For everyone of the class of 2011… or 2010… or 2009, or maybe even 2008, finding a job is going to be a difficult and trying process. Finding someone who will actually pay you money for work is exciting, but the economy is in a volatile state, and has been for a few years. So what should the recent graduate going to do? Graduate schools, years off, and temporary positions in retail and food service are all on the table as newly minted professionals attempt to “wait it out.” Many are also looking to unpaid internships, which are an old source of college credit and experience. In a recent release, the Department of Labor revealed that the only sector of the job market that is truly showing growth is the unpaid internship. More and more are hoping that, with another sentence emblazoned on their résumé, dream jobs will be that much more attainable.
Don’t think that way. While unpaid internships are great when you have something else on your plate, like finishing college, they are simply not worth the time or effort once you are out of school for three main reasons.
1. It is HIGHLY unlikely they will lead to a full-time job.
Having your diploma is something to be proud of, but it is also the sign that your loan providers are going to be looking for payment. And, trust us, loan providers are ruthless when it comes to getting paid back. Success stories from unpaid internships have a way of winding down the grapevine, but for the most part, unless you are really lucky, this position will not lead to a paid, full-time, job with the company. Companies hire unpaid interns when they want an extra pair of hands without paying for them, and the economy is a slow moving beast.
While things will get better, you probably do not want to, and cannot afford to, stick around with a company for two or three years without pay. Experience and name recognition are great, but with the unemployment rate around ten-percent, there is probably someone who has the jump on you. Companies may also begin to value your work as being worth the price they pay for it: nothing. So try and find a company willing to pay you for a job well done. The pay may be lower than you expected, but it will at least show that they value you enough to give you money for your work, instead of dead-end promises.
2. These positions are signs that employers are willing to cut corners.
This is less applicable to smaller companies and non-profits that depend on people to do a little extra for a little less pay, but still is something to keep in mind. Having a cadre of unemployed laborers means the company is trying to save as much money as possible, and cutting corners is a well established, though very ill advised, way to do that. Horror stories of terrible bosses and evil companies are bountiful, and most people would agree to avoid them at all costs, but you are agreeing accept these abuses by working as an unpaid intern. The Department of Labor recently hired 250 more people to enforce the Fair Labor Standards Act, which it feels many employers are violating with their unpaid internship practices. If they are not willing to put in the effort and investment to hire an actual employee for this position, then they probably are not too concerned with the Fair Labor Standards Act.
3. At this point, you are worth more than “experience”
It is said that most stereotypes have a grain of truth within them, and the image of the overworked intern is so prevalent for a good reason; interns are, typically, worked to the bone. Internships are competitive opportunities, so many of the poor souls who agree to work in an unpaid spot feel they beat out a bunch of other applicants for it and they have to prove their worth as a result. Again, while you are in college, this is a good mentality to have, but when you get your degree you have to begin to see your work as worth a little more. This can be hard as when you walked off the stage, you were not inspected and stamped like a piece of meat; Grade A, worth five dollars a pound. But you went to college to add to your own, personal self-worth so you can get a good wage for the work you do. You probably worked late into the night for four years, but came out of it worth more than when you went in. Remember that when looking for a job. Don’t over-value yourself, but don’t undercut all of your hard work either.
This is all a bit pessimistic and frightening, and is definitely not “one-size fits all” advice. But, for the most part, there is no reason at this stage in your life to accept an unpaid position. Instead, put all of that hard work and effort in sending out your résumé, networking, and finding a good job. Your alma mater probably has a career services office and an extensive alumnus network; use these for your benefit. It is very easy to get discouraged, especially since you are not going to receive any feedback during this process; no one gets an A in looking for a job. But it is worth it if you can find an employer willing to value your work as it rightly deserves.
Plus, it will help end those incessant phone calls from the bank.