Please Don’t Ask Whether My Internship Is Paid

In June, I saw The Internship, and though it was torched by critics and viewers alike, the movie showed me I wasn’t taking enough professional risks or going after what I really wanted.

“These are some deep thoughts about a Vince Vaughn movie,” joked fellow giggler Anna Swenson, but even the most light-hearted of productions can put you on the right track if you need some guidance. The Internship is about two grown men who lose their jobs and move out West to pursue internships at Google, where they may or may not end up working full-time. Not to spoil the flick for you, but as you can imagine, things pan out for our friends Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn, and the feel-good story about interning in sunny, inspiring California proves it’s fine to intern later in life if that’s necessary to build a new career.

I’ve had more than one internship, some paid, some unpaid, and while I understand the pervasive negative response to unpaid work, I also wish there wasn’t such an emphasis on whether or not the position is compensated. What about the internship itself and what it can do for an ambitious individual?

I’m starting an exciting internship next year, and when I told people about it, almost all of them asked right off the bat, “Is it paid? Or just a networking opportunity?” Why has that become the default first question? Yes, it’s important to address, especially since unpaid internships can potentially push away talented folks who can’t work for free, but why not also inquire about what the internship entails? When you’re green, the most valuable thing is the experience itself, not if it comes with a paycheck or stipend.

I understand the concern that unpaid internships keep less-than-privileged people out of certain fields, but that’s another discussion entirely, and many unpaid programs offer school credit or flexible scheduling so interns can have part-time jobs on the side. I don’t like to say this, but that’s just the way it is, and sometimes you have to bite the bullet and be willing to start fresh when embarking on a new adventure. Life is unfair sometimes, but you could be rewarded in the long run. After graduating college in 2010, I held an unpaid internship for two months before it turned into a full-time position, which opened many doors for me in the online media world. I had to begin from the ground up, and doing that a second time is both terrifying and exciting.

Not everyone walks out of internships gainfully employed and insured, and I consider myself lucky to be able to do this, but when asked about my plans for the new year, I don’t just want to hear questions about how much money I’ll be putting away, because that’s my business.

As for internships that are paid, there’s always a possibility that the earnings won’t be significant. It’s just a tough time to be young and unemployed or underemployed, and those with unpaid internships aren’t the only ones making sacrifices. Just assume your friends with unpaid internships have a plan to stay afloat, whether by working elsewhere during their off-time or taking odd jobs whenever possible.

Also, it’s rude to talk about money. You know better than to ask people how high or low their salary is, so don’t put interns in the same awkward, unpleasant boat. We’re people too.

Featured image via The Internship Movie

What are your thoughts on internships? Is it rude to ask whether the gig is paid? Tell me in the comments.