Unpaid Interns Speak Out for Having to Carry Books to Bookstore

I thought I was morally opposed to the practice of having rich young post-teens move to New York for the summer and work for magazines for free, but after hearing these former unpaid interns complain about their experiences in this New York Post article? Well I still agree that unpaid internships are exploitative, but also I kind of want to make them go pick up my dry-cleaning:

“One time, Grace Coddington was selling her books, her Dolce & Gabbana books and her Tom Ford books, and [the interns] had to take them to the bookstore, five boxes of them, in a car, and we were told not to tell anybody,” says Denmark, who was not eligible for school credit since she had already graduated.

“I cried myself to sleep at least three nights a week,” she continues.

“It’s not because I didn’t have the tough bones,” Denmark clarifies, “it was because I would be scolded for not putting the tape on the mood boards correctly . . . if it stuck out a little or if there was a little bump in the corner of it, or if it wasn’t to their liking, I got in trouble.”

She cried herself to sleep and felt “belittled” because she had to carry books IN A CAR. (¬_¬)

Girl, when I was 22 I was living with someone else’s nine-year-old, a kid who sang “Meggie, Meggie, Meggie, you have plump leggies” to me every morning, and who pulled a butcher knife on me when I asked him to do his summer reading.

But yeah, I certainly didn’t do it for free, and no one should.

I am excited for the day when Conde Nast has to pay these kids a decent wage so they can yell at them guilt-free, and properly fire them if they are so bad at mood boards.

Photo: Malbonster


22 Comments / Post A Comment

E$ (#1,636)

This is probably the only issue on which the Post and I are agreed. That girl did NOT have the tough bones.

EvanDeSimone (#2,101)

@E$ I’m adopting this expression in my everyday life.

Leigh (#5,399)

I’m weeks away from hiring for unpaid internships with my small company and reading these dramatic stories of lawsuits definitely makes me hesitant. Here I think I’m helping college students by giving them real world challenges and something to put on their resume, and it might end up backfiring.

What interns don’t realize is that they don’t come close to contributing what a full-time, adult employee would do. They need much more guidance and the end product of their efforts is likely just a start to something a more experienced worker will need to address.

I want to conduct internships because I had one and it made the difference in securing a job all those years ago. But if it becomes evident that this “trophy generation” has no idea what it means to start at the bottom, than it’s likely an end to internships at big and small companies, as the legal risk will be too high.

EvanDeSimone (#2,101)

@Leigh Based on what you’re describing I don’t think you’re in any danger. An internship that actually provides experience is a value proposition. In a lot of creative industries I get the sense that they’re relying on these kids as a source of unpaid labour but not offering them much in return. These Conde Nast interns being perhaps a poor example.

Liz the Lemur (#3,125)

@Leigh This “trophy generation” has on average $26k in student debt. I agree that everyone has to start at the bottom, but starting at the bottom doesn’t mean working for free. People have to have their first job at some point.


City_Dater (#565)

There is a huge difference between an unpaid internship in which a student is supervised and working as part of a team with experienced people providing mentorship, and an unpaid internship in which a student is given tasks to perform that would normally be undertaken by a paid employee that often have no “educational” value (i.e., doing data entry alone in an empty office all day). People who are providing the former will never have a problem. People doing the latter, especially in a for-profit industry, are being flat-out exploitative.

aetataureate (#1,310)

@Leigh I don’t think interns believe they’re worth full time “adult” money as a matter of course — but their work is not valueless. If it were, why would your company hire interns at all? The “trophy generation” (YIKES), just like anyone else, needs to make some money in order to live. How selfish!

EvanDeSimone (#2,101)

@aetataureate Point well made. I think it’s probably time to move past this old canard of “the trophy generation” or the “self-esteem generation.” It’s a cheap way to minimize the experiences and needs of a generation of now mostly adults who are, for the most part, doing their best to make ends meet in a world that doesn’t in any way resemble what they were told to expect or what their parents faced.

aetataureate (#1,310)

@EvanDeSimone Yeah, I’m pretty much over black-and-white generalizations when it comes to how “everybody” or “this generation” is, but it’s especially lulzy to claim that interns who complain about receiving LITERALLY NO pay are the same as any who want to be paid the same salary as permanent workers.

RachelG8489 (#1,297)

@aetataureate Exactly! All work has value, even work that requires more training/hand holding. My non-profit pays our interns the state minimum wage, which is $9/hr. No one can live off that here in NYC. But it’s something, and it’s symbolic of the fact that we place a dollar value on their labor.

Also: if my non-profit can manage to pay minimum wage, when we have to raise every dollar we spend, I find it shocking to imagine a for-profit company that has enough work to justify hiring and training an intern can’t find the money to pay minimum wage. If that intern isn’t going to contribute enough for you to pay him/her minimum wage, maybe you don’t have enough work for that extra person.

Leigh (#5,399)

@aetataureate It’s not a matter of selfishness but rather the realities of a budget that my department is given. The options are an unpaid internship or nothing at all. Given the choice, I believe there are some high speed college students out there who would take no pay for the opportunity to learn and have something on their resume. And to clarify, these internships are not 40 hours a week for months on end. I’m thinking 10 hours a week, flexible schedule for maybe 4 to 8 weeks.

EA_Mann (#5,000)

wow. I think some kind of outward bound style outdoor survival experience should be in these intern’s futures

EvanDeSimone (#2,101)

@EA_Mann Where would we send them? New Jersey?

aetataureate (#1,310)

@EvanDeSimone Paramus, specifically.

EvanDeSimone (#2,101)

Not exactly The Devil Wear’s Prada but it’s still unfair to ask kids to work for no money and the vague “promise” of career advancement.

RachelW (#2,605)

Is that a side eye emoticon? Because if it is, that is awesome.

Meaghano (#529)

@RachelW oh you know it! I am praying Mike Dang doesn’t outlaw them.

francesfrances (#1,522)

I think the crying stems from the anxiety of being yelled at for applying type wrong, not from taking boxes to the bookstore. Being micromanaged that intensely is seriously anxiety-inducing. Similar situations arise at my job. I cope by googling corgis every day, but I’m not sure that’s a strong enough medicine. Hang in there, little intern. It doesn’t really get better!

aetataureate (#1,310)

@amyfrances Yeah, in light of that, you’d think “secret adventure to the bookstore” would be welcome!

Penelope Pine (#2,808)

@amyfrances people in fashion and other creative industries are super anal about little details because they think that 1/4″ tilt on a piece of tape is going to make or break their presentation. When in fact, everything they output is completely subjective (ie has no quantitative value) and success is at the mercy of their bosses. So the anal retentive-ness is a coping mechanism for those feelings of powerlessness and lack of worth. This is why I left a creative field for one where I could use hard numbers to back up my points.

Kthompson (#1,858)

@amyfrances Totally agree about the micromanaging. I don’t know the intern’s whole story, and yes on the surface she seems kind of whiny. But I get micromanaged in a BIG way and it is really stressful. (I work in medical publishing. One example of micromanaging I constantly face is how I layout tables. “Oh, you made that column that wide? I would have made it a little narrower and this one a little wider. Why don’t you redo it?” Very nerve-wracking.)

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