Work/internship dilemma
May 11, 2011 9:02 AM   Subscribe

If you've been out of work for several months (after just graduating), would you accept an internship to get some experience (and avoid extending the gap in the resume), even though it commits you to a few months of part time work and you can't start a job right away, or forget all volunteer and internships and just keep holding out for a full time paid job?

I guess this might depend on how close you are to the peak of a hiring cycle, but this is the situation I was in, and I'm not sure if I made the right choice. Since I'm new to the whole job hunting and work arena, I'd love any advice from people who are more experienced.

I decided to accept my current unpaid internship because I wasn't finding any work at all (paid work, paid internships, even other unpaid internships). I've had a few interviews, but was passed over each time. Since I wasn't getting anywhere, I thought accepting and doing an internship would at least show potential employers that I was still active in the field. I also heard that having too long of a gap in the resume is a huge red flag for employers.

Lately, I've been seeing jobs that I'm qualified for (just posted), but the recruiter/hiring manager wanted a June start date, and I'm still tied up with the internship, so now I'm passed over because I'm not available right away.

What would you have done? What are employers looking for? Obviously availability is important, but should I have just continued to job hunt and not get myself involved in internships and such? Tip for next time.

Note: I've had plenty of practice with my interviewing skills, been networking, had my resume and/or cover letter reviewed by a handful of people, so I don't see that as a huge problem to why I'm not getting hired.

Hope this post makes sense. Thanks for any responses!
posted by elisynn to Work & Money (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If you get another job quit the internship. Don't feel bad. THey're not even paying you minumum wage. If it suited them they would fire you.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 9:09 AM on May 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

you are in an unpaid internship, and are considering NOT taking a paying job because, uh, why ?

What are the repercussions for telling the folks you are giving FREE LABOR to that you're moving on, thanks for everything, bye ? Worst case, you won't get a job with them in the future, but hey, they aren't paying you now for it ..
posted by k5.user at 9:10 AM on May 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

This unpaid internship, it is on Mars, or some other place where you can't just quit and take a paid gig when it comes in?

Employers get what they pay for. If you don't have a contract that requires you to stay, you can go.

Don't start your career thinking that you owe your employer anything more than they owe you. If they can fire you at will, you can quit at will, without getting cut up about it. Doubly so when you aren't getting paid.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 9:13 AM on May 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: No, I'm not considering NOT taking a paying job, but I just had a recruiter tell me he's not even going to pass on my resume to the hiring manager because I can't start right away. Should I just leave off the unpaid internship from my resume, tell everybody I can start right away (I started the internship just a week ago)? I mean, isn't that bad form?
posted by elisynn at 9:17 AM on May 11, 2011

Yeah, for me, I'd put the internship on your resume (as it can be helpful, shows experience etc) but, if you're worried, include a line: "Availability: Can start immediately" on it just to make that clear.

To be honest, it sounds more like the recruiter was being a tool/giving an excuse. If it happens again just tell him you're available to start work straight and to stop messing around and submit your resume.
posted by Hartster at 9:22 AM on May 11, 2011

Best answer: No, I'm not considering NOT taking a paying job, but I just had a recruiter tell me he's not even going to pass on my resume to the hiring manager because I can't start right away.

But you can start right away. That's the point. I am employed full time as a salaried employee. Nonetheless, I can start a new job tomorrow. You just quit. It doesn't matter that it's a "three-month internship" or whatever.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 9:28 AM on May 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

Is the internship directly related to the types of jobs you're looking for? If not, it may be simpler to leave it off if you already have a number of other jobs on your resume. Also, if you've only been there for a week, it may not help you that much to list it. Is it a prestigious name, or will it provide you with different and valuable skills that are especially worth listing? Only you can answer these questions, of course.

I do agree with Hartster that it sounds ilke the recruiter was being obnoxious and that listing the internship will probably not be a dealbreaker in most application situations.

For what it's worth, I took an unpaid internship while waiting to get a paid job. I found that having a regular schedule with work to do really focused me in the job search; not getting out of the house to work (even for free) feels more like a vacation.
posted by mlle valentine at 9:29 AM on May 11, 2011

What's the point in an unpaid internship if you can't take jobs immediately that you are in the internship to help yourself get? You're valuing the unpaid job over the paid one.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 9:31 AM on May 11, 2011

The recruiter sounds like a jerk. Tell him that you'll quit the internship if necessary for the job.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:34 AM on May 11, 2011

Response by poster: Caveat: I'm probably going to have a lot of dumb and naive questions/follow-up responses here, but please just bear with me.

Admiral Haddock: what is meant by a "contract"? I know I signed a form that says I agree to work until July at the internship, but there's no penalties or anything listed. Was that a dumb move, and can I break something like that?

mile valentine: yes, the internship is in my field, and I'm doing the work I hope to do in any future jobs. That's also one reason I decided to do an internship, to get myself out of the house.

Everyone: I just sent the recruiter an email requesting him to forward my resume anyway, and I can start within 1-2 weeks if I receive a job offer.
posted by elisynn at 9:44 AM on May 11, 2011

Best answer: If you started the internship a week ago, it's only working against you on your resume. You almost definitely haven't been there long enough to gain really useful skills, and your week of "employment" isn't long enough to matter when employers are looking for gaps in your history.

In this job market, any issue, however small, is sufficient for someone to throw out your resume. A primary function of recruiters and HR is to sort through hundreds of applications, and leaving your internship on your resume right now is only making it easier for them to throw you in the discard pile. After a few months, go ahead and put that internship on your resume; it will be much more likely to serve its job-gap-preventing, staying-in-the-field purpose once you've put some time into it. Right now, as you've seen, it just provides a reason for employers not to choose you when there are hundreds of other equally qualified applicants. I know it sucks, but that's the deal right now.
posted by verbyournouns at 9:46 AM on May 11, 2011

If you've already graduated, it's not an internship, you're just working for free. Not only that, but if you're doing work that helps the company directly in their day-to-day business (i.e. making them money), it may be an illegal internship.

Don't tell a recruiter you can't start right away, because you can.
posted by rhizome at 10:05 AM on May 11, 2011

Best answer: There are some questions you should ask yourself:

Do you like the internship? Is it relevant to your career path? Will the people you meet there help you get jobs? Might you get a job at the place where you're interning? Do you want to work at the place where you're interning? Do you respect the company you're working for? Do you respect the people? Do you think you would run into them again later in your career? Do you think it would be harder for you to get good jobs and make good contacts if you just up and quit?

I think that, if you make a commitment to an employer, it will look better for you if you finish what you've started. That means not even looking at jobs for the next month. Focus on what you can get out of this internship, what you can do to show your current employers that you're awesome, and on what contacts you can make as a result of the internship. The internship itself should prepare you for paid work in your career field and help you get a real job at the end.

The unpaid angle is uncomfortable. Since you've recently graduated, it's not like you're receiving course credit for this internship. Which makes it not an internship at all, but more of a situation in which you're just working for free. Even when I interned for a public radio station in high school, they paid me minimum wage -- because they were required to by law. So you want to think about the situation you're in, whether this job is something you should have accepted at all. If you're going to accept an unpaid internship, it had better be the most awesome opportunity in the world.

But you've already accepted and started working. That means that if you do list this work experience on your resume, you need to finish it out. And if you don't want to burn bridges and make enemies in your field, you need to finish it out. And if you ever want to work at the company where you're interning ... you get the idea.

If I were a recruiter and heard you had just started an internship but were looking for work and willing to quit as soon as you got an offer, I might think you would do the same thing again later.

It's May. There are lots of brand new grads, all out looking for the same entry level jobs. It might actually be easier to get a job three months from now.

Unless you think the company you're interning for is blatantly taking advantage of you, you should think long and hard about jumping ship a week after starting work.
posted by brina at 10:21 AM on May 11, 2011

Yes. Start the internship. Yes, you can quit anytime. You won't be signing anything that commits you unreasonably. Even if you do, let them just try to come after you for providing free services. Tell the recruiter to hop to it. Mention the internship in cover letters as a point of interest but wait a few months before summarizing on your resume.

Good luck!
posted by amanda at 10:22 AM on May 11, 2011

They can't keep you without pay no matter what kind of "contract" you signed. you are not an indentured servant. They may not be willing to write you a rec if you quit early but who gives a hoot if you're quitting early because you found an actual paying job?
posted by WeekendJen at 1:28 PM on May 11, 2011

If your internship is legal, it should not substantially impact your employer if you quit early, because they are not supposed to be deriving any benefit whatsoever from your labor (assuming it's at a private, for-profit business).

The following list of requirements must ALL be met for a private unpaid internship in the U.S. to be legal.

1. The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;
2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;
3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;
4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;
5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and
6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.

If these criteria do not each describe your internship, then you are legally entitled to a wage. Keep this in mind while assessing the moral or legal implications of your decision to leave them with short notice.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 2:13 PM on May 11, 2011

Response by poster: Lots to digest here. Thanks for the all the suggestions and advice.
posted by elisynn at 7:22 AM on May 12, 2011

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