TL;DR: Stop your complaining.
It’s a strange feeling, turning 18. You’re in that weird age gap where everyone around expects absolute maturity, yet you can’t even drink a beer or light up legally. In the eyes of many, you’re an “adult” but also still a “child.” You probably have chores, but also need to have a full-time job to pay for bills and shit.
Right around this time is when students start searching for summer internships too, planning for the real world. They’re the bane of anyone’s existence that’s gone through them, yet have the potential to offer incredible insight into the industry of your choosing. Except, increasingly the country is seeing a stronger pushback to those unpaid positions.
TL;DR: Stop complaining.
It’s called paying dues, and anyone who’s anywhere (aside from those assholes who are born into money) has done it. No one gets dropped off at the top expecting to be the greatest. It starts at the bottom, doing grunt work, following those who are better than you, learning, watching, developing.
So you go to a business where you’d love to work one day and ask about an internship. The person behind the desk is into it, is into you, and wants this relationship to join the team even though it means time out of his schedule to teach you things for free. You’ll kind of be in the way, but that’s fine, they’re willing to help out and give you an edge in life.
Then you ask: “Do I get paid?”
“Not at all,” they say.
What do you do?
In our experience as a media outlet that accepts interns on a non-paid contingency, pretty much all of you walk out or hang up on us annoyed. The prospect of learning something valuable wasn’t enough to trump your desire for minimum wage.
And the cycle continues …
It’s not that you’re walking out of here (or any other place that willingly accepts interns) with nothing after a summer fling. If completed, you’re now ahead of every competing student in your class by way of industry insight, you have something flashy to put on a resume, and you received 6 (or whatever) credits more towards that diploma of yours.
There’s nothing unethical about an unpaid internship, either. The Department of Labor has six guidelines it goes by to determine if you’ve been lured in as slave or student.
1. Even though the internship includes actual operation of the employer’s facilities, it is similar to training that 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.
6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.
If even one of these isn’t met, your employer is mishandling the situation. As an intern, your job is to be educated on site, to gain experience. Theirs is to teach you, to broaden your limited horizons. While ‘benefit of the intern’ is pretty vague, it’s something to consider if you’ve been placed somewhere and don’t feel like you’re getting anything out of it.
You never know, either. Some companies offer incentives under the table or gain you access into things you wouldn’t normally get to be involved in. A music festival internship might get you VIP tickets and backstage access to meet the bands. A magazine internship might get you out to have drinks with politicians. An office internship is going to get you business contacts.
These experiences are invaluable in the real world.
But back to the whole paying dues thing, it sucks. However, these are the types of skills building you as a person. Think of yourself as an empty cabinet, looking to dress up your shelves with things people want to look at. If there isn’t anything there, why bother to stop and waste time searching for values that will never appear? And the person next to you? That fucker has beautiful shelves full of fascinating things — experiences, stories, expertise, practice.
Who would you want on your team? The real world isn’t a charity organization.
Besides, most of these things aren’t but a few months out of the year. Pick somewhere you love and push through it. There might even be a job waiting for you when you’re done. It happens all the time.
Just think, when most people are out there turning down great opportunities because they’re not going to get 7 bucks an hour doing it, you’re the one who chose to go through a small bit of discomfort to be a better person.
You’re already way ahead of the competition.