Flocking to unpaid internships

May 22, 2012 at 8:00 am | Posted in Finding internships | Leave a comment
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Coach Susan Sandberg

Susan Sandberg

April’s job growth was less than economists had been predicting. The nation’s employers produced a net gain of 115,000 positions, after adding 154,000 in March, according to the Labor Department. The unemployment rate ticked down to 8.1 percent in April, from 8.2 percent. That may sound like good news, but the decline was not because more unemployed workers were hired; it was entirely because 342,000 workers dropped out of the labor force. The share of working-age Americans who are in the labor force — either working or actively looking for a job — is now at its lowest level since 1981, when far fewer women were doing paid work. Government job losses, which totaled 15,000 in April, continued to weigh on the economy, tugging down job growth as local governments grapple with strained budgets. Many college graduates—as well as undergraduates–are flocking to unpaid internships to get a foot in an employer’s door. Excerpts from the following New York Times article explore their choices:

  • While unpaid postcollege internships have long existed in the film and nonprofit worlds, they have recently spread to fashion houses, book and magazine publishers, marketing companies, public relations firms, art galleries, talent agencies — even to some law firms. Ross Perlin, author of the 2011 book “Intern Nation,” said postcollege internships used to be confined to a few fields like film but have become far more common. “The people in charge in many industries were once interns and they’ve come of age, and to them unpaid internships are completely normal and they think of having interns in every way, shape and form,” he said.
  • No one keeps statistics on the number of college graduates taking unpaid internships, but there is widespread agreement that the number has significantly increased, not least because the jobless rate for college graduates age 24 and under has risen to 9.4 percent, the highest level since the government began keeping records in 1985. “A few years ago you hardly heard about college graduates taking unpaid internships,” said Ross Eisenbrey, a vice president at the Economic Policy Institute who has done several studies on interns. “But now I’ve even heard of people taking unpaid internships after graduating from Ivy League schools.”
  • Melissa Reyes, who graduated from Marist College with a degree in fashion merchandising last May, applied for a dozen jobs to no avail. She was thrilled, however, to land an internship with the Diane von Furstenberg fashion house in Manhattan. “They talked about what an excellent, educational internship program this would be,” she said. But Ms. Reyes soon soured on the experience. She often worked 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., five days a week. “They had me running out to buy them lunch,” she said. “They had me cleaning out the closets, emptying out the past season’s items.” Asked about her complaints, the fashion firm said, “We are very proud of our internship program, and we take all concerns of this kind very seriously.”
  • Some interns say their experiences were quite helpful. Emily Miethner, a fine arts major at Hofstra, took an unpaid position at Gawker after graduating in 2010, doing research and social media for the news and gossip site. After two months, she moved to an unpaid internship at Flavorpill, an online cultural guide. The knowledge she gained at those places, she said, was crucial to her landing a $35,000-a-year job as social media coordinator at Sterling Publishing. “More than just the individual tasks that I did, it was being in a great company culture and meeting a lot of people,” she said, noting that she was able to work without pay partly because she stayed at the home of her boyfriend’s parents.

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