Monday, October 25, 2010

Does Taking a Paycheck Come at a Price?

Hey fellow Edsters!

So I have another dilemma that I’d love your feedback on — an “intern code of ethics dilemma,” if you will. Basically, a friend of mine graduated two years ago with a spiffy undergrad journalism degree from a big-time university. And so, for the last 16 months, she’s been on the hunt for a magazine job — in her ideal case, with a fashion publication. But with the difficulties of the current job market, she didn’t have much luck and ended up working at a couple New York magazines as an unpaid editorial intern. Most recently, she accepted a 4-month fall internship at a really awesome mag — one she’s always wanted to work for full-time in the future.

But here’s the catch, while interning, she continued her job hunt, and just a few weeks into her internship, she was offered a full-time EA position at a competing magazine. And of course, she took the job.

Now, I fully understand that we intern with the ultimate goal of landing a paid full-time position. So why then should she continue working an unpaid internship, when she’d already been offered a “dream” job?

As devil’s advocate, I’d say that beyond the immediate gratifications of a paycheck and a fancy job title, the repercussions of leaving an internship midsession may be pretty serious a few years down the road. So how do you handle this situation?

We know that in the mag industry, any open position isn’t available for long, and no matter how much a managing editor likes you, he probably won’t hold a position for you for a couple months. But on the other hand, when you’re offered an internship and you accept the position, haven’t you entered into an agreement that you will work until the session is completed? Editors need interns in the office, and they trust that you will complete the internship. If not, you risk pissing off your editors because, 1) you’ve essentially screwed them by leaving them high and dry, 2) now they have to go through the “hiring process” all over again, because they really do need someone to do your job, 3) you’ve left them with a bad taste in their mouths, and you probably won’t be able to turn to them for any future recommendations or job offers. So essentially, won’t you be screwing yourself? Because in this tight-knit industry, everybody really does knows everybody. Plus, the mag may hesitate to hire you in again if you ever do apply for a job with them in the future.

But then again, why continue working toward the dream job, when someone else is offering it to you right now? I’m not an idiot. I know we all have bills, rent and bar tabs to pay, so do (or can) ethics outweigh the realities of daily life? Is upsetting a few editors insignificant in the grand scheme of things?

And so I approached my favorite EA at The Mag and honestly asked what she thought of the situation, (this way, I’m offering you guys more than just my one-sided, personal opinion). So basically she explained that while it’s not the ideal situation, every editor, and everyone in the industry, has been there before. Everyone has interned, everyone is looking to move up, and everyone wants a better job (and bigger pay check). And in reality, she explained that “it’s just the nature of the industry.” Which is true. In fact, she pointed out that one day we (the interns) will get our first jobs, and a bit later, we’ll be offered a second, better job (possibly elsewhere), at which time, we’ll have to leave the first job that according to my logic, will also be a commitment made to an editor expecting you in the office every day.

And so my EA advised that if ever in that situation, we should try to be as gracious about it as possible, and try to uphold the standard two-weeks notice period, making sure to wrap everything up with the same effort and dedication we started the job with. But she did note that when it comes to an internship, not all editors are necessarily as understanding and many will in fact be super pissed that you’ve left them high and dry.

So what do you guys think? Did my friend make the right move? And if you were (or have been) in this situation, how would you handle it? 

Until next time,
Your Features Intern


  1. I am currently interning myself - at a fashion publication in NYC - after graduating with a BA in Journalism this past June. I am desperate to move up to a bigger and better position, but not every internship comes with a guarantee that you will be offered a full time position. The magazine I work at, while a well-known and respected name, is privately owned and therefore has a much smaller budget than other magazines. Although I have been doing a TON of quality work, and the Assistant Editor who is in charge of us interns has been impressed with the level of my writing and the speed at which I complete both my articles and more menial "intern tasks" I am sadly not getting the impression that the magazine can afford to hire me for a full-time position once my internship is completed this December. So, I am yet again on the hunt for a full-time position at another magazine ... and if I were offered something before my internship was completed, despite how well I get along with my editor and the amount of great clips I am getting here -- I would have to take the job. I don't think I could ever let a "dream" job opportunity pass me by in this economic climate (and after the GRUELING and DEPRESSING summer I had searching and searching only to finally come up only with this unpaid internship). And I would be quite surprised if my editor wasn't sympathetic to my reasoning.

  2. Great question! But why does the managing editor have to be a "he"?