Unpaid internships still provide experience

Conde Nast, the leading magazine company behind The New Yorker, Vanity Fair and Vogue, recently ended its internship program after two former interns sued for getting paid below minimum wage. Now, eager college students are wincing because their foot in the door was abruptly slammed on.

I was accepted to the Conde Nast program last summer (although I decided to intern at an alternative weekly). The biggest tragedy of the company’s decision is that willing students will lose an opportunity to gain valuable career experience. I have had almost full-time internships for the last four semesters at two different publications and I wasn’t paid a dime by either.

While it would have been nice to receive some financial compensation for my labor, money was not the reason I took on an internship.

I have an extensive writing portfolio and well-known references — which will add legitimacy to my resume come May — but, more importantly, my internships gave me direction and validated my reasons for pursuing writing and journalism. I talked to people in the office, sat in at copy meetings and eavesdropped on different conversations. And through that, I’ve pieced together exactly what I want and don’t want to do when it comes time to apply for a paid job.

Certainly, I’ve felt the toll of piling a full-time course load on Tuesdays and Thursdays (especially around midterms and finals) and there have been times when I’ve had to do uninteresting things: I transcribed interviews, mailed packages and manned a check-in counter during events. I’ve seen the eye-rolling and frustrated sighs of other unpaid interns.

Before you take on an internship, it’s important to know exactly what the company expects from you, and it’s your responsibility to make sure it’s filled with career-boosting experiences.

Some of the other students in my classes have no idea what they want to do when they graduate. That’s OK for some, but that uncertainty scares me more than the thought of being unemployed.

I’d like to think I got more out of my internship than the companies I worked for got out of me. Sure, I did mindless busy work for free, but I also know exactly what I want to be when I grow up, and that’s priceless.

If additional companies cut their internship programs, it will hurt the eager students more than a lawsuit will hurt the company.

Jess Swanson is a senior majoring in journalism and English literature.

November 3, 2013


Jess Swanson

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