What’s a fair price for experience?

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I recently researched/wrote a blog post for Benovate on unpaid internships, mostly riffing off of Rachel Burger’s piece written for Forbes entitled Why Your Unpaid Internship Makes You Less Employable. I still stand by my Benovate take, but now that I’ve had time for all the info to stew, I have more to contribute.

Basically, I don’t agree that unpaid internships make you less employable.

In my personal experience regarding internships (as both intern and intern supervisor), it all rests on the industry in which you plan to make your career. With my undergraduate degree in English/International Studies, I planned on going in to a writing field, possibly journalism, editing, etc. Dying fields, some would say, but to me, they just need to be re-imagined in a new scope that centers around how we communicate today. Unfortunately, the Old Guard (for lack of a better term) who prefer to continue doing ‘business as usual’ (and straight into the ground) tended to take it out on interns, and for the 3 internships I did during my undergraduate degree, I was paid for 2 of the 3, and neither of the 2 were anywhere near a living wage. And I probably would have still done them even if they were unpaid.

Why? Because I knew that I needed the experience more than the money at that time.  And to break into the field, experience and the ability to do layout/editing/etc well speaks more than straight As.

Those internships helped me make connections in the field, and led to freelance writing opportunities that become more lucrative as I become more established and more skilled. They also helped me create a portfolio of work which led to fulltime employment and entry to a Masters program in Technical Communication, where I was able to capitalize on that experience and join skillsets to break into information technology as a communications strategist.

Additionally, my internship supervisors are my go-to sources for references, career advice, and have helped me network into circles that would have been closed to me otherwise.  It’s a tough lesson to learn, but life choices shouldn’t always about the money.

The Forbes piece wraps with a note imploring students to remember that they are better off getting paid, and that if they do take an unpaid internship, their hard work won’t pay off. It’s bogus, kids. Your hard work will take you as far as you’re willing to go.

2 Comments

  1. Yes, internships are valuable. But shame of corporate America for deliberately taking advantage of (young) people as “free” labor and demonstrating their minimal diligence to the value of work.

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    1. Agreed. Unpaid internships can have value when structured as growing experiences, but not as stand-ins for laying off employees and expecting free labor to bridge the gap.

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