Monday, March 21, 2011

Employment Strategies

Friends of mine at Verso Books in Brooklyn are promoting one of their titles: Intern Nation, How To Earn Nothing And Learn Little In The Brave New Economy.

According to the author, Ross Perlin, "almost half of all internships are illegal under the Fair Labor Standards Act" and this "exploitation saves firms more than $600 million each year".

I'm tempted to believe his data. I've worked for many companies who use interns and, while it appears to be a good way to get a foot in the door, it has always been a wonder to me how they learn anything while they make coffee runs, photocopy, answer phones, pick up dry cleaning, walk dogs and deliver packages. New York operates on a much quicker pace than other cities too, so the humble New York intern must do everything very very quickly; how much then could they possibly learn just by being in the office?

Commenting on Verso Books' blog, Frances Fox Piven, "Distinguished" Professor of Political Science and Sociology at the Graduate Center, CUNY says: "Cloaked in the innocent idea of the intern, aggressive employers are using young people trying to get a foothold to weaken the leverage of existing workers, especially professionals. Ross Perlin gives us an account of another subterranean strategy to undermine working people in the US.”

While I believe that a young, inexperienced intern could hardly usurp a seasoned professional in the way that Piven describes, it's true that every year thousands of students emerge from college ready to work for free for many years. How can a graduate with hefty student debt compete with that?

Hardly any companies are hiring at the moment. Even if they were, they would have their pick of the best and many more who are willing to work for free. Employers appear to have the upper hand.

To the unemployed who have always relied on the comfort of a W2 salary, may I offer a complete reversal of strategy.

- Treat yourself as if you are a business and pursue a handful of part-time jobs. Employing someone is an expensive commitment: payroll taxes, unemployment insurance, worker's compensation, health care and disability insurance, are all things that frighten the modern business owner who is struggling to find customers. You can only succeed, wrongly or rightly, by putting yourself in their shoes and adapting to the economy.

- Join networking groups, get business cards and offer your services as a consultant. Business owners still need help and if they can hire freelancers or other business owners to help them it will be easier on their budget.

- Read non-fiction in your area of expertise and keep abreast of local news and blogs.

- Interest rates on savings have never been lower. There are plenty of business people with money out there who are looking to get a better rate on their savings than 2%. Put your side job or hobby to good use by writing a business plan and finding small loans for local entrepreneurs.


  1. Thank you for sharing .... thank very much....

    sarkari naukri

  2. I really dislike unpaid internships from big corporations and its prevalence in glamour industries like music, entertainment, publishing etc.. I feel that it creates a barrier to entry for kids from working class or poor backgrounds. It's not that you can't still try but it's a huge deterrent. I myself thought of getting into a publishing field but could not afford to take an internship. I know a fellow student from a wealthy family who did and eventually ended up as publisher. Could I have tried and piled up more debt? of course. Did my fellow student also have the talents to back up his advancement? Sure. But I am sure that many poorer students like me chose a different career path based on financial reasons, and I think all those industries would benefit and have more diverse voices if they didn't over-rely on internships, which in many cases are illegal.