Interns are humans. We are not coffee, fax, or xerox machines, though we know how to use them at maximum efficiency. We are not food delivery people, unless you’d like to give us tips, then we may act as food delivery people. We have lives outside the company and usually, a ton of homework to do when we get back from working a full day at your company. We do not work for your sole benefit, nor are we supposed to, as explained in our video “The Test of Unpaid Interns.”
On Monday, former intern for Harper’s Bazaar Magazine Xuedan Wang announced that she would be suing Harper’s owner Hearst , claiming that “failure to compensate interns for their work, and the prevalence of the practice nationwide, curtails opportunities for employment, fosters class divisions between those who can afford to work for no wage and those who cannot, and indirectly contributes to rising unemployment.”
Frankly, I’m not surprised a lawsuit is being brought up by an intern. I was lucky enough during my three internships to get some sort of compensation (in the form of free books, swag, or travel refunds) where it made going into the workplace two or three days a week (and paying for it) a completely worthwhile experience. However, I cannot imagine doing the amount of work I did for absolutely nothing.
I don’t see how companies or schools can expect interns to pull off a 20-35 hour work week while maintaining some sort of budget and a high GPA and their sanity. Especially now that employers are expecting students to have the same skill set as an entry-level job applicant; truly, I don’t know how many internships I didn’t apply for because, even though I was interested in learning about the company or a particular area, they wouldn’t have called me. I didn’t have the exact skills they wanted (though that may be because we live in a society that acts like we’re still in the 1950’s “career mode” and forces people to make important life decisions when they’re 19, but that’s a rant for another time).
Then, even with student loan rates on the rise, not to mention the myriad of Universities that are raising prices for credits, interns are expected to pay out the wazoo for their intern experience. Seriously— eight hundred dollars a credit times the three or four credits you need to fill an internship quota equals a ton of cash paid for…what? A chance at a good connection and an overload of work? I know way too many student interns who would come home on a Tuesday night at seven or eight o’clock and have to cancel going to, say, a French study group because they were way too tired. Others missed out on “college experience” activities during the weekend because they were stuck inside doing the homework that they couldn’t do during the week after long internship days. They’d sacrifice everything else in their lives for very little to no reward. It wasn’t worth it for a lot of them.
An internship should be a wonderful time for both parties, but I think employers tend to forget that interns are there to LEARN (I wish you knew how furiously I want to put multiple underlines beneath this word), not to act as a replacement for a paid employee.
Employers, this needs to change. Like, immediately. Yes, internships should be a chance for employers to get some work done that maybe their actual employees don’t have time for; that’s understandable. But supervisors should make sure that their interns learn at least one new thing about the business every day of their internship. Make a lesson plan. Treat them like people and answer their questions. Show some love to your interns, and even if you don’t have any money or free things to give them, make them feel appreciated. I know it sounds like a lot of extra work, but it’s totally worth it, if for no other reason than it will prevent future interns from suing you.
(video by Phil Robibero.)
What do you think, interns? Are companies wrong for expecting interns to work a true part-time job without pay? Have you had an experience like this? Let us know in the comments.