Grad scam alert: there is less to some internships than meets the eye

Here is an infuriating story from The New York Times about prestige internships that are really just minimum wage grunt jobs without the wages.  Take fashion merchandising graduate Melissa Reyes, who landed an internship with the Diane von Furstenberg fashion empire in New York City:

She often worked 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., five days a week. “They had me running out to buy them lunch,” she said. “They had me cleaning out the closets, emptying out the past season’s items.” Asked about her complaints, the fashion firm said, “We are very proud of our internship program, and we take all concerns of this kind very seriously.”

The takeaway from this? Go ahead and apply for unpaid internships, but ask for specifics about what you will be doing, and keep in mind the Department of Labor’s six rules for this kind of work:

  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 the description of the internship you are offered doesn’t bear much resemblance to educational training, you probably want to think twice about joining that particular team.

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