Camille Schenkkan is a theatre management professional and educator, passionate about career development for artists & arts managers.

Posts tagged ‘internships’

LeanIn.org Unpaid Interns Controversy: Interns are not Volunteers

Several people have asked for my thoughts on the LeanIn.org unpaid internship controversy.  I love Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, a compelling look at ambitious women in the workforce and the factors that have traditionally kept us out of the highest-paid and most senior-level positions.

I also run the internship program at the nonprofit Center Theatre Group, where all of our internships must be taken for credit or are compensated with a stipend.

Here’s what Rachel Thomas, LeanIn.org’s President, had to say via Facebook after a job posting for an ‘unpaid internship’ at the organization started making the rounds:

Like many nonprofits, LeanIn.Org has attracted volunteers who are passionate about our mission. We’ve had four students ask to volunteer with us. They worked flexibly when they could, and often remotely.

These volunteers helped support our message and community, and gained valuable experience doing so. They did not displace or delay the hiring of paid employees. The posting that prompted this discussion was for a position that doesn’t fall within LeanIn.Org’s definition of a “volunteer.”

This non-apology is so strangely written that it’s hard for me to know where to start.

Here’s the main thing I take from it, and it’s actually pretty disturbing:

LeanIn.org is using ‘intern’ and ‘volunteer’ interchangeably.  Thomas, speaking on behalf of her organization, is confusing two distinct categories.

This comes immediately after this patronizing intro:

“We recognize there is an ongoing public debate on the appropriate use of unpaid interns. So we want to share the facts with you and our community.” 

This word, “fact?”  And “intern?”  And “volunteer?”

You keep using these words.

I do not think they mean what you think they mean.

Ms. Thomas, nonprofit volunteers do not need to “gain valuable experience,” and they can and often do “displace or delay hiring of employees.”

That language refers to the Fair Labor Standards Act’s (FLSA’s) criteria for internships. 

Here are some basic differences between the two categories:

  • Internships are training programs, and the “training must be for the benefit of the trainee,” to quote the FLSA. In fact, “The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the trainees, and on occasion the employer’s operations may actually be impeded.”  Read: they are not cheap or free labor.
  • Internship learning experiences must include close observation (mentorship), so working remotely is not a good indication that you have provided a rewarding internship experience.
  • Volunteers, conversely, usually do work that directly benefits the nonprofit.  They do not need to be mentored, do not need to be trained, and can be utilized in lieu of paid, regular employees.

There are many blog posts and web resources that go into the differences between volunteers and interns at length.  For example, this excellent Blue Avocado article spells out additional best practices and quotes relevant parts of the FLSA.

In a nonprofit setting, it can be difficult to ensure internships are crafted to not only fulfill legal requirements, but also to serve the best interests of each intern.

Much of my job running CTG’s internship program involves saying no.  I say no to supervisors who want their interns to work “as much as possible,” and to interns who are so happy to be involved that they try to expand their 10 hour/week stipend position into 20 or 30 hours.

Here’s what I say to them:

The internship is for the benefit of the intern.  It is a learning experience, not free labor.  If your department needs help with basic tasks such as stuffing envelopes, filing, or data entry, I empathize and suggest you think about getting a regular volunteer to help.

Because volunteers are different. Outside of CTG, I am on the staff of an all-volunteer small theatre company, Circle X Theatre Co.  As a volunteer, I can do whatever I want, and whatever is needed, for as many hours a week as I care to give.  I clean bathrooms.  I stuff envelopes.  I do hours of data entry.  It’s my choice as a volunteer, and I’m doing it to help the nonprofit organization, not for a learning or career benefit.  Right now, Circle X has a (paid) summer intern, and she will not be cleaning toilets.  The internship.  Is for the benefit.  Of the intern.

And to the interns: this is bigger than you, so no, I will not make an exception and let you work full-time.  Up until a few years ago, CTG almost exclusively took interns from a large, local private university with very high tuition.  As the program has opened up, we’re starting to see more people from public schools, including the two-year community colleges near our organization.  The reason our positions are designed to be super part-time (10 to 16 hours a week for undergraduates, with the schedule built around the intern’s) is the stipend amounts we have available are quite low ($500 – $700 for ten weeks).  They’re designed to allow a student to also hold a part-time job that pays the bills.

I do not want lack of economic privilege to be a barrier to participation in this workforce development program.  When we raise the stipends for these time-bound educational opportunities to a living wage, we can increase weekly hours.  Programs such as the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s FAIR pay interns $1,000/month and provide housing.  When CTG is able to do that, we will absolutely create additional opportunities, likely full-time, 10-week summer internships.

I don’t foresee a time when we would extend those opportunities beyond 13 or 14 weeks, though; the point of an internship is to train & release, allowing the intern to ‘lean in’ to the next career opportunity.

The more I think about LeanIn.org’s posting and strange response, the more it seems indicative of the widespread misunderstanding of the role of interns in the nonprofit sector.  We have a pressing need for workforce development, especially career training opportunities accessible to young people of color (research suggests that executive nonprofit leaders AND current students in nonprofit management Masters programs are 80-90% white) and people without economic privilege.

Unpaid internships and the increasing number of low-paying nonprofit management jobs that require Masters degrees can price people out of nonprofit management careers.  Humane, student-focused, and compensated internships introduce emerging professionals to the field and can provide a leg up in the competitive nonprofit landscape.

Lean In talks about the importance of equity– and of recognizing when systems are inherently inequitable.  The best thing for Thomas, Sandberg and the LeanIn.org organization to do would be to use this opportunity to clarify the roles of interns vs. volunteers, apologize, and vow to do better.

Unfortunately, it looks like they’re trying to justify their bias by manipulating language, defending their actions, and refusing to admit fault.

Which sounds a lot like the tactics that keep women out of top-level, high-paying positions.

I’ll end with some quotations from Lean In:

“We cannot change what we are not aware of, and once we are aware, we cannot help but change.”

“The promise of equality is not the same as true equality.”

“Larry implored us to exert more control over our careers. He said McKinsey would never stop making demands on our time, so it was up to us to decide what we were willing to do. It was our responsibility to draw the line.”

“I feel really grateful to the people who encouraged me and helped me develop. Nobody can succeed on their own.”

Here’s hoping Sandberg will take her advice, and provide equal and accessible opportunities for training and mentorship within her own organization.

No One is Going to Kickstart Your Career (Except You)

Ashton Kutcher’s 2013 Teen Choice Awards acceptance speech is making the rounds on Facebook, and for good reason: Kutcher takes the opportunity to talk about the value of hard work, creating your own opportunities, and acknowledging your power to shape your life.

It made me think about my experiences working with teens and young adults.  I love it.  I love them.  They make me proud and give me hope that the future will be better than the present.

But there’s one thing that makes me cringe: their tendency to ask other people to help pay for what they want to do.

This is especially prevalent among theatre and arts students, as summer programs, arts schools, and classes can be extremely expensive.  I remember feeling that combination of excitement (I got into this amazing program!) and dread (how the heck am I going to pay for this?).  Had Kickstarter or IndieGoGo existed when I was a teenager, I would have jumped on the bandwagon and asked friends and family to help pay for my education, my travel, even my move to LA after graduation.

I am so glad these options didn’t exist.

Now, a lot more has changed since the early 2000s than the availability of online fundraising platforms.  The economy has tanked while the cost of education continues to rise.  In the arts and arts management fields, having a Masters degree has become more and more of a necessity for many jobs.  I would argue it’s more difficult to be a young adult in 2013 than it was in 2002.

That said, here’s what always comes to mind when I see these Kickstarter requests.  First, I picture myself at 17 or 18, big with the sense of my own talent and intelligence.  And I think:

There is only one person in the world in charge of your success.

Your parents do not owe you anything, nor do your relatives (even if they have money).

Your friends love you, but they do not need to help pay for your cat’s surgery, for your trip to Europe, or for the summer arts program that will change your life.  And it will change your life.  Your life.

See, the difference between a charity asking for money to bring joy or reduce pain, or an artist asking for money to create an art product that will be enjoyed by others, is that your ask is fundamentally about you: your growth and development as a person, an artist, a citizen.

Asking for people to fund your life makes you a product.  It crowd-funds you away from the driver’s seat.

If you are waiting for other people to make your dreams come true, doesn’t that feel just a little scary?  It takes away the certainty– I will succeed, no matter what– and adds a conditional– I will succeed, if other people come through and help me do so.

It also– and here I’m really speaking to 17-year-old-me– presumes that you are worthy of being funded, just for being you.

Millennials already have to fight against our “Trophy Generation” perception and older generations’ complaints about our overdeveloped sense of entitlement.  Just Google “millennial entitlement” or “Trophy Generation” and you’ll see litany after get-off-my-lawn litany about people born in the past 30 years.

You are entitled to a damn good life and a successful career.  You get those things by believing in yourself and fighting for them.  Even if you do get people to pay for your education, your travel, your unexpected expenses, eventually those opportunities will fall away and you will be standing alone on the merits of your accomplishments.  If your college resume shows no work experience or volunteer service, every accolade in the world won’t get you a job.

Before you set up that Kickstarter, ask:

1. Am I doing everything in my power to make this opportunity happen? I see many students fundraising for opportunities while also posting about how boring their summer is.  Are you working?  First jobs suck.  Second jobs suck.  But they can make a little money, and show you’re serious about getting what you want.  This summer, I saw nearly a dozen young people post Kickstarters.  I saw one person post about needing a job to raise money for college.  Guess which person I helped?  Also: guess which one was most successful?  That student is on his way to an excellent school, with two flexible jobs, and will not need to take out loans for his first year.

2. Does this experience benefit others, or only me?  If you’re creating art, doing volunteer work or community service, or generally helping others, please ask your network to support you.  If the experience solely benefits you, see #1.  If you are doing everything you can and are trying to close the gap, make that clear.

PS: You, as a person, are not art.  Even if you’re planning to write about your trip or become a better actor through the experience, solely being you is not a reason for people to pay for you to do so.  I don’t care how talented you are. Here’s the beautiful and terrible part about being an artist: someone is always better at it than you are.  If they’re working harder, you’re fucked.

So work harder, be kinder, embrace humility, and know that the power to be successful is in your– and only your– hands.

And paradoxically, that’s when people will go out of their way to help you succeed.

Five Tips for Applying for Internships and Entry-Level Positions in Arts Management

(Originally posted on ARTSblog, accessible here.)

Rambling ten-page resumes. Headshots submitted for management positions. Cover letters written in one big, messy paragraph in the body of an email. And one resume that was somehow, inexplicably, saved as a series of stream-of-consciousness bullet points in an .RTF file.

I coordinate the internship program at Los Angeles’ Center Theatre Group (CTG), one of the largest—and most prestigious—theatres in the country. These are just a few of the bizarre, sad, and shockingly common application faux pas I saw in our last application cycle.

Most undergraduates aren’t introduced to career options in arts administration within an academic context. An internship can provide an excellent introduction to the field. Many of the applicants I see are undergraduate theatre or acting majors, curious about career options in the discipline they love.

And many of them are woefully unequipped to apply for any job.

It’s tempting to fault schools for this lack of preparation. However, nearly every two-year and four-year college or university has a career center with free services. I’m also a big fan of personal responsibility.

So hey, arts major. Here are five tips for applying to internships or entry-level jobs in arts management.

Assume the position is extremely competitive. Actors, have you ever walked into an audition and seen 40 people waiting to try out for the same role? That’s what’s happening virtually when you apply for an internship. In my experience both at CTG and for very small arts organizations, it’s common to receive dozens of strong applications for a single paid internship. Hot entry-level jobs in arts management can attract hundreds of applicants. I say this not to discourage you from applying, but to discourage you from applying with sub-par materials. Which brings me to…

Write a new cover letter for each application. Talk about why you’re interested in the position, why you would be a good fit, and, if it’s an internship, what you hope to learn that will benefit your career. Research the organization, the supervisor, and the position. I can’t tell you how many applicants for development (i.e., fundraising) internships talk about how much they love script development. Cool, man. I love avocados.

Formatting matters, both for your resume and your cover letter. Visit a career center, or look at examples of resumes and cover letters online. I don’t care if your letter is block or semi-block. Here’s what I’m looking for: Does it look professional? Can I find your basic information? Does it reflect you, or did you plug your name into a template you bought online? Am I confident you will be able to write an email to a patron or send a thank-you letter to a donor without embarrassing my organization?

Follow the instructions. Our internships require a cover letter, resume, and a PDF application, all emailed to me as attachments. This is clearly stated on our materials. Almost 25% of applicants do not do this correctly. The most common errors are letters written in the body of the email, blank PDFs, and applications from people who are ineligible. The first two look sloppy. The third—the “will you make an exception?” application—is worse.

Look, internships and entry-level positions are designed for people without a lot of experience. Let’s say I were to let someone who’s been out of school for four years and has held several marketing positions have an undergraduate-level marketing internship. To quote South Park, you’re gonna have a bad time. I understand it’s rough out there, but when I see someone grossly overqualified I assume they’re either going to be miserable, or they’ll quit after two months when they find a full-time position. Think about whether you’re going to be happy in a position before wasting time applying.

Be honest about your goals and experience. The cover letter says: “I have always been passionate about theatre.” The resume lists internships in galleries, involvement with mural organizations, and a pending BA in Fine Arts, with no mention of theatre. Regardless of the applicant’s intent, she looks like a liar. We’re going to notice discrepancies between past experience and the focus of your application. This also goes for unexplained gaps on your resume, no work experience, or academic issues. We’re going to see it, so make it a part of your story.

She could have said: “I’m currently pursuing a career in visual arts marketing. However, this semester I helped with a friend’s theatre production, and realized I was interested in performing arts marketing as well.” If that’s true, that moves her out of the “not a good fit” pile to the “makes a good case for herself” pile. If it’s not true and we hire her based on it, well…she’s gonna have a bad time.

There’s a common thread in these five tips. Submit targeted, professional materials and think critically about whether you’re passionate about the position and a good fit before applying.

These tips come solely from my experience overseeing application processes for about forty internships and entry-level positions, and reading approximately eight hundred applications in the process. I welcome additional thoughts or disagreement in the comments.

And I look forward to receiving your application.

Advice for Interns in Arts Management

I asked a group of colleagues to give me their best piece of advice for interns working in arts and arts management.

You’ll see some big recurring themes in their answers, including:

  • Asking questions.
  • Shaping your own experience.
  • Being proactive.
  • Communicating with your supervisor.
  • Finding a mentor.

What did they miss?

 

What advice would you give to an intern about making the most of his/her experience?

“Ask questions. Observe operations and then figure out where you can fit in… and then put yourself there if you can.”

“Strive to make a good impression on everyone you meet.  Theatre is a small world, and the same people you meet during your internship will continue to come into your life in many other contexts.  You never know when you could be talking to your future boss.”

“Sometimes your supervisor doesn’t have the time to mentor you. Instead, consider the resources of the organization you’re working for. Pitch a project that you know you can do and follow through. Don’t wait for someone to hand you an opportunity– the internship is the opportunity; now use the resources available to you.”

“Always be looking for opportunities to observe the work in action. Your mentor won’t always have the time to instruct you but you can learn a lot just from watching.”

“Keep a little pocket notepad during the internship to keep a log and notes of things that were done throughout the day, or notes on certain policies and/ or procedures. This is always a nice thing to do because later they can be reviewed and it will better remember it for later on. I know how it gets with so much information going on, it’s hard to try and remember it all.”

“If given the opportunity to write pretty much anything, take it.”

“Meet and talk to as many people as possible and learn about them, not just about their jobs.  Find out how they got here and how a career with an organization like Center Theatre Group is satisfying not just in the salary-and-benefits sense, but in the way it nourishes the soul.  As a corollary: see every show you can, both on our stages and with the companies that are run, staffed and peopled with the colleagues they meet here at CTG, and then talk to people about the work.  This is an amazing opportunity to build a network and to further develop the foundation and vocabulary of a creative professional career.”

“Take every opportunity thrown your way!”

“Talk to EVERYONE willing to talk to you about what they do, why they do it, how they do it – especially the aspects of the company you’re either not interested in or know nothing about (they may surprise you).  Use the internship as an excuse to learn as much about Los Angeles as possible. Find all the hidden gems of art throughout the massive metro area (I know for a fact there were many I missed out on due to time constraints and distance and blah blah blah… It’s my biggest regret). Even if they’re an LA native (or maybe especially if) there are going to be all kinds of people and places to get to know.”

“Read everything! Whenever you’re asked to make copies or file things, you can learn a ton just by reading all that stuff.  Ideally the intern experience won’t ONLY be copying/filing, but since that’s probably a part of it, make it useful.”

“Do informational interviews, ask for big projects, be proactive. Also, keep a learning journal!”

“Take initiative, work quickly and accurately. The more proactive and engaged you are, the more you’ll benefit.”

“Ask lots of questions!”

“Don’t be intimidated and always ask. Ask tons of questions and want to know the answers. Be proactive.”

“Have an expectations talk with your supervisor. Make sure you share what you ‘expect’ from him/her and the internship in addition to hearing what is expected of you.”