The Top 4 Characteristics of Food People (And What They Mean For Your Career) Part 2.

Welcome back! This is the second of a four-part post called The Top 4 Personal Characteristics of Food People (And What They Mean For Your Career). Last week I shared a bit about the first characteristic: being a people-person. This week, we’re going to take a look at quality number two:

You’re hard working.

Even if you’re struggling right now in your career, no one could ever claim it’s because your lazy. Just like being a people-person, being hard-working is mostly a big pro when it comes to your career, but it, too, has some sneaky little downsides that could be holding you back:

Frankly, I think you're a bad-ass. You chose a non-traditional career path, perhaps even going against the advice of parents, friends, or professors, and you knew full well it wasn’t going to be easy. 

You’re always willing to put your nose to the grindstone, to do the dirty work, to pay your dues, and to invest fully in what you’re doing. In the name of passion, you’re willing to work for very little pay. Heck, you might be willing to work for free, even if it means taking that 5th unpaid internship at age 28…

But, wait a minute. Why ARE you taking that internship at age 28?!?

I have very strong feelings about this topic. Mostly, I just think everyone who is doing valuable work deserves to be paid for it. Still, the reality of the situation in food is that it’s an industry fueled by the (sometimes illegal) labor of interns.

All that being said, a case can absolutely be made for the value of an internship. I, personally, have witnessed interns I’ve worked with get employed by reputable publications and organizations. It does happen. Especially in food.

BUT, and this is a big but, before you consider taking an unpaid internship, you MUST ask yourself these questions:

  • 1.     If this internship NEVER led to a job with this company, would I still think it was worthwhile?
  • 2.     Will I be learning something I don’t already know how to do? (I spent one internship doing a whole lot of grocery shopping and not much else. Was it worth it? No.)
  • 3.     Does this internship look suspiciously like a job that exists simply because the company can’t actually afford to hire someone to do this job?

(#3 is a tricky one. I’d say LOTS of unpaid internships, especially with food startups, fall into this category. If you’re SUPER excited about the work, and you think you’ll be forming important connections and getting into something amazing on the ground floor, then maybe go for it. If not, run.)

  • 4.     Does this company have an ongoing internship program? These are the internships you want—they are usually well-structured, well-supervised, and geared toward exposing interns to new skills and experiences beyond just going on a coffee run. You can ask about what other interns have gone on to do. You can even try to get the contact information of a few past interns to chat with about their experiences. 
  • 5.  Even if I won't be learning much, is the value of the connections and relationships I'll make in this internship priceless? If you really think so, it might just be worth your while. 
  • 6.     And, most importantly, does the idea of working at this internship and not getting paid fill you with any of the following: dread, resentment, or desperation? If it does, you MUST not do it. "But, Why?! ," you might be wondering.  "What if it actually gets me a job?!"


There are two answers to those questions:

1.  I don't think it's ever worth it to knowingly make yourself miserable in an environment that makes you feel devalued and taken advantage of.

And, even if you could make a case for ignoring #1, #2 should convince you:  

2. If you feel this way about an internship/job, the people you work with will sense you're unhappy, no matter how you try to hide it. You'll struggle to give your all. You'll be out of your element. You won't do your best work.  You definitely won't do as good a job as you would if you were happy to be doing it. And, even if there is a job to be gotten by taking such a dreaded internship, a happier, less-resentful intern is going to get it every time. I promise.

Please, go find somewhere where your hard work is valued as much as it should be. 

And if you do decide to work for free, at least do something truly rewarding. 


Now you: I’m curious to know what your experiences are with internships. How many have you had? Why have you taken them? What kind of work did you do as an intern? What have they led to? Were they worth it?

Leave a comment below and share some ways that being hard-working has impacted your career (both for the better and for the worse). And if you liked this post, please share it!

Emily Halpern