This morning, I was shocked and disappointed to find out that Condé Nast has decided to discontinue their internship program after two former interns sued them over the summer. As anyone who is interested in journalism, writing or communications knows, Condé Nast is one of the biggest magazine publishers out there. I was even more shocked and disappointed earlier this week, when I read an article from the newspaper of my alma matter, Hofstra University, by a student saying that internships shouldn’t be required for graduation. This isn’t because I’m on the hunt for the perfect internship – I’m already happily employed – but because I believe it’s necessary for every student out there to have an internship before they get a “real” job, whether that internship is paid or unpaid.
Before you start wondering why I would ever advocate that anyone work for free, hear me out. Internships are an invaluable experience for anyone, college student or older. When done correctly, internships are the perfect place to meet important people in your desired field, learn new things, get adjusted to the real world and basically kickstart your career. I think of internships as an extension of school, not as a job. Internships are necessary to succeed in most fields, but that doesn’t mean they’re all paid. In fact, most internships are either completely unpaid or for college credit only (which is basically like going to class). In a perfect world, would all interns get paid? Yes. They aren’t, though – but they’re still totally worth it.
Before I got my job at Gurl.com, I had three unpaid internships that spanned about a collective three years. During that time, I had some of the best and most memorable experiences of my career so far – and I also would never have been hired at Gurl if it weren’t for one of those internships. For the first internship, I received school credit and needed that in order to graduate. For the other two, I was basically paying to intern because I commuted into New York City.
But it didn’t matter – I never cared about the lack of money. For me, my internships weren’t about getting paid, they were about learning, networking and getting the experience I knew I needed. I never expected to get paid as an intern. I always knew that, going into a career like journalism, I would have to start very small before I got my dream job. Almost everyone in the journalism world started out as an intern, we’ve all had to pay our dues. That’s why I’m a little confused that people actually sued publishers like Condé Nast for not getting paid enough. Aren’t internships supposed to be about experience… not money?
My first internship was at Redbook magazine in Hearst Towers (Hearst is another huge magazine publisher). Working in Hearst was my dream come true – I had always wanted to be a part of the magazine world. My editorial internship gave me a glimpse into it. Admittedly, I didn’t get to do too much at Redbook. But I was eager to learn and so I did. I quickly became known for just how helpful I was. I learned so much about the magazine world that I will never forget.
After I graduated, I couldn’t find a job that would pay me, so I applied for and scored an editorial internship at Us Weekly magazine. A lot of the interns there complained about how bored they were and how they were graduates who weren’t getting paid, but I was grateful for my position. While the other interns were complaining, I was snatching up every opportunity I could. It was at Us Weekly that I learned how to interview celebrities, meeting stars like Justin Bieber, Mary-Kate Olsen and Rachel Bilson. I also learned how to come up with and pitch story ideas, something that has helped me tremendously.
After my time at Us Weekly, I started interning at the website HollywoodLife.com. This internship literally helped change my life. I got more interviewing experience with some of my favorite stars like Ryan Gosling, Justin Timberlake, Matt Damon, Kim Kardashian, George Clooney, Adriana Lima, Michelle Williams and more. It was at HL where I learned how to write for the web rather than print, which was an incredible learning experience for me. This was also where I met so many people in the industry, including the editor who would become a huge part in getting me my job at Gurl.
Was it difficult to intern without getting paid? Yes, of course it was. I commuted into the city three to four days a week and, like I said, I was basically paying to work for these companies. Because of that, I had to have a second job to make money, which was difficult because I already interned long hours. I wasn’t always treated very nicely, but I was never treated terribly. But this shouldn’t be surprising – even when you’re a paid employee, you’re going to find people who will treat you badly and talk down to you.
Of course there were days where I got frustrated with the amount of work and effort I put into my internship, only to not be paid the way some slacker editors were. Of course there were days where I picked up someone’s salad or coffee order and wanted to throw it at them rather than place it nicely on their desks. But they were more days when I learned so much and experienced more than I can explain – and those times made everything else worth it.
I’m not saying I don’t support paid internships – of course I do! But I don’t think people should be expected to be paid for interning; I think of it as a perk, an awesome bonus. I think anyone should be grateful for their experience rather than spending time complaining about their lack of payment. The real world is tough sometimes. You have to work hard to get where you want to go and you’re not always going to be compensated the way you feel you deserve to be. But sometimes, it’s not about the money, it’s about what you learn. My unpaid internships taught me this and it’s a lesson I will never forget.
I’ve heard many people argue that unpaid internships are impractical and nearly impossible unless you have extra money or your parents are paying for everything else. I have to strongly disagree with those people. I knew plenty of interns who weren’t getting any financial help from their family at all and they still managed to work two jobs and come out perfectly fine. I will admit that my parents helped me a little with money during those intern years, but I worked my butt off and still made the time to take a full semester’s worth of classes and work as a waitress. Was I constantly busy? Yes. Was I exhausted? Yes. Was I stressed? Definitely. Did it all pay off in the end? Absolutely.
And, yes, I’ve heard the complaints that internships are hard to find and not getting paid is unfair… but no, I don’t feel bad for those people. Like I already mentioned, you have to work hard to follow your dreams – they’re never going to be just handed over to you on a silver platter. If you’re not willing to put the work in and to pay your dues like so many others have done before, I don’t really think you’re as passionate or driven as those people.
I hope Condé Nast considers opening up their internship program again. They have a lot to offer students looking for experience and it’s a shame that because two people sued them, many others will miss out on those opportunities.
Do you agree or disagree with me? Do you think all internships should be paid? Would you ever intern for free? Do you have your own internship experience you can share? Tell me in the comments.
Internships Are Great, But They Should Be Paid