The Secret Life of an Intern: The Truth Behind Unpaid Internships

The Secret Life of an Intern: The Truth Behind Unpaid Internships
Famous interns Lauren Conrad, Olivia Palermo, and Whitney Port (via PacificCoastNews.com)

When Xuedan “Diana” Wang filed a lawsuit in February against Hearst Corporation over her unpaid full-time internship at Harper's Bazaar, the industry was abuzz with questions about the ethics and legality of unpaid internships.

Today, Wang apparently filed another lawsuit. This time, against jewelry designer Dana Lorenz of Fenton Fallon Corp., for a summer internship where she worked 50 hours a week.

As someone who had internships throughout college, I sympathize with the very long, and very unpaid, hours. But I also see very little case for filing a lawsuit—again.

Personally, I came to New York City and spent more money than I'd like to swallow right now on NYU, because I knew since I was nine-years-old that I wanted to be a fashion writer. Knowing what I wanted to do from the get-go was helpful, and with that, I also knew the only way I'd get hired out of college was to stack on as many internships as possible.

So I did that. Every semester. Along with part-time jobs, babysitting, and a full courseload to fulfill my double major. Repeat, every semester.

It wasn't easy. There were days I'd make silly mistakes at my internships, because I was up late studying for a test I had to take after six hours at the office. There were nights I would have much rather gone out with my friends, but chose to babysit for a little extra cash instead. There were spring and winter break trips I would have loved to take, but had to work some extra days at my part-time job to replenish my savings account.

In the end, it was definitely all worth it. Because to me, college was a means to an end and my internships were most definitely the most educational and rewarding part of my college experience. Even when I was doing something as mundane as editors' expenses, I learned something. Not only did I meet and befriend some really inspiring and talented people, I networked and made professional connections that helped ease the pain of a job search.

I also worked hard to prove myself, and was able to attend and report from fashion week, meet celebrities, and write a bunch of stories that were published by major titles online.

Yes, there are situations in an internship where you feel, and you deserve, that you should be getting paid. But there is also the option for academic credit (not that that helps your bank account, because you are essentially paying to intern) and there are some paid internships out there if it's really a major issue.

What I am trying to say is, internships are part of the nature of the beast. I know a lot of people feel that internships are unfair, because only middle and upper class students can afford to take one, but I want to emphasize that I interned, had a job, babysat, and survived. Plus, companies such as Conde Nast recently re-evaluated their intern programs, and now give interns a $550 stipend (not that that's enough to live in NYC, but it's better than nothing).

Even though it's not necessarily "right," or "fair," in the end it's your personal choice. The fact that a specific internship is unpaid is never a surprise—companies are always very up-front about what compensation (or lack thereof) is. If Wang was unhappy with the hours she was working, she should have consulted her supervisor (honestly, no one should work a full-time internship unless it's for the summer and you are getting credit). And if she wasn't happy with his or her answer, then she should have left and found something new.
Comments