9 Alternative Ways to Compensate Interns

Sea AnemoneInterns and the companies who hire them are the sea anemones and hermit crabs of the corporate world—when matched correctly, they form a powerful symbiotic partnership. In the marine world, the crab gives the anemone a ride on its shell while the anemone zaps potential predators with its tentacles. In the workforce, a motivated intern provides employers with fantastic work on the cheap while gaining professional experience and new contacts.

So what, if you will, is the shell you offer your anemone in return? An hourly wage or stipend is the classic form of payment, but there are some things money can’t buy: today’s top students and new graduates want career-building experiences they can brag about.

We’ve rounded up nine ways to compensate your interns that you may have overlooked.

1. Be Accommodating

If you’re casting your net far and wide, chances are you’ll reel in an intern from out of town. InternMatch, for example, welcomes talented students from across the nation to San Francisco, which is a learning experience in and of itself. By covering your interns’ relocation, travel, or housing expenses, you afford them invaluable opportunities to explore a new city.

2. Give Them Credit 

While credit doesn’t replace pay, it can be a great additional perk for students seeking it. Work with your interns’ department advisers to make this possible. An internship that’s eligible for credit, designed to complement and expand on the university curriculum, serves as a real-life practicum for your interns’ studies—most likely, the experience will boost their grades as well.

3. Put Their Name in Lights

If your internship offers students the chance to help with research, be it lab experiments with E. coli or scanning resources on JSTOR, involve them in the publishing process. Having their name on an academic or industry paper will give your interns a solid foothold on future endeavors. When Facebook intern Paul Butler developed his own methodology to map out international relationships, online tech rags like TechCrunch picked up the story.

4. Commissionary Work

Should your company deal with sales, offer interns the chance to earn commission by handling prospective clients or customers like a pro. We spoke to a gallery attendant whose savvy in the contemporary art world, business sense, and charismatic personality made her a welcome presence at exhibition openings.

5. Give Them Mad Skills 

Internships are ideal training grounds for students to learn the tools of the trade—from developing coding skills to learning design through AutoCAD to managing social media on HootSuite. Teach them how to fish, as the saying goes, and you’ve fed them for a lifetime.

6. Make Them the Boss

Several interns have attested to the value of having ownership over their own projects. Your organization should encourage students to take the initiative, whether that means reaching out in customer care or defining the role for future interns. Taking charge will positively impact their interdepartmental skills, confidence level, and investment in your company.

7. Expand Their Network

Every industry has its big conferences and industry events; when you send scouts to these high-profile venues, make your interns part of the team. Not only will they make meaningful connections with future colleagues, employers, mentors, and press members, but they’ll also be energized and inspired by the conversations unfolding in the field.

8. Perk Up

In the same vein, companies in the entertainment, recreation, or journalism business have the power to send interns on excursions to movie screenings, music festivals, restaurant soft openings, product launch parties—all in the name of research.

9. Pay It Forward 

When the internship ends, offer to write a letter of recommendation that the student can keep on file for future internships, employers, and graduate school admissions. It’s a great way to express your appreciation and reflect on how your interns’ experiences ready them for other opportunities.

Internships come in all shapes and sizes, and so does intern compensation. Finding alternatives ways to pay your interns means finding out what they hope to take away from the whole experience, and how your organization can make those goals a reality.

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Nathan Parcells

Nathan Parcells is VP of Marketing and co-founder of Looksharp. He has spent the past decade helping students launch their career, researching best practices for hiring millennials (including running Looksharp's annual "State of College Hiring") and sharing these insights with employers. Nathan's work has been featured in Forbes, TechCrunch, Business Insider and more. Outside of work, Nathan is an avid rock climber, back packer and Bob Dylan fan.