Lessons Learned From Unpaid Internships

Source: Forbes

BY: Dina Gachman, Contributor

An article with the very dramatic title Has Hollywood Ignited an Intern Uprising? Examining the Brewing Revolution appeared on the site The Wrapyesterday. As a former Hollywood intern who has done her fair share of filing, sprinting across the street to buy berry flavored gum for the boss, and cleaning conference tables, I still don’t think unpaid internships are the devil’s work. I think that if you work them right, they build character and they build your resume.

Big studios and big companies have the money to pay interns, and they should. If this “Intern Uprising” gets millionaires to pay minimum wage to the people who are fetching their lunch and buying gifts for their spouse and their mistress, fantastic. Smaller companies might not be able to pay someone who comes in twice a week to soak up knowledge. There’s something to be said for working hard, paying your dues, and not suing someone because your internship didn’t make you rich. Here are a few things I learned as a lowly unpaid intern that I still return to now that I’m no longer fetching gum for anyone but myself.

Lesson: Obviously he was a pompous jerk, but I learned that in situations like this, it’s best to just say, “No problem” and then go ask the receptionist or Madame Google GOOG -0.26% what a macchiato is so you appear worldly, “on top of it,” and “in the know” so they don’t “put a pin” in you. From then on in his mind I was probably “the intern that didn’t know what a macchiato was.” Not a great legacy.

You might be interning for someone with OCD… deal with it: During my second Hollywood internship after Mr. Macchiato, I found myself stuffed into a tiny office in Santa Monica working (for free) for a chain-smoking, high-anxiety producer. The perks were that I got to read books and scripts and give her my opinion on them (and she actually listened and discussed them with me) and I also got to help suggest songs for one of their soundtracks. The perk-free part of the gig was that I had to do things like organize and file every single issue of Daily Variety the producer had accumulated over the last five years. It was DAILY Variety at the time – do you know how many papers that is? A lot of papers. Did she need them? No. Did she maybe possibly have OCD? Yes. Did I complain to her? No. I complained at happy hour to my friends who I’m sure were bored but who sympathized anyway because that’s what friends are for.

Lesson: If you’re being heard, and you’re learning, you might need to suffer through tedious tasks like filing 5,000 pieces of yesterday’s news into a cabinet that no one will ever open unless they’re searching for a top-secret microfiche containing information that could save our planet from terrorists or space aliens, which will never happen because I’m pretty sure no one uses microfiche anymore, not even spies. Suck it up and do the menial tasks so you can gain their respect and get a great reference. I filed all her papers and had a great reference that helped me get a better internship.

Choose your battles: If they say it’s a “paid internship” and you never see a dime – that is a battle worth fighting. If they harass or harm you in any way – go after them. If they say they are going to bomb your cubicle if you don’t get that script to them in five seconds, you might want to laugh it off, rather than spend a ton of dough hiring a lawyer to sue them for mental trauma. People in Hollywood are crazy – you’ve seen Swimming With Sharks, right? It’s pretty much a documentary. As long as you know they’re just being ridiculous and they aren’t actually going to bomb your cubicle over a Jaden Smith script that’s late, just get them the Jaden Smith script and then immediately text your friends that you need to meet them for happy hour so you can regale them with your stupid story.

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One thought on “Lessons Learned From Unpaid Internships”

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    in future. A lot of people will be benefited from your
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