Unpaid internships unfair, but important for career

By Jessica Isgro

Contributing Writer

Some people see internships as corporate America’s way of saying “pay your dues.” Undoubtedly, it’s easy to see it this way: the unpaid work, the undesirable position, the obscure hours, the fierce competition. In reality though, this is a glass-half-full approach to what is simply a reality of the working world. Whether we, as college students, want to admit this or not, internships are merely a way to get a leg-in to our industries of choice.

Now, bear in mind I have no intention to disparage the part of universities in training students to work in their desired fields. However, there is only so much that can happen in the hallowed halls of any institution; as much as higher education tries to simulate whatever real-life experiences we may encounter in future jobs, nothing compares to the working world like the working world. We can discuss situations, even simulate them in role-play exercises, but until we experience them we do not know how we would truly react.

Think about the massive leaps of faith employers would have to take if all they were presented with in an interview was a list of grades and extracurricular activities. Straight As, leadership positions and varsity sports show intellect, initiative and versatility to employers, but they do not indicate that you will be valuable to their team. What does show them your capabilities in the field is real working experience. This way, they know you have some practical skill, that you have worked in a professional environment and they have yet another reference to contact to see if you excelled in your position.

For individuals just entering into the working world, there is an interesting, and seemingly unfair, duality to contend with. This duality is that of entry level positions which still require prior experience. The only way to have experience without yet fully being a part of the industry is to partake in internships. Even if employers do not necessitate this prior experience, they will likely choose the candidate with the most experience.

At the end of the day, are these students being exploited by a process that has become more and more commonplace in our society? No. You cannot be exploited by something that is completely voluntary. Yes, internships feel compulsory; if you don’t participate, then you lag behind in the competition against all those candidates with more experience. Yet when it comes down to it, technically, no one forces you to be an unpaid intern. When walking into an internship, a given student knows he will not be paid, he may receive “grunt work,” and he will not have the exact experience as an employee. There is a difference between this intern feeling exploited and being exploited.

It is a process laden with competition, stress, interviews and training. The eventual payoff of scoring the big job is worth the seemingly tedious journey. So do we condemn businesses for offering unpaid internships? Do we challenge them as instilling in us the concept of unpaid work? Or, do we thank them for the advantage they give us when we become a part of the “real world?” This is truly a matter of personal preference, but it seems logical to me that we swallow our pride, gain some experience and use internships as a means of preparation for the careers we hope to one day obtain.

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