How can I tactfully tell my internship they are asking too much?
February 25, 2013 5:37 PM   Subscribe

I'm working at an unpaid internship two days a week and I've been asked to commit to a one-time, extra stint of work, including actually traveling to another location and staying there (overnight, including the weekend) for a four day period. I think this is too much to ask of someone who is not being compensated, but I don't want to burn any bridges. How can I tactfully tell them I need to either get paid or pass on this commitment?

(Asking for a friend)

Snowflake-y details:
-They initially wanted me for seven days, so four days is already a compromise.
-This is in an industry where unpaid internships are the norm.
posted by johnnybeggs to Work & Money (26 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Are they paying for the travel? If not, just say you cannot afford it. If so, tell them you have a paid job that runs through those days that you cannot afford to give up.
posted by cyml at 5:43 PM on February 25, 2013 [7 favorites]

"I'm sorry, without $X in compensation I will not be able to participate/this will not be possible."
posted by vegartanipla at 5:45 PM on February 25, 2013

If they are paying for the travel (including transportation, lodging, and a per diem for food, etc) AND the travel is for something that might be a good networking/educational source (a convention, for example) then I'd consider it carefully before bowing out.

If it's paid but in no way useful to you, then just tell them you're not available for that weekend. Don't elaborate, don't make excuses, you're just not available.

If it's not paid, feel free to laugh at them.
posted by restless_nomad at 5:46 PM on February 25, 2013 [36 favorites]

your friend is the only one who can judge the value of maintaining the good will of the company vs. the imposition of the added time in terms of the eventual impact on his/her career.

If they aren't paying for ALL costs, then, of course, the answer is no.
posted by HuronBob at 5:46 PM on February 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm wondering if this commitment is actually an opportunity - for experience, networks, contacts, or even just building relatedness with colleagues that may lead to paid work. Consider this carefully - that a one time, one off, short stint may in fact be a chance for you to learn something valuable.

In many industries, you may be asked to do something unpaid. If it is an opportunity of sorts, do it, or just say you can't do it at all. If you're an unpaid intern, you're UNPAID.

You can always say, "I'm sorry, that won't be possible". But I doubt asking for compensation will be fruitful.

I've assumed that they are paying your expenses and you won't be out of pocket in my answer, of course. In my industry, this would be perfectly normal.
posted by shazzam! at 5:47 PM on February 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

From personal experience, you're an unpaid intern and really have no leverage. Don't go out of your way to "keep it real." Plus say you're in entertainment, watch your back jack, they'll ask of you whatever they can get away with, and if you are perceived as uppity or demanding, you probably won't last long. But a trip doesn't sound all that bad. Go on it and enjoy yourself, let them pay for it obviously, sounds like fun. Hopefully, you're in a business you really like and are super-enthusiastic and will be a pleasure to work with.

If you want to create good old-fashioned not-passive-aggressive leverage, independent of this particular request, go ahead and put a time limit on your internship. Let them know you'll be available for say another month or two. Don't be vague like I just was. At that point, let them know if they're interested in hiring you, they can make a decision. If not, time to find another job. Piece of cake really. In the meantime be the best goddamn intern you can possibly be.
posted by phaedon at 5:47 PM on February 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think asking you to spend four days elsewhere on your dime for an unpaid internship is ridiculous. Tell them you can't afford to do it unless they are paying for your staying elsewhere.
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:52 PM on February 25, 2013

If they're willing to pay for your travel, the hotel and a daily per diem for food, I'd grab it. Sounds like a great opportunity, assuming all it interferes with is a couple days of your social life (as opposed to income-producing activities).
posted by easily confused at 5:56 PM on February 25, 2013 [4 favorites]

As someone who has interns there is no tactful way to say that without me asking you (your friend) to leave.

Internships are an opportunity for the intern to learn as much as possible. We operate a small team and treat our interns a little differently than most (I make coffee for everyone at least as much as the intern, probably more) but if I offered a chance to travel and get some experience like this and they told me that it was too much of a commitment or they needed to get paid more (we pay our interns), I would just ask them to leave.

Seriously though - it can be pretty hard to get real-world experience in most industries these days: everything at this early stage of a career is an opportunity. With all due respect, you need to learn to embrace them as such.

ps. I am assuming that, as you did not explicitly state otherwise, the travel costs are covered and there will be some sort of per diem.
posted by HopStopDon'tShop at 5:56 PM on February 25, 2013 [6 favorites]

Is this a company your friend wants to work for full time? If so, they need to go on this trip and view it as an interview for that full time position they want.

Your friend could also say something to the effect of, "I am excited to have been chosen for this opportunity and am wondering how you'd like me to keep track of my expenses for the duration of trip so I can be reimbursed. Is there a preferred method for this sort of thing, and if so, who should I talk to about it?" And then if the powers that be balk and say your friend is responsible for all costs, your friend could balk right back (apologetically), "Oh, I am so sorry, but as a student I am not able to cover the costs of a four day trip out of town myself. I would love to be able to represent the company at this event, but I'm afraid that I won't be able to without compensation. Thank you so much for thinking of me."
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 5:56 PM on February 25, 2013 [19 favorites]

If they're covering travel and offering a per diem for meals, you should go. If not, say that you're unavailable.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 6:04 PM on February 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

How can I tactfully tell them I need to either get paid or pass on this commitment?

"Who should I submit my receipts to to get reimbursed?"
posted by no regrets, coyote at 6:07 PM on February 25, 2013 [13 favorites]

Yeah, I think it depends on whether they are paying for the expenses for the trip. I would go if they were.
posted by two lights above the sea at 6:24 PM on February 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

If they're paying for the travel, including giving you a generous per diem (so you can enjoy yourself a bit by going to nice restaurants/bars), then ... you should probably just go.
posted by Kololo at 6:26 PM on February 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

In addition to what Restless_Nomad and These Birds of a Feather has said, also the industry comes into play. If this is an industry where salaried, overworked professionals are the norm - this could be an intro into the company/industry (even if on your own dime). I don't have any other advice as personally, I would bounce out of this ASAP but I also recognize the industry comes into play.
posted by lpcxa0 at 7:32 PM on February 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

For some people, even having the travel, hotel and per diem covered leaves them out of pocket for other expenses like cat/babysitting, long distance calls, dry cleaning, food costs above and beyond the per diem etc. Are any other the current staff former interns there - in other words, is this short-term cost going to have long-term payouts or is this going to be the beginning of an unreasonable escalation of expectations on their side? Do they expect you to continue the two days the next week or will you get a week or two off to compensate? Are they being clear in what they want or are you having to pull every bit of information out of them? What are the perks or benefits to you personally if you go?
posted by saucysault at 7:32 PM on February 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

Why is your friend doing this internship?

Is it because they really want to work in the field in question, and this is a good way to get one's foot in the door?

If so, it would be absolute suicide to decline the trip. I agree that in general it's fucked up that people hire interns and then throw Real Job tasks at them, but if your friend is suddenly getting asked to do more serious stuff like this, it probably means they think she shows promise.

Assuming it's a difficult field to break into, having bosses who think so highly of you is worth a little inconvenience.

On the other hand, if your friend is doing this internship because it's required for her degree or to bide her time before applying to grad school or some other non-career reason, sure, tell 'em where to stick their business trip.
posted by Sara C. at 7:46 PM on February 25, 2013 [6 favorites]

For some people, even having the travel, hotel and per diem covered leaves them out of pocket for other expenses like cat/babysitting, long distance calls, dry cleaning, food costs above and beyond the per diem etc.

Don't forget the cost of toothpaste for greeting clients with a set of pearly whites. We all have our crosses to bear. Getting a babysitter or having clothes dry-cleaned is part of the overhead of life.

I agree with Sara C.'s comment. This is pretty easy. Your friend is already not getting paid, so your friend can get his foot in the door in some industry while not getting paid or not get his foot in the door while not getting paid. Saying no will be the end of whatever opportunity your friend finds attractive about this job/industry. Your friend does not want to be known for turning down work.

This happened on "Girls" last season.
posted by Tanizaki at 7:51 PM on February 25, 2013 [3 favorites]

I don't even think this fully depends on whether they're giving you travel expenses or not. It does depend on the industry however.

For instance, in music/entertainment I've had several friends who were offered to work in official positions at a large music festival far out of town. They had to eat most of the costs besides getting in to the festival to do their thing. The people who blew it off because of that(or just the general slog of going way out of town for almost a full week) kinda burned out and never went much of anywhere within that organization, or thusfar, outside of it. The ones who sucked it up and did it several years in a row moved on to(I'm fairly certain, paid) internships at record labels, in production, etc.

The sample size here isn't huge, but I've seen the same kind of thing play out in other fields as well. When they say jump, you kinda just have to say how high. And this isn't helped by the fact that the people asking you to jump either don't care and don't want any lip, or went through exactly the same thing.

I'd think long and hard before saying no. They already flexed the trip to accommodate her. Bailing out entirely would probably just be fast on the path to a flameout. They tried to meet in the middle and you just have to take what you get.

Working for free sucks, but in some industries it seems to be almost the only way anymore besides knowing someone on the inside. And I really think blowing this off might blow the whole thing.

This is all assuming you either think this will lead to a position within that organization, or that this internship would be meaningful on a resume. Then again, if its neither of those, then why are you at this crossroads in the first place? Is it just interesting? The only other thing I could see is you got your feet wet, and are now having second thoughts about how much of a commitment it's really becoming.

2 days a week really isn't a lot either, I know people who have put in wayyy more than that plus traveling around, and gotten something out of it. The people who hesitated when it became that are the ones who haven't. I've found this attitude applies to personally driven projects like forming a band or starting a small business as well.
posted by emptythought at 8:36 PM on February 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Doing an internship half-assed is pointless. The whole deal is you trade your time (and inconveneice) for experience and connections and references you would have otherwise. Doing it halfway means you're unlikely to thrive, be noticed in a good way, and so is a waste of time.

Suck it up, do the trip (if it's paid for, that's a no brainer).
posted by zippy at 10:01 PM on February 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Here's the part where I show my age by using the phrase "when I was an intern...."

But seriously, internships were my ticket to experience, in a world where experience was a requirement for being hired into a paid job. I had 3 of them in college, and managed to get course credits for 2 of them. (Can your friend get credits? Because that changes his/her economy a bit, doesn't it?)

On graduation day, I had a paying job lined up -- as an ARTIST, no less -- when my scientist friends did not. It was sweet revenge for friends who'd been teasing me for years about my mickey mouse major.

If room and board are paid for, and if the principle is the objectionable part of this big ask, I say go. Consider it an opportunity someone's giving you. And make the most of it; make sure you learn something while you're there, even if it's that you don't like business travel. (Or maybe you do -- who knows?!)
posted by nadise at 10:55 PM on February 25, 2013 [3 favorites]

I worked a 23 hour shift for an unpaid internship when I was young and all I got was this lousy metafilter comment.

And some resentment. In hindsight I might have done it again but also made sure I didn't expect to be recognized for it, but instead talked it up endlessly to my supervisor to be clear that it was above and beyond and that I deserved a job.

Experience and connections are more valuable when you have a plan to use them for what you really want.
posted by ioesf at 5:07 AM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's a fine line between experience and abuse. My take on it would be that as long as the expenses were covered, I'd go. I'd go with bells on!

Now, if they want ME to pay (and I find it hard to belive that's the case) I'd very sweetly say something like, "Oh shoot! I have a previous commitment and I can't get out of it." Or, I'd be up front and say something like, "I really appreciate the opportunity to learn in this awesome company, I think I'm ready to go out on my own and find a paying gig. May I use you for a reference?"

If your friend decides not to go, the decision is that the internship is over.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:18 AM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Is it really a matter of money? Then say, "This is a great opportunity, but I can't afford this as is. If there's a travel budget, I'm definitely interested and available."

Is it that you don't really want to go? Then say, "This is a great opportunity, but I'm not available for it."

If either path leads to your no longer being an intern with this company, then you're out a non-paying job. The people you worked with will think either "johnnybeggs' friend is an asshole who doesn't care about the company" or "johnnybeggs' friend was straightforward in his needs and didn't screw us over". As far as I'm concerned, I don't want anybody in the former group recommending me anywhere. I'd rather be honest and upfront about what I can offer vs. what I need.
posted by disconnect at 8:54 AM on February 26, 2013

I don't think there are any easy answers to your friend's dilemma. S/he will have to evaluate the cost vs. the potential reward. S/he could stand on principle and refuse to be exploited without compensation. But some other competitor may be willing to do so and will get the ultimate reward instead of your friend. Or your friend could stand on principle, politely refuse, and be respected for standing up for him/herself. Or your friend could go along, pay the cost and get the ultimate reward. Or go along, pay the cost and not get the ultimate reward.

There are so many different ways this could play out. Only your friend knows the situation best. S/he should just trust his/her judgment.
posted by John Farrier at 10:27 AM on February 26, 2013

Another thought -- how much does your friend love this internship? If it's a career type of thing, is this internship in the field she hopes to work in? What will she be doing on this one-time extra stint? Is it something related to her future career? Does she enjoy doing whatever it is?

What I'm getting at here is that, theoretically, she's in this internship because she really wants to work in this field. If it's such a chore to take on a little extra work beyond two days a week, she should probably think heavily about whether this is really the job for her. Sure, a job is a job, and it doesn't have to be your all-encompassing life's passion. But if it is so awful that anything beyond a couple days of work is out of the question, she's not going to be particularly happy doing this full time as her career.
posted by Sara C. at 3:06 PM on February 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

« Older Question regarding coming off of anti-depressants   |   yet another laptop question Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.