Free Labor or Priceless Experience

businesswoman stands with a copieerapparaatInternships are a vital part to any student’s college experience, especially a communications student. What we can learn in college classes is limited.  Don’t get me wrong my professors had successful careers in the PR world ranging from an FBI Public Information Officer to a senior vice president at Fleishman-Hillard. They blended their classes with information from the books and anecdotes from real life experiences. But in my opinion, to really learn the most about PR, students need to really experience it through internships.

We’ve seen a lot of talk recently about paid vs. unpaid regarding internships. Jenna Oltersdorf started a conversation asking if unpaid internships are fair. In addition to being fair I think they’re more beneficial to the intern. The company doesn’t feel like they need to have you working every minute to get their money’s worth. Sure there will be down times and clerical work to be done but it’s less. I had two unpaid internships. My first internship was with Dockers. I was 18, completed my first year of school and had no idea what to expect. Honestly there were times where I was so bored I had to find anything to keep me busy. Even if it that meant re-folding items in the show closet that I just organized the day before.

My job was to make the PR team’s job easier. My responsibilities ranged from packing up samples for magazine editors to organizing the showroom. I didn’t care. Because I was so eager to learn about the profession the team would let me sit in on C-level meetings or a walk through with magazine editors showcasing a new line. That’s where I learned the most. This internship reinforced my love for PR and expanded my network.

My second internship was for Planned TV Arts, a division of Ruder Finn, (PTA) where I am also currently employed. I was an assistant to the publicity team. I wrote pitches, press releases, fact sheets, suggested questions, etc. After about a week I pitched radio producers and booked over a hundred radio interviews for their signature service: Morning Drive Radio Tours. I sat in on manager meetings and was treated like an employee. I considered it a job and the company noticed. I still had to run errands, put together mailings but overall I learned a lot more than any classroom ever taught me. This internship started my portfolio, expanded my network further, and gave me real experience at what media professionals want to know.

IMO an unpaid internship is fair because if you put in 100% the experience you will get from it is priceless. Internships should do two things: 1. teach you more about the career you’d like to pursue and 2. Increase your network. I received my current position because I always kept in touch with my mentor. When I was laid off I reached out to my network and they were the first ones to help.

After thinking about this some more I turned to PRBC to garner their thoughts and Keith’s answer made me think (as usual). He believes, “Unpaid internships, in my opinion, are not always as great as the opportunity seems. The reason being is that working unpaid does not guarantee you anything in the job market, whereas an unpaid apprenticeship, say in the milliner business (that’s hat making, my friends) would guarantee you some type of life-long job because that’s exactly what an apprenticeship is: a way to train someone for an entire career. But internships don’t aim to train you for a career, at least most don’t. They aim to do one thing: Get work done for free and/or relatively cheap for a company. Yes, you get some great experience out of an unpaid internship, but at the end of the day, the company that offers you that internship is not trying to train you for a successful career; they are trying to get you to do the work no one else wants to and/or has the time to do for extremely cheap. That’s not a good value, IMO.”

I understand Keith’s point but I respectfully disagree. Are internships free labor? Yes. But in my experience these internships prepared me for the real world. Because I considered my internship with PTA like a job they were more than eager to interview me when a spot opened within the company. An internship is what you make it whether paid or unpaid.

What do you think? Do you think unpaid internships are fair? I would love to hear about your experiences too.

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  • cccpr

    What I've found when talking to students from foreign lands is that the U.S. is essentially the only country that widely embraces the unpaid internship, primarily because they automatically exclude the subset of people that can't afford to accept an unpaid position while supporting themselves financially. As a result, a tremendous talent pool is instantly cast aside.

    I disagree with the general assertion that an unpaid internship can, by any stretch of the imagination, be considered more beneficial to the intern. As you say, an internship is what you make it, but as an unpaid staff member you're forced to grapple with walking into an environment that instantly devalues and marginalizes your contributions to a certain extent. An unpaid internship can certainly lead to valuable networking connections, portfolio material, and even job opportunities; I don't think anyone would dispute that. But even while putting forth one's full effort, an unpaid intern must deal with the stigma of being the gopher. Keith's point that unpaid internships generally don't train for a career, while perhaps a bit hyperbolic, is generally correct in that many only present rigid duties

    In my experience (I'm currently an unpaid intern), paid positions are more likely to offer a set of flexible learning objectives that allow for more responsibility for the intern, more one-on-one mentoring time, a greater sense of appreciation from fellow employees, and a higher level of direct client interaction that helps simulate the frenetic pace that one would experience as a full-time employee.

    Now, obviously we're all generalizing here: some have had phenomenally rewarding unpaid internships and some haven't. My point is that the unpaid internship advances the philosophy that we don't have to prepare the average college student for the REAL working world until after graduation, and that's simply not the way that any progressive economy should be going about procuring experience for the next generation. I've had to explain the unpaid internship to my European friends several times, and they still don't get it. Why? Because they simply don't understand why a country supposedly built around education and preparing for the future would so willingly delay that future by placing its brightest minds in unsustainable financial positions. There's a lesson to be learned there, and all the federal funding in the world can't help us learn it unless corporate America fundamentally shifts its mindset.

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  • valeriesimon

    Unpaid internships, IMO, are simply an opportunity to be evaluated along with all others. The fact that there is no pay is certainly a drawback. But if the learning opportunity is great, it can be a valuable investment. In college I had both a paid an unpaid internship. During the semester I did my unpaid internship, I also taught swimming lessons and worked the “graveyard' shift at the front desk of my residence hall. I viewed my time at the internship, as I would time spent in class or in an activity. That internship, for the record, was one of the most outstanding experiences I recall. Conversely my paid internship, consisted of a great deal of administrative work. I certainly learned some valuable lessons, but frankly it did not come close to offering me the value of that unpaid internship.

    I agree with you Christina. My suggestion is simply to evaluate each opportunity in its entirety. An internship is a short term investment of your time, but can offer a long term return. Try and identify the opportunity that will be the wisest long term investment.

  • keegan_shoutz

    I currently have an unpaid internship at a local broadcasting station. I intern for for the Promotions Director and although I may not be doing everything PR, it's still a great opportunity to get in there and make connections not only with my co-workers but with members of the public as well.
    Although sometimes it is frustrating not getting paid, the thing I love about it is that I am allowed to come and go as I please (of course with some limitations). This way I can still accomplish my school work, be an active president of my university's PRSSA chapter and overall just be a college student during my last semester.
    The opportunity has proven to be a great tool for gaining not only experience but advice from my co-workers. We all work together and at the end of the day we have a lot fun. Like you said, I have to make the most of it and find other ways to get involved.
    The tricky part for me in the job search is having that internship compete with ones at some of the very well known news stations in the MPLS/St. Paul area. My school is in a much smaller city than MPLS so it's hard to make my internship shine when I'm competing with others who have those opportunities in their back yard.

  • I agree with Valerie that it is important to evaluate the opportunities and see if certain internships offer quality experience, which should always be the most important factor.

    Honestly, if you're still in college, the goal should be for experience and it shouldn't matter whether that experience is paid or unpaid. In fact, most internships during college are used towards class credit, so it's not completely unpaid. Students and recent graduates who work internships should look for a) the internship that offers the best experience, b) an internship where the supervisor provides constant feedback and evaluation of the intern, c) provides a challenging environment that forces to intern to learn and not just perform simple tasks. If the internships goes along with these three points and is paid, great! If not, then it's not a big deal. The experience you gain will be worth it down the road.

    Having the name of an organization on your resume is all well and good, but if you can't put any valuable accomplishments under that name, then the internship becomes null and void.

  • laurenfernandez

    Isn't the experience payment enough?

    I was pretty lucky in the fact that my longest internship was paid – a monthly stipend that wasn't even the hourly minimum wage. Did I care? Not really. If I needed money, I worked another job. Most of my internships were unpaid, but I found that they were more concious of how they used my time, rather than not.

    To get into this field, you have to have the dedication and drive. What better way to test dedication than if you are esstentially “volunteering” your time to work?

  • sjflynn

    Every situation should be evaluated in its entirety. I agree though, that an unpaid internship automatically cuts the talent pool in half, as some people cannot afford to take an unpaid internship in another city, or even in the same city. I also think that, especially in today's economy, it's not too much to ask a company, no matter how big or small, to pay $10/hr. That's not a huge sum, but it brings to the table that the company at least respects the candidate enough to offer that. I have found that many companies are, unfortunately, using the unpaid internship to get free labor and using the economy and eagerness of recent grads to get work for free.

    I agree though that internships are vital to success in the PR world and if you are in a fortunate enough situation to not need pay, it opens up the door to many more opportunities, especially in areas that interest you.

    As everyone said though, it's important to evaluate the entire situation, as an unpaid internship could turn into a lucrative job offer and a paid internship could result in nothing more than gophering.

  • amylh

    I would agree that my unpaid internships have been as valuable as paid. Unfortunately, many prestigious internships are unpaid and in other cities. I simply can't afford to live in NYC or L.A. without a decent wage. In that respect, I feel unpaid internships hinder a large subset of people.

  • LBaish

    I had four internships in college; one was for credit and the other three were paid. So essentially, I received compensation of some sort for all of my internships. Of course, the experience of an internship is always important, but I would argue that when a company is paying you a salary they are more likely to try and find meaningful work for your to complete.

    On the other hand, I've had friends who have worked unpaid internships and received great experience, too. But that doesn't mean that young people should devalue their worth. Learning how to negotiate a salary and work up to the expectations of compensation are also important work skills to discover. I once watched a friend create an entire ad campaign that was actually used by a client and receive no compensation and no job offers after his internship tenure was done. IMO, a huge waste of time for both him and the company because now he is still unable to secure a job in this economy.

  • KDMisevich

    While I have never had an unpaid internship, I have seen quite a few unpaid opportunities with companies that would add a lot of value to students and new PR professionals. Whether a position is paid or not, it is important to understand the long term advantages and disadvantages. Clearly the lack of money would be a disadvantage if you rely on an internship as a source of income and are unable to find other means of financial support. However, the experience and relationships built in an unpaid internship could have long lasting advantages.

    When I first began my career I would seek volunteer opportunities with non-profits to cultivate my communications skills. This isn't too different from the concept of an unpaid internship internship.

  • @jaykeith

    Because I made the jump from journalism to PR, I didn't have to take an internship, but I am a big, big fan of them and would argue that if you're a young person with the chance to take one, do it.

    I have first hand knowledge that a few unpaid (or paid, either way) internships can make all the difference in the world. Heading into her senior year of college, a friend of mine was wondering how best to break into PR and what she could do to get ahead of the curve. She decided to give up the sport she was playing and take two unpaid internships over the course of the year. Both were invaluable in not only getting her vital experience to PR, but also the workplace as a whole. She learned how offices worked, the relationships you had to build, and how to interact with people of all kinds. It was hard work, but she wanted to learn more and take on more, and as she proved herself, the people she worked for allowed her to. Having completed both internships, she graduated and entered the workforce as a hot commodity, armed with references and work experience in PR that no one else fresh out of college had. She had the opportunity to pick the job she wanted, rather than having to take what was first offered. And in just a few short years, she's light years ahead of where someone her age would normally be. Granted, a lot of that has come through drive and hard work, but she was almost a full year ahead of most people before she started. She completely hit the ground running.

    Bottom line, the sooner you start your career and gain experience, the better off you'll be, even if it means sucking it up and taking no pay. The experience you gain will pay dividends for years to come, and that's worth even more than money. You can never buy experience, but you can always find a higher paying job. (hopefully)

  • From an agency perspective, I see the value in bringing in unpaid interns who are hungry to learn about what we do. It gives them valuable experience and as an agency owner, it gives me free labor. Win! But that's not how I run Snackbox.

    My personal belief is that our firm should pay our interns … it keeps them focused on the tasks at hand rather than worrying about their second or third jobs after hours and it sets the tone for our relationship. If I'm paying you, I expect you to be at work at specific hours of the day, perform specific tasks, etc. And, on the other side of the coin, by paying our interns, it keeps me accountable to make sure they have a tremendous experience, learn everything I can teach them, and begin working on real world projects as quickly as possible.

    My philosophy is that if you're going to do work for me, I should be paying you for your time.

  • beccameyers

    I don't think there is anything wrong with an unpaid internship. It not only gives you experience in the field you are interested in, lets you network and all those other pros, but also just general office experience. How to conduct yourself, what it's like in this professional (and sometimes unprofessional) atmosphere, what it could feel like to be that person you want to be.

    Did anyone who interned also find that you were asked to photocopy/scan/fax only because the Executives don't know how? I guess they never interned!

    But that said, I don't think it's a stretch to suggest a stipend. As some like cccpr point out, a chunk of people are getting overlooked due to not being able to withstand an unpaid internship for whatever reason they have. Stipends for lunch or travel should be included. I think that is fair.

  • jeffespo

    Stina – this is a great post and I agree completely. Two of my better internships were both relatively unpaid. One of which was like LAF's and when commuting to NYC the stipend barely covered the cost of the bus, but at the end of the day the experience was worth far more than any book learning could bring. At the end of the day, an internship is a privileged not a right.

    Now did it suck to be poor as hell, yes, but it also helped me get where I am today. In any industry it is all about paying your dues. It's a rite of passage that everyone needs to go through and offers you something to reflect on in the future when you think your job sucks.

    For those saying that an unpaid internship is not worth it. Think about this for a second. We are in the worst job market in some time. People with 20-30 years experience are taking pay cuts to get back to work – some of which are entry level positions. So get off your high horse. You have zero experience and have to start somewhere. And yes, that includes memorizing coffee orders and working dumb hours, but an internship is what you make of it.

    Be a sponge ask questions and push for responsibilities. If you sit back and wait for someone to hold your hand and tell you what to do. Your bosses have jobs to do to and the more you push to have hands on learning, the happier they'll be to offer guidance.

  • Christina-

    Great post and I agree with you. I had two internships while in college- one at an ad/design agency that was 45 min from my house (when gas was $5 a gallon…not fun) that was offered compensation at the end of the internship, and one that was for credit the fall of my senior year. While both were financially challenging for the duration of the internship (technically not unpaid, but I had to work 25-30 hrs in addition at another job)- I had to have second jobs in order to take both- I DO NOT regret them at all. The experience I gained and knowledge I have no because of these internships is priceless and definitely not something I could have learned in a class room. And, more often than not, because the internship is unpaid, the employer is willing to work with the intern for a suitable schedule to accommodate another job.

    However, others aren't so lucky as to have amazing internships that are worth the lack of compensation. My advice to students is to take whatever you can get, though. In this industry and specific economic situation, jobs and [paid] internships are difficult to come by. It might be tough now but it will certainly be worth it in the future.


  • Stephanie Florence

    I agree completely with your post, especially how one's network can grow. My second unpaid internship was the spark that lead to my career in public relations. My supervisor/cube mate was a previous PR guy who shared stories and advice on PR topics throughout the day. I found myself literally listening on the edge of my seat (also thanks to his thick accent and soft voice), but nonetheless I was sold on making PR my future. This individual served as a mentor throughout the remainder of my college career advising me on internships and weighing in when I was eventually offered a full-time position at an agency.

    I was in the same boat as Valerie in that I worked two jobs that summer to break even, but the great part about many companies offering unpaid internships is their flexibility. This internship was three days a week allowing me time to work other jobs as well. Taking the time for free labor can lead to great things… I wouldn't change any of it.


  • kmskala

    First, if you're in PR for the money, you're clearly out of your mind.

    I agree with Lauren. Compensation should rarely be a factor in deciding whether to take an internship or not. My first job/internship was as a sports writer for a small daily in Minnesota. I believe I was paid $6 an hour, worked 40 hours a week during the summer. But guess what, I got paid $6 an hour to watch and cover baseball for 4 months while my friends were slaving in a factory (nothing wrong, I respect blue collar jobs). Sure, they made more money at the end of the summer, but again, I got paid to write about something I was passionate about.

    I also had an internship during college where I was making $15 an hour, but the internship taught my very little.

    Experience and networking is invaluable. If you are truly passionate about your industry, you'll find a way. Even if it means suffering a bit and getting an unpaid internship. Just make sure you're learning.

  • I truly appreciate your comment and presenting a different side of the spectrum. I actually agree and understand a lot of your points. There are two things that I'd like to focus on though.

    From your experience you say paid positions “offer a set of flexible learning objectives that allow for more responsibility for the intern, more one-on-one mentoring time, a greater sense of appreciation from fellow employees, and a higher level of direct client interaction that helps simulate the frenetic pace that one would experience as a full-time employee.” Now that may be true – but my internship at PTA awarded me all of those responsibilities and continues to do so for our current interns. We have implemented a mentor program and interns get to interact and learn from our highest level employee to the lowest. It's the interns that demonstrate an eagerness to learn that get rewarded with more responsibility.

    I have to respectfully disagree with your comment stating that unpaid internships advance the philosophy that we don't have to prepare these interns for the REAL working world until after graduation. In addition to my internships, I worked 30 hrs a week part-time at minimum wage. I knew that the internships I wanted that would offer me the most valuable experience were unpaid so instead of walking away, I figured out a way to make it work. Where there's a will, there's a way.

    PR is not a lucrative industry. The first year of my professional career I had a part-time job working in retail to make ends meet. I was still in an unsustainable financial position, but I was doing what I love.

    Thanks again for adding to the discussion.

  • Thanks so much for sharing your experience. I definitely understand where you're coming in regards to interning for a smaller company when competing with a students who have bigger companies on their resumes. However you're also at an advantage. Chances are you had more experience because of interning at a smaller company. Make sure your resume highlights every task you felt was valuable to a PR profession. That can be an array of things. I'd also recommend (as I'm sure you're going to) staying in touch with the people you're working with and seeing if they would reach other to their networks on your behalf. A great recommendation from a respected professional goes a long way.

  • I've often heard that paid internships involve more administrative tasks. I think having an unpaid internship taught me more about how far I was willing to go to learn about my passion, make ends meet, and if I could make it in PR.

  • Rich thanks for commenting. You make a good point that I also mentioned in my reply to Keegan: just because you have a big name company on your resume doesn't mean you're good at what you do or gained any valuable experience.

    I love your tips for what interns should look for in an internship. My internship with PTA was through a recommendation from a former intern. When I heard about his experience I knew it was the right fit for me. Just like when we job search, interns need to research a company and what it can offer them.

  • Amen sister! – The experience is payment enough.

    Thanks for coming by and adding to the discussion duderita 🙂

  • I don't agree that an unpaid internship automatically cuts talent. I think the opposite actually. The individual that takes on an unpaid internship will figure out other ways to make an income, which IMO shows more dedication to the profession.

  • Thanks for the comment. I do recognize that unpaid internships are difficult. Students just need to research as much as they can about programs to find one that fits them financially and will give them the best experience. Maybe an unpaid internship closer to home isn't as much of a financial burden etc.

  • Thanks for adding to the discussion and sharing your experiences!

  • Great comparison here! Thanks for adding your thoughts to the discussion

  • I think the dedication to the job's responsibilities is more about the types of intern we higher than whether or not they're getting paid. All the intern's I've had were unpaid and I made sure that they had real work to do, not administrative tasks. One thing I did notice was students who received college credit were more laid back about the internship would bail once their hours were completed. So that's a drawback. But interns need to remember that future employers can call your company as a reference to get a better understanding of the type of worker you were. That's what drove me as an intern to do my best. I wanted stellar recommendations.

  • sjflynn

    I think that's a perfect case scenario. What if that's not feasible though? You want to do a good job at your internship. (For sure!) So working 40 hours a week at a PR internship, and then extra at Starbucks to make it by seems a bit much. Especially in this economy, student loans, etc. It is a lot harder. It would maybe limit students from taking an internship in another city if they have to figure out housing, public transit costs, etc.
    I'm all for experience, and logged my fair share of unpaid internships, have also done volunteering while employed. But being paid for your work nowadays, is a necessity to make it by if you're on your own (which a lot of us are!) I don't think I'm in the minority, when I say a wage of $10/hr is at least a respectful sum that the company can offer for services … even if it's part time 🙂 (and especially if the student has logged multiple previous internships!)

  • I could understand stipends as long as its not abused. Also it's harder to for a stipend to be considered “fair” for each intern. For example if an intern commuted from Long Island to NYC it would cost them upwards of $300 but a student who lives in the city it would only cost them $80. Would employers start limiting who they choose because of these costs? Is that fair?

    Thanks for adding to the topic 🙂

  • Christa thanks for the comment! I really like your advice you offer because the more experience a student has before graduation the better their chances are in the job hunt.

  • beccameyers

    I was trying to keep my wordage down for once but I am glad you brought that up.

    I know some companies who will pay whatever the cost may be according to each individual. If you come from Westchester they pay your MetroNorth and Metrocard and if you come from NYC, just your Metrocard.
    If I was on the hiring side and that money is dedicated to the budget, I wouldn't discriminate based on location of potential interns. (Obviously we won't be flying you in from Ohio every other day, but you know.)

    Others like the one I interned at gave $25/day flat rate. This was “travel and lunch”. In my eyes, it was better than nothing.

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  • arikhanson

    Loved Kasey's comment–“If you're in PR for the money, you're out of your mind.” Right on brother! 😉

    I would simply say this. An internship, like any other job, is what you make out of it. I liken it very much to my PRSA experience. You get what you put into it. Christina, clearly you put in a lot–and, as a result, you got something in return. I understand Keith's point, and, from an employer perspective, in many cases he's right. But, I just don't think that matters. What matters is what you get out of it. And, more importantly, what you put INTO it.


  • keithtrivitt

    Arik (and really, everyone else) – Thanks so much for the thoughtful and thought-provoking comments. Just to clarify my position a bit, while I don't necessarily think unpaid internships are the best approach to building your career, my thoughts on that also come from the sports world, where I have about 5 years of experience prior to going into business/tech PR. In sports, the unapid internship is pretty much all that exists, but the reason why I'm not too fond of it is because the unpaid internship, at least in the sports world, drastically cuts down on entry-level employees' credibility and working conditions. Working in sports is an incredibly exciting and fast-paced job, but it can be brutally tough to break into, with literally 1,000-plus resumes being submitted for almost every entry-level position.

    Therefore, in my mind, taking an unpaid internship in sports does little to further your career, as you're not only marginalizing the industry for your fellow colleagues, but you're also telling employers that it's OK to pay you below minimum wage when extrapolated out over an entire year of 12-16-hour days for 6-9 months out of the year, and it's OK to put you on staff, full-time, on a “trial” basis, but leave that “trial” status on you for two years, then suddenly let you go when ticket sales decline.

    All of these things do happen in the sports world, far too often, sadly.

    So, that's the basis of where I come from on my standpoint that unpaid internships aren't all they are cracked up to be. Val made a really good point above that it's about putting yourself in front of people that can really help your career progress, and Arik, you make a damn good point that internships, whether paid or unpaid, are more vital in terms of what you put into them and what you get out. And no doubt, I completely agree with both of you on those points.

    But at the end of the day, I still think something along the lines of an apprenticeship, where you know going in that this is a path towards a liveable career, not a potential one-off audition, is a better road for many. Granted, there aren't many apprenticeship opportunities left anymore, but I could certainly see where PR and ad agencies, which have the infrastructure in place for that type of opportunity could set something up. Might be a really great experience for everyone involved – both the apprentice and the agency.

  • Mark Anthony

    I believe in internships, because I've seen the positive results they can provide. My organization has had over 15 Interns in the last eight years, and currently we have two Interns. We always begin an intership by asking the Intern to list the top ten things they hope to learn/experience during their time with us. Then we try to incorporate the items into their work. We don't ask them to do any task that we wouldn't do oursleves. In other words, we strive to make all of their work meaningful.

    A good internship program can can provide valuable life experience, help build a resume, build confidence and provide networking opportunities. For example, our last two interns left after they received full time jobs. One of the Interns was offered a job as a direct result of a colleague seeing the quality of her work with us. Actually, she is participating with our organization on a project tomorrow. I think it's interesting to note that we are still in contact with most of our previous interns.

    I believe in Internships so much that I plan to encourage my own children to find Internships in their fields of interest. It's the best way to explore a career field.

  • You got this right! Tks Christina. It is GREAT for employers too!

    In my shop 2 out of 4 entry level coordinators were unpaid interns. It is a GREAT HR tool for employers provided you let the interns DO REAL tasks.

    This may be of interest to people thinking about setting up a PR internship program:

  • Katherine

    I agree that any internship gives you valuable experience, but unpaid internships also make it impossible for students that can hardly make ends meet as it is to gain that experience. I had to pass up several opportunities because I needed money to eat and pay rent. Not paying for interns reinforces that kids of a certain class rather than a certain caliber or skill level will get these priceless opportunities and shuts many other talented people out. Those kids that couldn't afford to take an unpaid internship are then at a competitive disadvantage in comparison to their counterparts for no reason other than that they are less well off starting out. Internships don't need to pay a ton, but you are really limiting your pool of applicants by not paying. Furthermore, a paid internship has the potential to be much more competitive. In the long run, both the company and the student benefit from an approach were an intern has to earn money. It much more effectively teaches the value of hard work. As for myself, I started out working for a small newspaper that couldn't afford to keep the heat on in the building, but they still managed to pay me $7/hr for 30 hours a week so that I could pay my portion of the rent in a tiny place in a “bad” part of town and subsist off of Ramen and cereal. I also had two waitressing gigs at the same time. While there, i covered the 2004 presidential debates and local politics. I am now President of political and strategic communications firm I started after serving as communications director for local government for quite some time. I had to work really hard to get from the tiny paper to where I am today, but the experience was priceless and one that I never would have been able to have if they didn't pay.

  • samschwarz

    I love my internship 😉

  • Christina,

    Great post and you got some great comments. I only had one internship before entering the workforce and it was unpaid. I worked my butt off, created work when I was bored and made every second of it useful. Yes, there were times where I was mad that I could have spent my time picking up a shift to help pay my mortgage, but I knew that if I put my time in, it would pay off later.

    I completely agree with your statement about getting out what you put into an internship. It was because of my hard work and drive to learn as much as possible that had me working for them for years after that. It takes some one with work ethic to push and work as hard as they can without any payment.

    I also think that with unpaid internships, the supervising manager feels obligated to teach you more in return for your time. Like the lessons you learn is the payment — the more time you put into it, the more time the supervisor is going to invest in you.

    Don't get me wrong, I would have loved to have a paid internship, who wouldn't. I just don't think it is a requirement by any means. Your title really does say it all.

    I also want to note that I don't know why we feel we are entitled to receive compensation for learn and having to be taught as an intern. It really is where you learn to master your craft, what you love about working and grow into your professional self.

    Great topic!

    **PS, I wrote this super long amazing response and my computer froze 🙁

  • Sam this wont get you brownie points 🙂 But you're still the best intern.

  • Hey T – thanks for commenting.

    Couldn't agree with you more on “why we feel we are entitled to receive compensation to learn and having to be taught as an intern” Great point!

  • brianvertrees

    I think we can all agree the amount of effort a person puts into a job or internship directly impacts what a person gets out of it. That said, if you can find a paid internship that will provide you fantastic experience AND pay you money, it's a win-win. In college I was able to get two separate internships, both of them paid.

    As to whether or not it’s fair for a company to offer a free internship? As long as students are willing to work for free, there will be free internships – so yes, it's fair because that intern is making a choice to work there for free. However, in my opinion companies should pay their interns. If they pay them, they have a vested interest in maximizing their potential while they are working (which is good for the company and for the intern in regards to capturing real world experience).

    The internships I was able snag back in college had awesome training programs that allowed me to see different aspects of each company. I’m not sure if that would apply to a free internship or not – but since the companies I worked for had formal programs it was a definite plus.

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