With the annual Nicholson School of Communication’s Intern Pursuit, and internship fair, coming up around the corner on March 20th, 2012, most students at the University of Central Florida are probably starting to feel a bit anxious. With the worries of writing the perfect resume, making it look good, planning what to wear, what to say, who they should talk to, how to approach them, what exactly they are looking for in an internship, and an array of many other things, many students don’t stop to think: “Is this internship going to actually give me an advantage, or is the company taking advantage of me?”
The idea of an internship not giving a student a helping hand was baffling to me, until last month, Slate Magazine published an article online talking about Xuedan Wang, a former intern at Harper’s Bazaar. She filed a lawsuit against Harper’s parent company, Hearst Corp., claiming that they failed to pay her minimum, and overtime, wages during her unpaid internship. The idea of paying during an unpaid internship may sound strange. But, in reality, an unpaid internship can be quite unethical, and sometimes, even illegal.
As a communications major, the idea of an unpaid internship to me is much more normal than a paid one. It may be related to my field of study, but the reality is, finding a paid internship is like finding a needle in a haystack, no matter what people say about internships being 50/50 (half paid, half not). As companies have noticed, students are willing to work for free in order to get their foot in the door. What company, in their right mind, wouldn’t take on another employee to ease the workload if they didn’t have to pay them? In this economy, trying to kick-start your career can be a job of its own. Desperation in students can lead to actions that may not be reasonable otherwise.
Not all unpaid internships are unethical or illegal. However, with the number of unpaid internships rising, it is time that people took another glance at the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act so that both students, and companies, know exactly what an internship should consist of. Besides a lot of other information you can read by clicking the appropriate link below, internship programs, under the Fair Labors Standards Act, must meet the following six requirements:
1. The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;
2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;
3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;
4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;
5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and
6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.
Personally, I agree with mostly everything that is outlined in the Fair Labors Standards Act, and I do believe certain internships should offer some sort of pay or incentive. Accepting an unpaid internship can be quite a burden on a student. They have to sacrifice a lot of time, and some money (gas, food, etc.) in order to fulfill this internship, that they could be spending at an actual job. Nevertheless, internships can be a great experience. You get to actually experience first-hand everything that your professor has taught you and you can start to get a good feel of the “working-world.” It teaches you a variety of specific skills that cannot be obtained in a classroom. And, even though the intern cannot technically provide any “immediate advantage” to the company, occasionally, the only way to truly learn something is by actually being trusted to take on an important task, or responsibility, for the company that will benefit the organization somehow.
Although the excitement of getting a phone call from a company offering you an internship can be quite overwhelming and thrilling, giving it some thought is quite important. Don’t jump on the very first internship opportunity offered. Truly think about what the internship will consist of, whether you will be able to meet all of the requirements expected and if they are reasonable, if the organization’s best interest is to look out for you and to provide proper education, and, most importantly, what can YOU get out of the experience.