Open Call: Your Internship Horror Stories


Unpaid internships: the sad fate of scores of millennials who were foolishly led to believe that the four years they spent majoring in Victorian Studies and beer pong would prepare them for the harsh reality of entering the work force. Nearly every person who’s ever had to suffer through an intern’s daily unpaid tasks, which often vacillate between demeaning and taxing, knows that it’s hardly an acceptable labor practice. However, because internships allegedly help in securing jobs, college students and recent college graduates are loath to abstain from or protest them.

Fun fact: having an unpaid internship, on average, results in only a 1% advantage in securing a job at that company. Here is another fun fact: 77% of unpaid internships are held by women (meaning that more paid positions are held by men). And one more: they’ve been partially blamed for the huge wealth gap in America — which is fairly obvious, because you can only afford to beef up your resume with internships if you can afford to work for free. In short, the vast majority of unpaid internships suck.

NYU sophomore Christina Isnardi agrees that internships suck. Unlike basically everyone else I know who’s held a shitty unpaid pseudo-job, she’s not mewling tragically from her position of privilege while continuing to engage in the practice. Quite the opposite: she’s taking action by petitioning the NYU Wasserman Career Center to “remove postings of illegal, exploitative unpaid internships from CareerNet, NYU’s online job and internship posting website.” Her goal is to ensure that current labor laws are actually enforced — i.e., that interns who are doing the work of employees receive at least minimum wage. The petition has already netted over 1,000 signatures, but the Wasserman Career Center is “hesitant to remove even illegal unpaid internships because it thinks it also will be removing opportunities for some students to break into their professional fields.”

As evidence of how demeaning and ridiculous unpaid internships can be, here are some of the Trials and Tribulations Of An Intern that I gleaned from my friends, coworkers, and my own personal experience (all anonymous):

One person I questioned said that she had interned at a labor magazine whose editor-in-chief would bring his pet parrot to work right before the deadline, and it would shout loudly at the office while everyone was frantically copy-editing. It didn’t know any words except “squawk,” which is sort of a meta-commentary on being a parrot.

Another interned at a fashion magazine where her boss screamed at her for ten minutes about a slightly incorrect piece of information on Wikipedia — with which she had nothing to do — and then offered her a pair of designer sunglasses when she started crying.

Another ex-intern at a fashion magazine recalls being asked to spend hours travelling all over Brooklyn and Manhattan, hand-delivering copies to every single person who’d been featured that issue, because apparently the US Postal Service is for commoners.

Another was effectively expected to run the New York office of a small publication, without compensation, while her boss hung out in Australia for two months. Adding to the insult, her boss’s Instagram username was a combination of a popular Mexican dish and a slang term for the male genitalia.

Yet another says that she was asked to clean the entire office and then instructed not to write about it on her company’s intern blog because — Did You Know? — it’s illegal to force your unpaid intern to do manual labor.

This is my personal favorite: two interns had to take their boss’s extracted tick to the doctor (in a town car, because why not) to get it tested for Lyme’s disease. Upon hearing that she’d need to provide a blood sample, the boss sent another intern with a plastic bag filled with cotton swabs soaked in her own blood.

Now let’s all join together and have a group share session — tell us your own horror stories (be they first-hand, second-hand, or third-hand) in the comments, or email us.

“Students fight back against illegal unpaid internships” [USA Today]

Image via Stock Lite/Shutterstock.

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