The Endless Unpaid Internship Cycle

Unpaid internships have become the norm, but they are making it almost impossible for millennials to find real jobs even after graduation, according to a great piece published in the New York Times on Friday. Many members of our generation are finding themselves taking internship after internship – all while still hunting for paid and permanent positions in their desired career path.

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-Alec Dudson, the founder and editor of Intern magazine.

Call them members of the permanent intern underclass: educated members of the millennial generation who are locked out of the traditional career ladder and are having to settle for two, three and sometimes more internships after graduating college, all with no end in sight,” reporter Alex Williams writes.

Entry-level jobs are almost nonexistent (I know this from personal experience). In some cases, as the article points out, companies have completely scrapped their internship programs after facing lawsuits from former interns claiming illegal and unfair working conditions (i.e., not being paid minimum wage for actual work).

It wasn’t supposed to turn out this way. We were told that if we got good grades, interned over summer vacations, made some good connections, and got that diploma, we’d be golden. We’d get a job. It wouldn’t be handed over to us (we had to work hard to maintain grades and land those internships, of course), but we had a high chance of success. That’s how it had worked for our parents, and we naively believed that it would work the same way for us.

Initially, we just accepted the fact that working without pay at an office, studio, or newsroom for one summer was something that we had to do; that it was something that all of us had to do. One summer, maybe two summers. But that was it. After that, we’d get those real paying jobs.

When our parents questioned why we weren’t getting paid even though we were doing real work, we shrugged it off. We just considered it to be the price we had to pay to get our feet in the door.

I’ve seen numerous job announcements that ask for at least two years of “continuous experience” in a particular field. What’s “continuous experience?” According to the companies hiring, it’s full-time work – not internships. So basically, your internships don’t really count.

Long gone are the days when an intern was merely grabbing coffee and answering phone calls. In the internships I’ve had, as well as the internships my friends have had, we’ve done real work. We’ve done research, written reports, done briefings, attended meetings on behalf of our superiors, and been responsible for social media accounts.

I’ve been incredibly lucky in terms of the internships I have had. While they weren’t paid internships, I learne

d a great deal, met some truly fascinating people, and was able to witness some pretty amazing things. I was also lucky in the sense that my parents could afford to pay for my living expenses, and I had family friends who offered me a place to stay. At the same time, it’s important to note that not everyone is as fortunate, and many millennials simply do not have the resources to take on a full-time, but unpaid, internship.

But the belief that internships aren’t considered the right type of “experience” to get us a job leads us to another question: how are we supposed to get that two years of “continuous experience” if you never hire us? If yo

u never consider the internships we have participated in? Does this mean the internships were only about you getting free labor?

The article seems to place at least some of the blame on us – the interns – for being too picky about what full-time employment we want.

“But the poor job market is not the only reason that recent graduates feel stuck in internships,” Williams said. “Millennials, it is often said, want more than just a paycheck; they crave meaningful and fulfilling careers, maybe even a chance to change the world.”

Is there something wrong with wanting to change the world? Is it so wrong for us to want something more than a menial job?

People who are not part of the millennial generation assume we are spoiled. They assume that we all think we are entitled to a job. They assume that we don’t know how to fend for ourselves. I can say this much: we are not lazy. If we were lazy, we wouldn’t be chasing after so many internships and working for free.

Our generation isn’t as bad off as the Baby Boomers. We haven’t lost our life savings, retirement plans, jobs. But as of right now, the chance of us even having those life savings, retirement plans, or heck, even jobs, is looking downright dismal.

We weren’t the ones who caused the financial crisis, but we’re the ones who are just as affected by it. We are the ones who are forced to deal with its ramifications and forced to clean it up. We are the future, and we are supposed to change the world. But how are we supposed to fulfill those expectations if we don’t have jobs and can’t even financially fend for ourselves simply because you’ve slammed the door shut on us?

4 thoughts on “The Endless Unpaid Internship Cycle

  1. Pingback: Hey Thought Catalogue, Get Off Your High Horse & Stop Complaining About Millennials | The Hashtag Generation

  2. Pingback: Hey Thought Catalog, Get Off Your High Horse & Stop Complaining About Millennials | The Hashtag Generation

  3. Pingback: Ethical Internships: Ethical for Both Interns and our Economic Interest | Adi Prasad's Blog

  4. Pingback: Ethical Internships: Effective for Both Interns and our Economy | Adi Prasad's Blog

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