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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Unpaid internships rob you of dignity and money

Unpaid internships seem like a good idea, especially if you’re starting out in a new field and have no experience in it. You work a little bit, don’t get any compensation after three months except a person at the end of a telephone call willing to say some nice things about you, and you might get a little field experience. They also carry the promise of how you’ll be rewarded with “maybe a job” for your sacrifices.
Accepting an unpaid internship lowers your own standards. You have decided that you are not worth a paycheck, which is counterintuitive to the career you wish to pursue. Also, do not take any job offers that promise rewards at the end of the gig “if our project is successful.”
Doing work for free, unless you already have a job which covers your financial needs  including filling up your savings account  is a waste of time (until you can afford to work for free.)
Unfortunately, unpaid internships are part of some degree program requirements at the University of Massachusetts Boston. My brother, for example, was forced to complete a 40-hour-a-week unpaid summer internship in order to graduate, while also working his paying job.
Purposefully taking an unpaid internship is an act of desperation. There are many actual paying jobs available, and contrary to popular opinion, you do not need to slave away as an intern in your field to work in it. The job market only seems terrible because creating a culture of desperate hires with plummeting pay standards is good for business.
If you plan to start an unpaid internship, work at a restaurant instead. Or anywhere that pays. It will be a much better reference on your résumé. If a restaurant job is “beneath” you but working for free is not, check yourself. There’s no shame in rolling burritos or steaming lattés while you “figure out what to do.” It reinforces your history of working for money to future employers.
If you are trying to break into a creative field such as art, music, or some kind of design, apply to work at a music store, or art supply store; customers and coworkers will have shared interests and networking potential (avenues to a better job). Or apply for marketing work where you get to put your creative abilities to use.
Volunteering your time is another matter. Helping causes, cleanups, soup kitchens, raising awareness for something and similar charity work are in a separate category. Volunteers are not trying to further their careers by working for free.
My career history: landscaper, baker, CVS photo lab technician, overnight deli sandwich guy, rug store employee, barback at two restaurants, copy editor at two newspapers, freelance web designer, web editor at a Harvard Law program, and now graphics & marketing consultant at a life sciences company.
My last six jobs (except for web editor) were all found via networking. This means someone I knew at one job told me about another job. The results of networking are much better while you are employed (and not working for free,) especially when a prospect asks, “So what are you doing now?”
If you believe that you are someone who is willing to work hard, not afraid to learn something new, open to new ideas, or even “detail-oriented” and able to “think outside the box,” then apply to a paying job.
Several years ago I took a three-month unpaid internship in copy editing. I completed only two months because my trainer was constantly pressuring me to meet extremely high quotas, which were too demanding. I took the unpaid internship because I believed I didn’t have what it took to be paid in the field I wanted. Then I applied to a paying job that field and found I was plenty qualified.
If you don’t believe you should be paid, neither will your employer.