If you know a young person or someone who has been young in the past 10 years, you’ve probably heard an internship horror story. If not, a simple internet search should fix that…or just keep reading, because you’re about to meet one.
Hi. My name is Sierra Schellenberg. I’m 22 years old, and I just graduated college. I’ve had an internship every semester and summer as an upperclassman, and most of them have been pretty close to useless. Though competition’s tough in this division, probably my worst internship was my last one at a news blog. My average work tasks there included stealing pictures from Google, finding news stories for the other writers to blog about, and blogging my own stories. I would have gladly put up with the more inane tasks if I’d gotten any sort of guidance for my writing, but this wasn’t the case. My articles were scantily edited (my early portfolio is riddled with errors) and forget any sort of help with style. They’d often ask me to write about topics I had absolutely no claim to expertise in, such as the 10 best places to get margaritas in the city (I’d never had a margarita in my life at that point) or a critical analysis of the city’s budget plan (my degree is in philosophy). Sometimes they’d straight up forget to post my articles—which actually wasn’t that bad when compared to my previous internship, where a staff writer would post articles I’d written under her name. When I told my supervisor I was getting nothing out of my time there, he consented to give me some technical training, which lasted 10 minutes.
You might be wondering why I submitted to such a terrible situation. Easy: every paid writing position I looked at requiring at least two years experience in the field. My ex-employers aren’t alone in taking advantage of the current job market and cultural climate to exploit young workers, as a simple internet search will tell you.
Employers often hire interns to work for little or no pay, often asking them to perform menial tasks that don’t contribute anything new or relevant to their skillset. And interns often comply, all in the name of a good reference, networking opportunities, or exposure, even when the experience forces them to go into debt or a 40 hour plus work week.
While I’ve since moved on to a much better environment (shout out to Green America!), I’ve been hoping to write more about the toxic culture of internships. So when my editor proposed doing a follow-up series to a piece on worker exploitation here in America, intern exploitation came immediately to mind. While not quite as vile as some of the working conditions imposed upon immigrants, internships are nonetheless a sector of the American workforce where exploitation runs rampant.
Here are some ways you as an employer can go above and beyond the legal minimum for ensuring a fair workplace for interns.
NOTE: While I do reiterate the law here, this post should not replace legal counsel! Continue reading “An Employer’s Guide to Internships”