Monday, August 19

Students are scarcely hired, easily fired


Competition for unpaid internships causes job-seeking seniors unneeded stress

As if most students, especially graduating seniors, didn’t already feel down and out because of the lack of jobs, the body of unpaid internships is now a festering hot mess of an option.

The New York Times recently reported the increase of unpaid internships and the questionable legality of such practices. Unpaid internships may allow companies to alleviate daily strain resulting from staff cutbacks, but the burden of this real-life work experience for students comes with all the work and none of the benefits.

Instead, college graduates have to move home with their parents and compete incredibly hard for unpaid internships. Unpaid internships. For successful college graduates who have skills, there are extremely limited options. We are hitting a wall after spending thousands of dollars to ensure that this would not happen in the first place.

One can reminisce about the golden days of the internship, when students got paid or, at the very least, received a meager weekly stipend and sometimes, even had their gas reimbursed. Now, an unpaid internship equates to three to five full days a week of taxing entry-level experience, working with supervisors who feel that interns are disposable.

Yet, for the student looking for a resume builder, the unpaid internship is the only option, and that’s when the horror stories come out.

Take a fourth-year friend of mine: She applied for a summer internship with a Los Angeles print publication, operating under the assumption that she would receive a $3,000 stipend at the end. Ecstatic when she found out she received the internship, she worked with zeal. Yay for finding a paid internship! Or not.

Six weeks in, she mentioned her stipend to her immediate supervisor. He looked up at her, surprised, saying that unfortunately, the company could only afford to pay one intern, and my friend was not the paid one. “Didn’t you know?” they asked. “Didn’t anyone tell you?”

In the midst of laying off half the human resources department, no one told the lowly intern that she would not receive any compensation for her hours of work. But it was too late to find a restaurant job or something else that would pay for the rest of the summer, and at least, she was getting this enigmatic “work experience.” She stuck with the enslavement.

This experience is not unique but comes in many forms. For instance, one could apply for a paid internship, only to be told at the interview that unfortunately funds were cut. Even if there are only a few cases like this happening, students still need to be aware that they could be that unlucky job applicant.

But not being paid isn’t the worst thing that can happen to students. Feministing.org recently published a blog, bringing to light the issue of sexual harassment of unpaid interns in the workplace.

Because these students aren’t under contract and, usually, not acknowledged in any way legally by their employers, they don’t receive nearly the amount of protection under the law of “real” employees.

How can you file a sexual harassment suit through your company, if you are not actually an employee? So you put up with the inappropriate jokes or worse, because if you keep your mouth shut, at least you may get a good letter of recommendation or reference out of it.

Of course, there is the almost insulting option of getting “course credit” for your internship ““ but what is the point of that? Sure, these units go on your transcript, but it also goes on your resume, with more detail. It’s not a priority or a necessity to get units for this work.

Most of the time, it doesn’t count for your major, not for general education requirements and you’re held to weekly reports or an end-of-the-quarter 10-page report, which consists of: “I learned to push papers, order lattes for my boss and pick up mail.” Cool.

Not to mention that interns are disposable. There are not many paid internships, and the competition for unpaid internships with companies is increasing; just refer to the New York Times article or ask the senior sitting next to you.

Companies can bring in and kick out interns constantly. There is no blow to the budget when they let people go because there is no budget to begin with. Eager, intelligent students come in the thousands, their resumes piling up in e-mail inboxes.

My own experience this past quarter with my internship ended well, but it initially caused me a lot of anxiety. I found a paid internship, purely by luck and through connections. I worked a few hours a week and then was asked by one of my three supervisors to bump up my hours for spring quarter.

I was amenable, of course, and cleared my schedule and reduced my hours at a second job to accommodate my supervisor’s wishes. Then I went on spring break confident and happy that I had job security. My first Monday back, I received a call from said supervisor, who, in an instant, cut my three workdays to one, citing slow office profit.

So I was left, jobless and on the brink of tears. And then I realized how stupid I was. I had never signed a contract about how many hours I was working or the amount I would be paid.

In fact, I was never even given a clear description of the duties expected of me. In short, I didn’t have any more of a job than the teenager my mom hires to bring the mail in when we’re on vacation.

The only recourse I could implement was the guilt trip, which I capitalized on. I worked for a small company and had gotten close to many of the employees. For these reasons, I was able to get a majority of the paid hours back working for another part of the company, but not at the job I was initially hired to do.

But the situation only made me anxious and angry. I am not stupid or naive. There are no guarantees in the world of internships, paid or unpaid, and it is this risk that all students must take. You must either expect to lose money and hope for a good reference, or ask for a contract to ensure some degree of job security.

But then again, your employer knows what you know: There are 500 more intelligent and dedicated students, like you, knocking on the door, waiting to jump into your shoes when you’re carelessly dismissed.

E-mail Bissell at [email protected] Send general comments to [email protected]

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