Last summer I worked at a major non-profit in Washington, D.C. with a host of other interns. From the interview date I made it clear I would work no more than two days a week because the position was unpaid, and I had to support myself with other jobs for its duration. In contrast, the other interns worked 40-hour weeks for the entire summer for not a single dime, and paid for transportation to the costly metropolitan area out of pocket.
By the end of the experience we all were able to bolster our resumes, but I was a few thousand dollars richer thanks to my other jobs, whilst another intern had taken out a loan to help cover the price of gaining “work experience.” Unsurprisingly, the organization did not offer permanent positions to any of the summer interns despite their positive evaluations, but rather chose to hire from outside to fill a position which was ostensibly responsible for the same work of the internees.
Despite my coming out relatively better off, the internship served as a crowning piece to a series of experiences with unpaid work that proved it is a highly wasteful endeavor for modern men.
1. It’s A Corrupt New Fad
As some of the older ROK readers may attest, unpaid internships are a relatively new commodity in the job market. In the pre-mass globalization era of the 1970s, most companies offered 6-12 month, paid trainee programs which allowed new graduates to gain experience in a field on a probationary basis in order to prove themselves capable of working for a firm. Successful performance meant gaining a permanent position after the trial period concluded.
Not so today. Following decades of outsourcing and clamors about “the good of the economy” by Democrats and Republicans, matriculating students are expected to take on volunteer internships in order to gain experience in a field that their college courses did not provide.
Since the term “volunteer” implies that the person can elect to labor only a certain number of hours each week, corporations needed a different word to describe their charity worker programs. Thus God gave them the intern, a glorified jack-of-all-trades prepared to polish the Brooks Brothers heels of their supervisor in hopes of attaining a positive letter of recommendation after several months of work.
The result is an economy where anyone without demonstrable expertise or education in a STEM field is left to wallow in full-time, unpaid positions for the lofty promise that a regular job may someday become available.
2. You Should Know Your Worth—And It’s Probably Higher Than $0
As a simple matter of human dignity, any man with a head on his shoulders and reasonable education should demand compensation unless the position he is applying to is designated as “volunteer,” in which case the requirement of an application is somewhat ludicrous.
The mistake many interns make is assuming they are not valuable enough to be granted a regular hourly wage for the internship duties. Companies will exploit this insecurity by making it appear like there is no option but to accept zero pay just to break into a particular industry.
This is nonsense. If Target will pay you to stand at a checkout line for eight hours a day processing expired coupons and encouraging customers to sign up for their data-stealing credit card, then another large company or government organization should be no different. Cold calling random numbers to muster support for a political cause or updating office directories for hours on end is not so much simpler than saying “Did you find everything alright?”
Keep in mind that the hours you spend grasping for work experience without pay could be better used working out, reading, or banging cheerleaders.
3. There Is Always Money Somewhere
Regardless of the interviewer’s protests, the vast majority of companies and organizations have the funds to pay their interns; they just choose not to. For this reason it is imperative that anyone going into an interview be prepared with ammunition in case the “We are a small organization with limited resources” tripe comes out.
First off, any group that claims to not have enough money is unlikely to provide a very beneficial experience to the prospective internee. Limited funds mean limited opportunities to develop a specialization of skills that are marketable to future employers, since they will definitely not be hiring the intern down the road. Also, basic administrative support training is not looked upon positively by most hiring managers, as the entire AS field is dominated by women with a very low ceiling for advancement.
Additionally, it is important to query a money-shy interviewer about what specific role the intern plays in the functionality of the organization. A good rule of thumb is to ask: “If there were no interns available, would the company be able to run properly without paying someone for this work?”
Another option is to use an organization’s mission against them. Applicants to a leftist think tank that studies income inequality can point out the hypocrisy of not paying interns, while a conservative political candidate’s “We want jobs, not welfare checks” message should mean they provide interns with some form of remuneration.
4. Permanent Positions Are Not Necessarily Waiting
Internships are typically encouraged as part of a way to “get in the door” with a particular company in order to attain full-time employment, but this is not always possible. If the nature of the work primarily concerns entry-level office management duties, it is much easier for the firm to continue to utilize unpaid interns rather than create a new position entirely.
In the event that a full-time position is available in which the intern will perform many of the same tasks as they did in the internship, there is no excuse for the company not to pay for the first three to five months of the individual’s employment. Refusal to compensate the person for the initial several months is just a way for a corporation to save money while benefiting from free labor.
It should be clear that there can be real benefits to completing an internship program. The exposure to a professional environment, opportunities to develop a portfolio of accomplishments, and networking assistance can be exceedingly valuable in the long-run. Jobs do exist at the end of the tunnel in some cases as well, so there is reason to go after such programs.
That said, it is important to avoid opportunities which require you to pay for work experience; this is merely a tool used by the political and economic elites to ensure that the largest swath of individuals gaining professional experience and consequently controlling the future society are wealthy, nonthreatening college kids.
Read More: How To Get Paid What You’re Worth