I work in the writing industry, which could be different than design or fashion or any other creative profession, but I hardly believe what I’m about to say will differ from one creative professional to the next. If you are in college, you are never too good to take an unpaid internship.
“But Becky, I have a 3.5 GPA and a portfolio filled with published pieces from my university’s newspaper and literary journal!”
Congrats! You’re mediocre!
Do you know how average it is to have a bachelors? How average it is to work for the school paper between classes and crank out a few articles on what’s going on around campus or a snarky opinion on the next political campaign? Super duper average.
It might sound like bullshit that companies offer unpaid internships or it may sound as if they are taking advantage of someone who will work for free to get their name on their resume, and that’s probably the case for some. Which is why you have to do your research and make sure your internship is legal. Make sure you’re going to get class credit and make sure they are offering the right experience.
Don’t intern for free at a magazine if all you’re going to do is lick envelopes, but don’t think you’re too good to go lick an envelope or two in between writing press releases, either. Find out about previous interns at that company and whether or not they have moved up. Ask them if it was worth their time. Make sure it is offering you the experience you want.
If you take advantage of an internship in the right ways, it won’t be unpaid. I know this sounds all Mother Earth and new-agey, but the skills you pick up while busting your balls will benefit you every single time you pick up a new job or client. If you want to be a boss bitch who’s on her game and has a realistic approach to success, you can’t think you’re too good to work for free during the years where you are paying to learn.
The experiences you’ll gain during unpaid internships, whether good or bad, will help expand your empathy and courage, test your skills and teach you invaluable lessons on how you fit in with your field whether it’s writing, PR, fashion, or something else. You just might learn if you’re really cut out for it, a lesson best learned sooner than later.
If you think you can’t afford to work for free because you have to pay bills, you’re probably wrong. I took 2 internships during college. One of them I worked 3 days a week in the office while working the other 3 (sometimes 4) days at a paying desk job, also while taking night classes during that whole summer. (And I am by all means an underachiever, so if I can do it anyone can).
For the next internship I went into the office twice a week after classes were out and worked the other days in an office to make money. You can totally afford it and work it into your schedule. If you’re still worried about money, think about how it will help you get a higher paying job. Do a summer internship when you have extra time on your hands.
If you ever want to work for yourself you have to learn how to be the pimp AND the prostitute (The White Stripes were soooo wrong, it is possible to do), and getting early experience will help you grow the balls and tough skin you’ll need. Any creative profession is among the most competitive in the world and if you don’t have a humble approach toward what you’re doing, you’ll never feel fulfilled because you’ll always feel entitled to something better.
The feeling you get from this bitchwork will help you out when you’re 40 years old, running your own business and you’re on the phone booking a client because your assistant is in the bathroom. You’ll gladly pick it up because you’ll never feel too important to do the small things that helped you get where you worked so hard to be.