Linda Essig takes a stand against a donut shop company that sent a mass-email looking for film students to shoot a promotional video in exchange for “some good experience” and “a dozen free glazed doughnuts every week for an entire year”:
The email was sent to a long list of faculty members at film programs in the region. I hit reply all with the question “What is your pay rate for these skilled services?”
Predictably, there was no pay-rate – unless you consider a dozen donuts a week for a year payment.
(Side note: why not just take the cost of free donuts and make that the rate? Cost of a dozen donuts is $5 – $8. Assuming the profit is about $3 per dozen, that’s $150 right there. An extraordinarily low rate, of course, but these are students who are looking for experience and it can at least help pay the bills.)
There was no payment because it was a “volunteer/intern opportunity.” That triggered Essig to push further and she replied with US Department of Labor rules of an “internship,” but it fell on deaf ears.
Notably, Essig doesn’t rule out freebies or internships as a viable pathway to gain experience. Instead she’s speaking out against companies using them purely for free labor and not as a partnership in which the gains are less lopsided between the parties.
And so, to bolster that point of positivity, a few days later she wrote a post about saying “yes”:
Just – or even more – important than knowing when to say “no,” is knowing when and how to say “yes.” Giving builds community; giving builds friendships; giving builds social capital (although one need not think of it in those terms); giving lifts the spirit of both the giver and receiver. We may give of our time, we may give of our money, we may give of our things, we may give of our talent. Related to giving is sharing – we may share knowledge, share food, share an experience (good or bad), without any exchange of material goods.
I’m glad she wrote the second post because there are some genuinely good opportunities that unfortunately offer little to no-pay. I started off my career as an AC this way and have built several connections in my network with pro-bono work.
The key is knowing when you’re getting hosed and when it’s an investment in a relationship that could pay off later. That’s something I talk about in my post “Pay Me, Teach Me, or Create with Me” in which I basically say a project has to offer me money, worthwhile experience/networking, and-or creative satisfaction. The interplay between these things drives my decision to accept or reject a job.
Unfortunately, the donut project had no money, didn’t sound that interesting, the learning opportunity seemed limited, and it was a one-time thing with no tangible promise of networking.