Just the other day I ran into a guy I went to high school with, Ed, who is an intern with a major fashion designer. He has a degree, is a helluva smart kid, but felt because of the recession he wouldn’t be able to get a paying job so chickened out and grabbed the first opportunity that came his way. Is he not gaining experience? I’m sure he his. But the time that he spends every day at the designers, he could be spending meeting people at all different designers, marketing himself to HR and going to interviews. He could instead end up somewhere he truly wants to be, with people who appreciate him for his work and his time, rather than his impressionable youth.
We also can’t forget the “cool factor”. Places like Ed’s company – designers, movie studios, event planners – have the prestige in certain circles of being The Coolest Kid on the Block and assume (correctly) that drooling kids will be falling over themselves to stuff envelopes. We’re willing to do shitty work for free so we can later say we worked for Time Warner/Burberry/Random House.
Chris Brogan wrote on his blog about the audacity of free, and how we shouldn’t be embarrassed to put a price tag on our services: “Paying something for a service or good helps us value it more.” And that’s the point now, isn’t it? Interns just aren’t valued, regardless of the “experience” they get in return.
When Jenavi Kasper resigned from her internship at a large ad agency, she wrote a letter that was later posted on a marketing blog. The response was enormous. She wrote, “When ‘helping with projections’ meant reading you numbers off a spreadsheet I became a little discouraged. When ‘working with scripts’ meant retyping scripts I was bummed. It was especially painful when I spent all morning cleaning out an office for the new girl while you guys took off to Starbucks.” She was doing assistant work. Except assistants get paid. And learn just as much as interns. So why do we still take them?
Tyler Hurst, Media Strategist at Amanda Vega Consulting, wrote me and complained about Kasper’s letter: “What I found was a meek whiner who refused to answer even the simplest questions I had”, he said. “I wanted her to be a rock star and she turned out to be a groupie.” While I don’t know this Jenavi character (she could have been the worst intern ever), she makes some excellent points. Internships are made out to be these wonderful experiences that are competitive and help us get our foot into the real world. What they really are is misleading and degrading.
Do you know what else offers amazing work experience, networking, and – gasp! – a roof over one’s head? A real job.
Tomorrow: The top 5 tips for gaining the experiences of an internship without actually having one…