I keep seeing these web articles and blogs about how interns should be paid. How corporations are taking advantage of helpless college students by making them work their fingers to the bone for free. There’s even a petition going around for Sheryl Sandberg to pay the interns she hires for her non-profit Lean In. And while I agree that no one should be made to feel they’ll get fired if they’re not available 24/7, and no intern should be doing the same job as a paid employee, I don’t feel that interns should be paid for their contribution.
Now before you get angry, know that I do sympathize with interns. I too was an intern – and it wasn’t that long ago. I interned for the Chicago city guide Concierge Preferred, fact-checking, compiling event listings and more. Three days a week, I drove from the southwest suburbs to Midway Airport and took the Orange Line to the first stop in the Loop (Roosevelt). It was my final semester in college, so I was often stressed about finishing school and very tired from working nights as a DJ. And I’m no Pauly D or David Guetta, so it’s not like I was making thousands of dollars. I was still eating Ramen noodles and living for $1 beer night with my friends.
When established professionals say, “Interns should value the experience,” it’s not just some BS response to all these complaints surfacing online. It is a legit answer. I really did value my experience as an editorial intern at Concierge Preferred. I honed my writing skills, had some event planning to add to me résumé…and one of the most memorable experiences was the day I had my first celebrity interview with former SNL funny gal Rachel Dratch.
Now that I’m on the flip side, hiring interns, what I’m saying to today’s college students is that you can’t expect to get a paid position when you have zero experience or if you’re actually doing an internship for school credit. I had a great education, but as I moved through the publishing industry I realized that no classroom lecture could have ever prepared me for one-hour deadlines, owning up to embarrassing errors (in print!) and even writing in general. I needed hands-on education. And writing for the school newspaper is not the same as writing for a respected publication – local or national.
I don’t believe in forcing interns to work 9-5 every day and scaring them into being available by phone every hour. But I do believe in giving young men and women a fair shot at honing their skills so they 1. have the chance to see if they even like the field they want to get into and 2. learn more about the job beyond the classroom.
And with most people I know, we’re not hiring interns to make us coffee or pick up our dry cleaning. We want to expose them to life in the real working world (for three days a week at the most). And usually it’s part internship, part mentorship. We’re here to guide them, answer questions and prepare them for a career. And if you’re not doing that? Well, then you probably should pay your interns…because they’re really just your personal assistants.
Above, I’m pictured (in the blue) with our stellar Summer 2013 Editorial interns…Aurelie, Kirsten and Angelica.