and the torts attorney who wanted her Ipod loaded with “steamy stuff.”

Jason plodded on. Meetings were mostly closed to him. Too sensitive. Confidentiality issues and etc. Then, when payroll time came and went, he was surprised to find that he was working for free. And learning nothing.

“We pay you in knowledge,” he was told by the I-Plodder. “Know how many students would kill for a chance like this you’ve got? Know how amazing this’ll look on your resume?”

The number of internships is going up fast. And many many interns are stuck with unskilled work, learning little or nothing except frustration, and not earning a dime.

True or untrue? What does the law say? Or does the law even matter?

The California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement says this— for internships to be unpaid, they must be educational and predominantly for the benefit of the intern, not the employer.

Nationwide in the US, the Federal Labor Department is pushing pay enforcement against employers illegally failing to pay interns.


Of course, the agency can’t act without a complaint. And the intern will be almost always fired if he/she complains.

Nancy J. Leppink— acting director of the US Labor Dept’s Wage and Hour division, says, “There aren’t going to be many circumstances” where for-profit companies can have unpaid internships and “still be in compliance with the law.”

But there are internships that are solid, where interns learn, and get paid. Big corporations offer exciting internships, but also many smaller companies and firms may bring more personal relationships— mentoring opportunities to learn.

Interested in starting a Federal career? Check out SCEP, the Federal Career Intern Program (for undergrads), or the Presidential Management Fellows Program (for grad students). Live in D.C.? Here are 3 USGOV internships now up for grabs—

  • 5/3/2010
    Congressional Budget Officea
    US-DC-Washington DC Metro Area
  • 5/21/2010
    Semester Intern – Web
    Congressional Budget Office
    US-DC-Washington DC Metro Area
  • 5/21/2010
    Semester Intern – Communications
    Congressional Budget Office
    US-DC-Washington DC Metro Area

Then there are state agencies offering internships. More likely, one of these would help you most, if it’s in your area. (But some DO NOT pay— if they are designed to increase the intern’s skill-level and knowledge.)

One highly-esteemed program that doesn’t pay is California’s” Year Up”— based in San Francisco, it develops basic job skills in information technology (for 18-to-24-year-olds in poorer communities, many with a HS diploma or G.E.D.)

GOOGLE “internships”. You get 11,4000,000 hits. Dig, and you’ll find the internship you’re looking for. Dig and keep interviewing, until you score.

Yes, an internship can be invaluable training on your career pathway—- in completing your degree, with reality-based experience to back it up. And a good internship can develop connections inside an industry for your future hiring possibilities.

But make sure you know what you are getting into. Never be a slave. Draw your own line and stick to it.

And here’s the GRAD2B Bottom Line— never agree to do anything outside your own personal moral code— no matter how badly you want to keep the internship, never do anything to keep the internship that will make you hate yourself!

Interning can be an incredibly powerful way to network and launch your career.

But if you work, you should be respected— and paid either in money, in knowledge, or, both!

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