Field Notes: Working for Free, Entry Level Edition

Through alumni events and participation in industry groups, I’m talking with lots of entry-level people, and gaining a different perspective on their experience in the workforce.    This is the first of a few brief posts with some of my observations.

So, let’s talk about the full-on Millenial.   The one with helicopter parents? Who’s too skilled to take the meeting minutes?

She’s real.  And she’s rare — at least in the NYC tech community.  (Though I have seen her elsewhere.)

Instead, I’ve seen more people so driven and mission-focused that they’re willing to work for free.

There are some egregious cases.  I’ve talked with people working diligently in enterprises that are cutting salaries.  Others who would love to recover the salary they earned after their boss stopped paying them.

When a company stops paying you, or keeps cutting salaries, things probably won’t get better.  (Can you say “death spiral?”)   It’s time to find another job.

I’m all kinds of disturbed about internships.  Interns are not people who supply for-profit businesses with capital, in the form of their time.  They’re not free labor.

A true internship is a structured learning experience.  Under the law, the internship is supposed to benefit the intern, and not necessarily the company.

Leaders:  Be mindful when creating internships.   Pay minimum wage or more.   Have a set of learning objectives for the intern, and make sure they’re met.

Don’t take it from me!  Talk to your attorney about doing it right: when you get it wrong, there can be consequences.

Employees:  Working for free is an investment of time and heart.  In for-profit enterprises, it rarely makes sense for anyone but company owners.

Yes, there are exceptions.  They usually involve an existing relationship with someone you know well, and have a reason to trust.

In startups, people who work for free have a title.

It’s not Intern.  It’s Founder.

binocular view by joelk75 used under Creative Commons License.