UPDATE: Great article in the New York Times about this, from April 2.
Freelancers should avoid doing “spec” work (unpaid speculative projects). But what about summer interns?
Several industries (music, TV, publishing, sports) are known for having unpaid interns, because thousands of people would love to work for Oprah (whereas a ball-bearing manufacturer lacks the sex appeal of working in media). Due to the economic downturn, the “work for us for free” circle seems to be expanding…and that’s not just because of pressure from companies.
William & Mary’s business school contacted me recently (I’m a 2004 alum). They’re seeking summer project and internship opportunities for their MBA and BBA students. They’d prefer paid positions, but some students might be willing to do unpaid work, in order to get experience. The school’s doing a great PR campaign, including personal outreach, to find projects for their students. I’ll bet other business programs are hustling, too.
Lesson: This is a good year to be a manager or business owner. If you have a backlog of meaningful projects at your company or non-profit, contact the Career Services office at your local business school. You might be able to get high-quality help at low (or no) cost. And they’re going to be highly motivated, because they want successful results for their resume.
I was lucky to get a paid internship in 2003 that turned into a full-time offer in 2004. But that was seven years ago, before the Great Recession. If you’re graduating in a year or two and you don’t have solid professional experience, I think you need to get it however you can.
What do you think? If you’re a prospective intern, should you hold out for a paid position? If you’re a manager, would you value the intern’s work if you don’t have to pay them? If you’re a student who needs to support yourself while you’re in school, how do you juggle getting professional work experience with paying the bills?