Unpaid internships catch a lot of flak, for their hours, costs, and more. The most recent controversy has come via Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg’s organization Lean In, seeking an unpaid editorial intern for their New York office. Here was an organization whose explicit purpose is to facilitate the economic advancement of women, asking for an intern to work for free in one of the most expensive cities on Earth.
I’ve taken on four internships over the course of my career, and feel I’ve learned enough to create a simple code of ethics: if your company offers an unpaid internship, fine, but I better not lose money while doing it. Lean In fails this test. Other than that, as long as I’m learning meaningful skills and am surrounded by a great work environment, working for free is acceptable and enjoyable.
Which brings me to the organization I’m writing this for: Raeallan, run by a man named Bobby Umar (who is also a CYBF mentor). Bobby asked me to write a piece; though he had no idea it would be this piece. Bobby, never referred to as Mr. Umar, is a guy who delivers motivational, team-building, social media, and all sorts of other lectures on business. He tasked me with to helping produce one his TV shows. In return, I was given all the mentoring I could want. From how to make meaningful connections to revamping my resume, this particular internship gave back just as much as I put in.
In many ways, working for Raeallan demonstrates the principle that internships, and indeed all working relationships, should be governed by respect. For those companies that live and die by their interns, respect is the ultimate key to creating a worthwhile unpaid internship experience.