Each time we post about taking on interns, a barrage hits us asking why we only offer UNPAID internships.
Being in business for over 10 years now, I admit I have a lot of crazy beliefs, but after talking through our intern process with my mentors and cabinet (people I trust with my life and to call me on my bullshit) they all agreed with me on this process, so I felt it was necessary to share my thoughts.
Below are some of my collective thoughts on why unpaid internships are so valuable, and why I believe it is one of the most essential building blocks of learning, and the best path to real world skills and success.
HERE WE GO:
I’m sorry college kid, but you are unprepared.
School is important, but it’s also become a massive crap shoot and profit generator for people who ARE NOT YOU. The class of 2013 graduated with an average of $35,000 in student loan debt and its only gotten worse sense.
Underemployment for grads is nearly 20%. College grads working minimum wage jobs is up 70% in the last decade. In other words, you just paid all that money and now it turns out that you’re not even qualified to start in the field you supposedly credentialed for.
In other words, school didn’t really teach you the shit you actually need (and this is true even if you’re a doctor).
The good news is that there are really smart people and companies out there, who have been where you’ve been and they can help. Internships are in many ways the solution to the mess we are in.
I find the lawsuits over unpaid internships complete crap, as do the court of appeals who just over-turned the rulings on "the black swan" case of 2013. To me, the kids who filed these lawsuits against the people they were interning under, made one of the following bad assumptions:
A) Because of your helicopter parents you’ve wrongly concluded that your time (as an untrained college student no less) is worth something in an economy where people with decades of experience and amazing work ethic are willing to accept entry level work again.
B) You think the point of an internship is a few dollars here and there (rather than skills, access, and real world job training in the field you supposedly want to spend the rest of your life in). Newsflash: If you’re not learning anything and applying it in real life - that’s YOUR fault.
Or C) Your vision for your own life is way too short-sided.
This type of outlook on life simply put - leads to fear. Believe me, I used to carry a lot of fear too. What if I lose this? Worse, I would be unsure of how to act in certain situations, whether to advance or maintain or do whatever else somebody asked me to do right away. I was petrified of anything that could be considered a step backwards. I think I even once wrote that I promised myself I’d never work on a wage-basis ever again. Now I’m starting to understand that this was foolish. It’s an attitude prevalent in fear. What internships do, is put you in a situation where you can begin to get a birds-eye view of the grand strategy. Like a chessboard, you can begin to identify instances where there was not only nothing shameful in taking a job like that but doing so would be the best possible move. It’s important because once you understand where you intend to finish in that distant, far off sense, you can take in, in perspective, how insignificant many individual decisions are. Left or right, what does it matter? Take this, leave that – knowing how you can turn either to a productive, contributive step means you’re less dependent on circumstance and less anxiety for you to carry.
Whether you choose this class or that one, work or travel, books or people, these are small, tactical decisions. You know that the standing order is to turn each into an interesting, engaging process; EVERYTHING is a challenge to examine and a chance for insight.
Hall of Famer and current coach of the super bowl champion New England Patriots, Bill Belichick, for instance, took his first NFL job as a gofer for the Colts for a mere $25 a week. And that’s the NFL! Not complaining or taking the opportunity lightly, he simply put his nose to the grindstone and worked and worked until his role and responsibilities grew. He valued the experience, learning, and opportunity over the money. There is a reason that internships, or “apprenticeship” have been directly related with long term success for centuries. “Go directly to the seat of knowledge,” Marcus Aurelius famously said.
Also, Richard Branson is not going to mentor you or pay you to be an intern. Don’t pick [insert famous, incredibly wealthy, genius person or company] and swing for the fences. Because you will strike out and it will hurt. Work your way up.
If this career or field is something you actually see a future in - bring something to the table. Even if it’s just energy, even if it’s just thanks, even if its just showing up! You cannot ask and ask and not expect to give anything in return. The bigger the payoff you can offer, the longer they’ll take you under their wing and the higher chances of you actually landing a job will be. Figure out what you can offer - and then actually go give it.
How do you find the right company to intern under? Especially if its unpaid? Wait - You’re asking me this question? C’mon man, you have to know who the leaders and innovators and talented people in your chosen field are. If you don’t, then you’re not ready for a mentorship or internship yet. If you don’t know what your chosen field is, you’re not ready yet either.
Don’t get carried away with your own self worth either - Whatever you’re asking for, or think you're worth - it’s probably too much, so scale it back. Always remember that there is a reason they’ve had the success they’ve had and you haven’t, and let that dictate the terms.
Think about it – if we aren’t even publicly HIRING for our company, why in the world would we shell out money on someone who we aren’t even looking for? Never, and I repeat NEVER, act like the company is obligated to do anything; because they’re not.
You land an unpaid internship - Now What??
Well - They took a chance on you. So deliver. Have your shit together. Want it badly. Don’t be crazy. Spot new opportunities, add value, make their lives and their job easier, and WORK yourself into an irreplaceable role.
The point here is for the intern to make the best use of their time, access and the opportunities. A good internship elevates your learning and career path – you get invited to stuff you otherwise wouldn’t have, you meet people who you wouldn’t have otherwise, you get to work on projects that were previously out of your reach. Rack up as much of this as you can. It’s worth so much more than money.
The company that you are interning with cannot want this for you more than you want this for yourself. You better show up every day fucking hungry and dedicated and eager to learn.
The bottom line is what do you want to get out of this? What’s your grand vision? If you don’t have the answer to that question, it’s going to be hard to really get the most of this connection and opportunity you’ve gained access to.
In other words, the point of an internship is that you work for free and put in all this time and energy to learn real, actual, world skills. And then you’ve got to make use of it.
Also – sorry kiddos, but your personal life is pretty irrelevant. No one cares what’s going on with you, until they do. But before then, it’s on you to handle that shit by yourself, privately. (“If you need to cry, go outside,” etc. etc.)
Pay it forward. When a company or owner or manager takes you on as an intern and invests in your personal growth in any field, you pay them back by moving on and being successful (which reflects well on them) and then returning the favor to someone who is in the position you were once in.
Finally, if this all sounds like a lot of work … well, it is.