Unpaid Internships: Get on the Right Side of History

Unpaid InternshipsIn the not-too-distant future, all internships at for-profit companies in the US will be paid at least minimum wage. Over the past four years at InternMatch, we’ve seen a rising tide of awareness and even outrage about unpaid internships and the impact on students struggling to support themselves. High profile lawsuits against Fox Searchlight Pictures and Hearst by brave former interns have helped shine the spotlight on the increasingly probable PR and financial nightmare of running unpaid internship programs.

Unpaid internships provide yet another example of the legal first step failing to translate into institutional change without the presence of broader social consciousness. For for-profits, the Department of Labor has a clear six point test that charges employers with paying interns if, among other criteria, the employer derives “any value” from the participation of the intern. This test had been largely ignored until very recently when it became the center of attention in the paid vs. unpaid debate.  Still, thousands of employers in the US (and globally) refuse to pay their interns. The rationale for unpaid internship programs seems inextricably tied to the American Dream and belief that students should “pay their dues” and “pull themselves up by their bootstraps,” as if $200,000 of college tuition aren’t dues enough.  The argument goes that companies are giving interns such a career building, high value, break-into-the-industry experience that financial compensation is not required. In reality, the unpaid internship paradigm is inherently unfair, discriminatory, perpetuates inequality, and hurts the economy.

Internships have become a gatekeeping experience required to land a professional, full-time job after college. Employers cite internship experience as a more important factor than GPA.  But as internships have grown in prominence over the last 30 years, so too has the cost of attending college. So here’s the rub: if I’m a college student struggling to cover the costs of tuition without significant financial support from my parents, then how do I justify an unpaid internship over a paying job on-campus or at my local Starbucks? Often, students in this position take the job that pays. The student from a middle or upper class family with the means to fully support the outrageous cost of their higher education, on the other hand, will often take the unpaid internship with the often false promise of turning into full-time employment.  So in a nation that prides itself on promoting equality of opportunity, one of the most effectively perceived paths for building a successful career is shut off to students without the resources to work for free.

Did you know that women are 77% more likely to complete an unpaid internship? Wow. This happens in part because women are more commonly employed in industries that focus on environment, social justice, PR and entertainment, which are exclusive and highly coveted. Without any meaningful legal enforcement, women-oriented industries are so competitive that the market drives the price to zero. In contrast, traditionally male-dominated career paths such as software engineering are among the highest paid internship opportunities anywhere, with interns at Microsoft, Google, and Facebook earning well over $10,000 for a summer of rewarding on-the-job education.  In 2013, the United States is still a society where the average woman earns 80 cents to the average man’s dollar. The disproportionate rate of unpaid internships for women is pushing us further from the equal society that most of us desire.

 Unpaid internship programs also open the door to discrimination. Labor groups have fought hard over the last 100+ years to protect workers from discrimination in both the hiring process and on the job.  As Ross Perlin, a preeminent scholar on internship history, points out, unpaid interns have no legal recourse when it comes to sexual harassment on the job because they aren’t actually employees. In the world of the unpaid intern, the coveted employee protections that most of us take for granted don’t even exist.

Unpaid internships also hurt the economy. When a famous restaurant like Roberta’s in New York City brings on an unpaid intern to work in the garden, the reality is that the economy loses one more part-time or full-time job. The millions of unpaid internships in the US every year are costing hundreds of thousands of jobs.  According to a recent NACE survey quoted in the Wall Street Journal, paid internships turn into a job 60% of the time, whereas unpaid internship experience offers a measly 1% bump over no internship experience at all (37% vs. 36%). The data-supported realization that unpaid internships have only a 1% impact on employment should sound an alarm for everyone defending the “pay your dues and you’ll be better off long term” argument.

Interns need to be paid. It’s not enough to offer a great learning experience. Shutting the doors on entire industries to those that cannot or will not work for free is unacceptable.  Refusing to pay talented students that work as hard or harder than full-time employees is unacceptable. Paying interns will improve the economy, improve prospects for college students burdened with debt, and move us toward a more equal society. If you run an unpaid internship program, it’s time to get on the right side of history.

Photo Credit: NoHoDamon via Compfight cc

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Andrew Maguire

  • http://jacobt.com Jacob Thomason

    I think the misunderstanding here is that internships are usually a learning experience for the intern. These same interns pay to go to school. I don’t see companies getting paid to intern students.

    Granted there are different levels of interns. Many interns need more hand holding and teaching than others. But at the end of the day, internships are for short periods of time where the benefit to the company is minimal and the cost of having someone train and teach these interns isn’t cheap. The idea that you’re going to pay an intern and teach them when they are going to leave 4 months later is absurd. If the position being filled is busy work where there isn’t any learning/teaching required, sure, pay an intern and let them do that. But how is that actually helping the intern? They can go get a job at the local burger joint if that’s the goal.

    I honestly find this article one sided.

    • andrewmaguire

      You mention that internships are a great learning experience for the intern. In the case of a well structured internships, whether paid or unpaid, that’s absolutely true, which is one of my primary points. A great learning experience that also translates into career advantage should not be reserved only for those who can afford to work for free.

      If a company isn’t deriving advantage from an intern, then either the company did not hire selectively enough or there is a management issue. At InternMatch we’ve worked with thousands of companies and have ourselves experienced the tremendous benefits of hiring great interns, even if they leave after four months. Like all employees, interns need to be cultivated and given hands on guidance in order to be effective.

      Lastly, a student who is doing all busy work with no learning component is not engaging in an internship, they are doing part-time labor.

      • http://jacobt.com Jacob Thomason

        So, the argument isn’t that unpaid internships don’t provide value and aren’t a good or beneficial thing? It’s that not everyone is afford the same opportunities due to financial circumstances?

        Are you suggesting then that companies should provide pay to these interns as welfare? What about schools? The same arguments could be made here as well. The best schools in the nation are expensive, not everyone is offered that same opportunity either.

        I’m just not really sure what the point of this article is, other than someone being upset that companies aren’t paying for internships. Maybe this should have been broken down into smaller more focused articles?

        • andrewmaguire

          Jacob, first of all, I appreciate the candid and respectful dialogue.

          The point about making sure that every student can afford to intern is certainly central to the thesis, but it isn’t the only important line of thought.

          Unpaid internships can and often do provide value in the form of learning, networking, etc., but so can full-time jobs and we still have minimum wage laws. The main difference between college and internships is that when internship programs are set up correctly, employers derive substantial business value from having interns, whereas students are (over) paying colleges specifically for a service. If employers didn’t derive business value, the programs wouldn’t exist in the first place. A well structured internship program will almost invariably generate more business value than the minimum wage cost of compensating the interns.

          To your last point, there are more articles to come, and I agree that this post could be broken out into several articles on each issue.

          • http://jacobt.com Jacob Thomason

            I’d venture to say the companies that are getting a lot of benefit from interns are likely not having to spend a lot of time with them, and as a result, not teaching them very much.

            The ones that are teaching them a lot, likely aren’t deriving much benefit, maybe some, but the intern stands a lot more to gain from these.

            Of these two scenarios, which is more likely to pay?

          • andrewmaguire

            In our own experience managing interns, we tend to see interests as ultimately aligned. If we invest heavily upfront in ramping interns up on the basic skills and knowledge required to do well, then they work incredibly hard. If we don’t ramp them, then the incredibly hard work is ineffective. So the more we invest in an intern, the more we get out of it.

          • http://jacobt.com Jacob Thomason

            Andrew, what are your interns doing? I think that’s the question that has to be asked. It depends on what they’re doing and how much hand holding and learning is taking place.

          • Al Burger

            Jacob- I unfortunately I had to pass up an internship at a great company to work for another company that paid me $10 a hour. As a student who was on financial aid, has a single mother and went to a city school, my options were very limited. I had to take the internship that pays but if I had the option of taking the unpaid, i would have but I simply could not afford to do so.

            Many for profits have training periods for their new employees. ALL of them (I’m sure you can find a couple out there that don’t) pay for employees to be trained. Interns are training for real world experience. When a company hires an intern the intern should be compensated because it is an investment on the companies behalf just like training new employees is. Hopefully the intern will be able to make the companies investment worthwhile by adequately upholding all the responsibilities the internship laid out. Many times this is a foot in the door for the intern and they can land a job after school.

            Fortunately for a company the investment of minimum wage for an intern is 99.9% of the time not even going to be a problem. However for the unpaid intern, investing 4 months of their time (if they don’t come from a family that can support them with extra funds) is a MUCH larger/riskier investment.
            If start ups cannot afford to pay their interns then they shouldn’t consider hiring interns. Start ups hiring unpaid interns paves way for a lot of deceptive practices like false promises, unforseen circumstances effecting the internship, etc. Quite honestly students should not be in a position where a start up can go out of business and they are left with nothing but a half assed recommendation. Students are not professionals yet, they are still learning so they shouldn’t be put in a situation where a company has to really worry about whether or not they can afford to pay minimum wage.

            Compensation is part of the learning process. Just like kids selling lemonade on the street, interns should learn the value of a hard days work. That does not mean they should simply get a pat on the back for doing so.

          • http://jacobt.com Jacob Thomason

            Al, the problem is, it’s not an investment into the intern, because internships last for 4 months on average. Companies train employees because the goal is to keep them with the company for years to come. That investment in training isn’t cheap, but it pays off over the long term. The investment in an intern does not. This is why paid internships don’t provide as much learning as an unpaid.

            Also, if the company that was providing the unpaid internship which was better, was forced to now pay for that same internship, do you think that internship opportunity would be the same and still available? This is the question that must be asked.

        • e1224863

          “Are you suggesting then that companies should provide pay to these interns as welfare?” What world do you live in that getting paid for your job is welfare?

          • http://jacobt.com Jacob Thomason

            Well, it’s an internship, not a job. Maybe I look at an internship different from you. But I consider an internship a learning experience, not a job. People pay schools for a learning experience; just saying.

            But I’d consider this topic a circumstantial matter. It depends on what the internship is, the length of it, and the intern.

          • http://twitter.com/Super_Sachiko Jasmine Clark

            schools are COMPLETELY DIFFERENT from internships. in school you just do boring busy work that does not contribute to a company, it just gets you a grade and a GPA, and a piece of paper at the end. in an internship you actually contribute to the company and you are important. an internship IS like a job.

          • http://jacobt.com Jacob Thomason


    • mrcead

      Canada doesn’t seem to have a problem paying interns nor do most European countries. So the question is, why are American companies so inclined to not feel the need to pay interns for their time? Please answer this. The article is one sided because this is the reality of one sided internships. Students have no leverage whatsoever and have to be financially able to afford an unpaid internship hence the entire reason the article was written.

      • http://jacobt.com Jacob Thomason

        I honestly can’t speak to Canada or European situations as I’m not privy to the cultural differences. The school situation, for one, is quite different, and my guess is that this would have an effect on the intern market. I also don’t know the status on interns in these countries and what the ratios are per enrolled student. I would think this also would have an effect.

        And lastly, I’d just apply this back to standard economics of supply and demand. If demand was high enough for interns, every business would be paying.

        • http://www.jonchiehlau.com Jonathan Lau

          I’d like to point out that minimum wage laws mandate that you pay employees no matter what the supply and demand is.

          • http://jacobt.com Jacob Thomason

            So, let’s make a law that says all interns have to be paid minimum wage. Let’s see how well the internship programs and market works with that in place.

            Maybe it works better. Maybe no one hires interns for any positions where they’ll learn. Last I recall, freshly graduated students still have a hard time getting a job (paid).

          • http://www.jonchiehlau.com Jonathan Lau

            Minimum wage laws cover internships. They just aren’t being enforced.

            Laws such as the FLSA and OSHA serve to protect workers so that employers can’t take advantage of employees even if the economic conditions make it possible.

          • http://jacobt.com Jacob Thomason

            So let’s enforce them and see how it all works out.

    • http://www.facebook.com/jsaxon1 Jasmine Nichole Saxon

      In addition, the federal statute specified by the USDOL is if they contribute to the bottom line of the organization they are required to be paid. There is no exceptions. However, there are organizations that will work their interns for 40 hours a week over the summer and not pay anything. That is illegal and unethical. Internships are necessary to have a successful experience in college. I’ve been on the recruitment end and the ones who come out of college with no experience, including internship experience are ignored.

    • Jason McKahan

      Absolutely. And as a faculty member, I do fear that the end result of this trend will be a diminishing number of workplaces willing to host interns and the decline of experience opportunities for students. When I was an undergrad, my internship was unpaid, but the valuable
      learning experience was priceless and couldn’t be more worth it.

  • Jose Janillo

    This article is sloppy and misleading. The “sources” of the facts are questionable at best and it does not touch on internships at nonprofits, which are approved by the US Department of Labor. There is no question that some for-profits take advantage of interns, just as they take advantage of their employees, their clients, the government, etc. So this is news? The intern who sued the Hearst publications over her internship did the right thing. These articles are foolish though that make all unpaid internships evil. I work with several people who got their jobs through unpaid internships and would do it again in a minute. They asked up front – will this lead to a job? The company said, “highly doubtful” and they took the unpaid internship anyway to get experience. These are not interns who will whine about how unfair it is. Doing well in an unpaid internship is far more impressive than some kid who basks in a lifeguard chair all summer long getting paid.

    • andrewmaguire

      The scope of my article is limited to for-profits, although I think another post around the complexities of non-profit internships makes a lot of sense.

      Do you take specific issue with the sources, or is that just a blanket statement meant to discredit the article? Intern Bridge, the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), Ross Perlin, and Experience are traditionally credited within College Recruiting as supplying some of the most accurate and comprehensive data on these issues.

      Your last comment reinforces the main point of the article. “Doing an unpaid internship is far more impressive than some kid who basks in a lifeguard chair…” Exactly – so if only students with the money to work for free can take the “impressive” track, then we’ve created a system that rewards existing economic position rather than merit.

    • http://www.facebook.com/jsaxon1 Jasmine Nichole Saxon

      Just because an intern did well and received a job offer after completing the internship, does not necessarily make it legal. The following guidelines are designated by the DOL for unpaid internships. The one I have highlighted is the main reason most internships in this country are operating illegally. Organizations cannot receive any immediate benefits from the intern and may actually lose money from having interns. The DOL says it should be similar to a classroom experience.

      The Test For Unpaid Interns

      There are some circumstances under which individuals who participate in “for-profit” private sector internships or training programs may do so without compensation. The Supreme Court has held that the term “suffer or permit to work” cannot be interpreted so as to make a person whose work serves only his or her own interest an employee of another who provides aid or instruction. This may apply to interns who receive training for their own educational benefit if the training meets certain criteria. The determination of whether an internship or training program meets this exclusion depends upon all of the facts and circumstances of each such program.

      The following six criteria must be applied when making this determination:

      The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;

      The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;

      The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;

      ******The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;********

      The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and

      The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.

      If all of the factors listed above are met, an employment relationship does not exist under the FLSA, and the Act’s minimum wage and overtime provisions do not apply to the intern. This exclusion from the definition of employment is necessarily quite narrow because the FLSA’s definition of “employ” is very broad. Some of the most commonly discussed factors for “for-profit” private sector internship programs are considered below.

  • MagniHarvald

    I didn’t think I would see people defending unpaid internships. If you’re shadowing someone and you don’t get paid, that’s fine. But if you’re contributing to a for-profit company, even if it is for only four months, then it’s illegal and unethical on the company’s part not to pay you. I don’t see how that point is debatable: if you work you get paid, what’s the issue?

    • Elijajuan Fisher

      I agree! Make up your mind, and come to the decision to paying all your workers including the interns as well.

  • Katie

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! This needs to be talked about more.

    • andrewmaguire

      I agree! We’re going to work to continue the conversation beyond this post.

  • brigetteiarrusso@gmail.com

    While I undertand the complexity of the topic, it really complicates things for international students. International students are on F-1 Visas, and as such, are bound by constraints of their visa status. They CANNOT receive ANY compensation for internships. However, in spite of this, most students are desperate for the international work experience on their resume. This emphasis on internships being paid, and the legality of it, has given many employers cold feet about offering unpaid internships to international students. This really impacts their stay here and the benefit they gain from work experience as part of their studies. It is a challenging issue across the board.

    • andrewmaguire

      Really good idea for a follow up post, thanks!

    • MagniHarvald

      Are you talking about students pursuing full degrees in the US? I ask this because I have quite a few non-citizen friends who came to the US for a semester on a J-1, not an F-1, and they were all paid for their internships.

  • Zuzana Zu

    What solution do you propose then for very small starting businesses who perhaps are not even profitable yet, but do need help with some part of a business? Should they (and their potential interns) be excluded from the potentially mutually beneficial internship programme? I do not see why a fully informed intern should not be allowed to choose to work for free in this case, when perhaps they are very passionate about what the company is doing.

    • andrewmaguire

      This is a difficult edge case. At InternMatch, we hired and paid interns back when we had only $100,000 of total capitalization. We found that the right interns were deeply committed, thankful for the compensation, and it was well worth the money. They helped us build the business. I would recommend being thoughtful about what metrics the interns are responsible for, they drive real business value and make sure that after a short ramp up period they are delivering in a meaningful way.

    • Robin Lee

      I think that for-profits looking for help in small, start-up companies need to hire teams of MBA or related grad students to conduct business/classroom case studies or similar modules for the company that could be used as a classroom assignment or project. We need to get away from this liberal use of the term “internship” and put the focus on hands-on experiential learning that benefits students, first, and the companies, second.

    • mrcead

      But the point of an internship is not to displace a wage earning worker. The intern cannot contribute in a significant way for the business – this is the law. Your interns cannot be fully responsible for end products for a business and this rule is broken many times over, especially by startups. If they contribute to the degree of a paid worker then they should be paid like an employee.

  • Maciek Biskupiak
    • andrewmaguire

      If you have raised funding as a startup, you can afford to pay an intern minimum wage.

    • http://twitter.com/Super_Sachiko Jasmine Clark

      if they don’t have the resources to pay their interns then why take interns? why not do that work themselves? if they don’t want to do that work themselves, and they are going to bring in someone else to do work, then they should be paid. or call it what it is: “volunteer work.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/david.litwak David Litwak

    We have had unpaid interns before, as have a lot of companies I know. The difference is you can’t find CODERS to be unpaid interns. Every person whose trying to break in to marketing, social media and PR etc., we have no real use for them right now.

    I wouldn’t be hiring a PR or Marketing person otherwise, it isn’t necessary. Numerous times friends of friends have asked for an internship, I’ve said we aren’t ready to hire in that position yet, and they have offered to work for free, for experience, or for college credit.

    The better way of alleviating this is to have a skillset that not everyone else has, that any college graduate can’t duplicate.

    I agree that it discriminates against people who don’t have rich parents who can sponsor them working for free, but as long as the rules are the way they are, i.e., not really enforced, you can’t blame founders and startups from employing unpaid interns.

    • andrewmaguire

      I really disagree with the last statement here. Just because you can get away with something doesn’t mean it’s the ethical path and therefore should be shielded from criticism.

      I do agree that differentiating your skill set as a student makes a lot of sense. A strong engineer is going to have very little trouble landing a highly rewarding and well paying internship, particularly in a technology hub.

  • KevinHolmesFN

    Andrew, thanks for taking a strong and really well articulated stance on unpaid internships. Clearly, your are providing much needed leadership and advocacy for the countless unpaid interns out there. You’ve been a leader in http://www.foundersnetwork.com on this issue as well and I’m curious what you advise for startups in particular. Many startups (aka unintentional non-profits) leverage unpaid internships as a way to get more stuff done off the never ending to do list of launching a new venture. In this context the founding team is also working for free as well. Do you advise startups to forgo interns until they can pay themselves? Is there a rationale for compensating unskilled labor vs. paying yourself? Do you see any grey area in the startup context and if so, what principles should startup founders apply in deciding the right policy? Thanks again!

    • Joshua Hennen

      I agree with your line of questioning. Profitable organizations that rely on interns to do their heavy lifting (think financial firms, especially) are the worst culprits here

  • Arian

    I’m a student and I’m having this issue as well.. Many small companies want to use me as a slave… They don’t teach you much either. I’m a marketing major.

  • Mark Monroe

    The goal has always been
    that you compensate a person for their time. Time can always be
    equivalent to money. It doesn’t make any sense to bring someone in, have
    them bust their tail to create or work on bettering something and yet
    they don’t get paid. If you are good at something it shouldn’t come
    free. To me that exposes the culture and ethics of a company. Not only
    how they treat employees but also its interns. The goal of a
    founder/entrepreneur is the sense that we get to create our own great
    businesses and or products and create opportunities for others. Interns
    today, bring in not only fresh ideas that support the founders but also
    they also many times your greatest ambassadors. What message are we
    sending when we don’t pay them and force them to find another job
    outside of this internship so they can support themselves and the
    companies they works for free? It would be the same as Being the
    entrepreneur that works hard to create a product that is suppose to sell
    but everyone takes from you for free yet you are spending the money to
    create. You’ll go out of business because you’re just burning cash. It’s
    the same philosophy in having working interns. In short, Pay Them!

    • andrewmaguire

      Agree 100%

  • Jeremy McCarthy

    I’m confused. On the one hand you claim internships are the gateway to employment and that unpaid internships discriminate in favor of people who can afford to work for free and gain an advantage. Then on the other hand you site a statistic claiming the experience is essentially worthless compared to students who didn’t have an internship. So which is it? If the “worthless” claim is accurate, then there is no advantage. If that statistic is questionable, then your solution will actually make all students worse off. The vast majority of companies currently hiring unpaid interns will opt to hire zero interns if they are forced to pay them. That’s not a guess. It’s basic economics.

    While some large companies certainly exploit free labor with unpaid internships, the vast majority are unpaid because companies can’t justify an expense for hiring an untrained, inexperienced, non-technical person for 2-4 months who will need lots of hand-holding and attention from current staff. Forcing these companies to pay people will not solve the problem. It will only eliminate the majority of unpaid internships.

    While I think this article is well-intentioned, be careful what you wish for. In a soft labor market, the law of unintended consequences will accomplish the exact opposite of your intended goal. Fewer opportunities. More competition driving down wages for paid internships. All internships gravitating to male dominated roles in engineering or other technical areas where compensation can be justified as a recruiting tool, while softer skill internships where more women gravitate (according to the research you cited) will disappear.

    I’d also be cautious throwing around words like “discrimination” to describe basic economic realities. The term within the context of employment implies that someone has been treated unfairly simply because of their gender. You’ve offered up no evidence to prove that women are offered more unpaid internships simply because they are not men. If men with similar qualifications in those industries were getting more paid internships than women for the exact same work, then you might have an argument.

    • andrewmaguire

      The solution is for unpaid internship programs to become paid. If we lose a few of them in the process, so be it. Internships are fantastic opportunities to learn, network, find a job, and create real world value. You’re right that students should think hard before doing an unpaid internship, given the fact that it won’t significantly increase the chances that they’ll land a job.

      Most of the companies we see that do not pay interns could easily afford to pay their interns, so I disagree that the opportunities would disappear.

      Yes, in a completely free market scenario supply and demand imbalance can drive down wages. That’s why we have minimum wage laws that regulate company behavior, otherwise I’m sure many workers would make far less because they would have no choice. The same regulations should apply to interns.

      Let me connect the dots on the discrimination issue. Women self-selecting into industries where they are less likely to be paid is not discrimination and I didn’t say it was discrimination in the post. My point related to discrimination is that unpaid interns do not have the same legal protections against discrimination as employees. This is a basic issue for every unpaid intern. If I work 40 hours a week and cannot take legal action against my boss for discrimination or harassment because I’m an unpaid intern instead of an employee, that poses a serious issue.

      The direct implication is that discrimination is a bigger problem for women, because they are significantly less likely to engage in an unpaid internship and therefore less likely to enjoy the basic employment rights that workers have earned in society.

      • Jeremy McCarthy

        1. Isn’t the solution really just for the state and federal government to enforce existing law? I’d say easily 90% of unpaid internships don’t qualify under state and federal laws to be unpaid. I will have to disagree with you on the number of unpaid internships that will disappear though. Just because a company can “afford” to pay an intern, doesn’t mean they will choose to do so when the cost was previously zero. As I said, basic economics. If something costs more, there is less demand. I would estimate greater than 70% of unpaid internships would disappear overnight if companies were forced to pay minimum wage. Companies just can’t justify spending money for non-technical interns. They are a nice-to-have, not an essential part of the business. Especially in a soft economy. The fact that the vast majority of these unpaid internships don’t result in job offers only proves that there really isn’t a demand for a paid role in those functional areas in the first place.

        2. Your first comment on discrimination was “Discrimination is a huge issue with unpaid internships as well. Did you know that women are 77% more likely to complete an unpaid internship? Wow. This happens in part because women are more commonly employed in industries that focus on environment, social justice, PR and entertainment, which are exclusive and highly coveted. Without any meaningful legal enforcement, women oriented industries are so competitive that the market drives the price to zero. In contrast, traditionally male dominated career paths such as software engineering are among the highest paid internship opportunities anywhere, with interns at Microsoft, Google, and Facebook earning well over $10,000 for a summer of rewarding on-the-job education. In 2013, the United States is still a society where the average woman earns 80 cents to the average man’s dollar. The disproportionate rate of unpaid internships for women is pushing us further from the equal society that most of us desire.”

        That doesn’t say anything about lack of protection from harassment or discrimination laws. It implies an unfair treatment of women based on a comparison with male software engineers at Google and Facebook. If discrimination or sexual harassment of unpaid female interns is a real problem, that is easily remedied by passing state or federal laws to protect them regardless of compensation. Maybe you should have used the word “inequality” to start that paragraph instead. But I still don’t see how unpaid internships promote inequality either. Is a forced minimum wage really any different than $10,000 vs. zero? You’re basically implying that people should be paid the same amount for completely different jobs with vastly different skill requirements.

        3. I’m still confused about how you really feel about unpaid internships and their true value. If they really don’t have value, then wouldn’t it make more sense to just run a campaign to better educate students that they are wasting their time? Then if they choose to work for free when they have been told they won’t gain any value, it’s really their own choosing. And if students really do instead gain a significant advantage through an unpaid internship, doesn’t that at least demonstrate the company is providing a great deal of value to the student even if it isn’t monetary?

        Andrew, my point is really that this is a much more complex situation than just an unfair labor practice. I didn’t make any judgements about the fairness or morality of unpaid internships. Just be aware that in your quest for fairness you could unintentionally end up hurting the people you’re trying to help.

        • http://www.facebook.com/jsaxon1 Jasmine Nichole Saxon

          Exactly my point! Most internships do not meet the qualifications to be an unpaid internship! They are breaking the law.

        • http://jacobt.com Jacob Thomason

          Well said Jeremy

          • Dragon Azteca

            I think Mark Monroe nailed it in the head: “If you are good at something it shouldn’t come free. To me that exposes the culture and ethics of a company. Not only how they treat interns but also its employees. The goal of a entrepreneur is the sense that we get to create our own great businesses and products, while creating opportunities for growth and opportunities for others. Interns today, bring in not only fresh ideas that support the founders but also they also many times your greatest ambassadors. What message are we sending when we don’t pay them?” I personally say: to hell with companies that don’t want to pay a contributing intern who adds value to the company. ->Why would you want to work for those types of companies in the first place? America is the land of opportunity; not of exploitation!

    • Dragon Azteca

      I think Jeremy McCarthy is undermining and discrediting all of the hard work and effort of going through and completing college requires. I, personally would never work for free, even if it was to gain experience, but I have experienced myself, how effectively hungry and hard-working recent college graduates are, and some very smart. End point, if they contribute, they should get paid, and even more than minimum which is ridiculously low pay.

  • http://twitter.com/SugarSpiceStuds Yanamos

    This whole argument about unpaid internships being fair game just because the student gets experience in return is not valid and makes no sense. It almost adds up to the fact that you are working an unpaid internship because you get experience (and not a paycheck) in return. The irony? No one stops getting experience once they start getting a paycheck? Just because it has a different title, doesn’t change what you are doing as an intern – providing labor. I’ve worked an unpaid internship for two months and contributed to the company significantly during a very busy time, because they were just about to really launch to their professional audience. I also have to add, that my responsibilities were not that drastically different from those of the people working there for money. It was an ok deal for me at the time just to get something on my resume, because I had the convenience of campus accommodations for the winter break, but when someone does this for an entire summer or, even worse, longer than that, there should be no question about why it’s illegal and unethical! Now this is more common practice in the US, and since I am from Europe, I might be a little more outraged by this practice than the general public here, but don’t you realize that this also means that your labor laws do not provide you with much protection?! And this is just the beginning of someone’s career we’re talking about!

    • andrewmaguire

      Thanks for sharing your experience. We see unpaid interns all the time displacing full time work.

  • http://twitter.com/Super_Sachiko Jasmine Clark

    i agree… an unpaid internship is like volunteer work with a different name. if you’re not paying me, i am volunteering. interns help a company out so why aren’t they paying us? yet at the same time, i HAVE done unpaid internships… because i and many other college students are desperate for an internship because that’s what employers want. we can’t just say “i’ll only do a paid internship” because we may not get an internship at all if we narrow our options down too much. so we have to be open to unpaid internships. it’s sad.

  • Vivian Li

    I know you list unpaid internships on your website, so what are you doing to help advance the future you describe? Companies will still take advantage of us students as the party with weaker bargaining power in the situation, so companies like InternMatch need to signal through not accepting unpaid internship listings that it’s not acceptable. How can you speak out against unpaid internships and still connect companies to students who feel like they need to compromise this right to be adequately compensated (not necessarily with money, though I believe so) for their work? Are you working on something to help this cause that I might be unaware of? I would really like to know and am not just attacking you.

    • andrewmaguire

      Vivan, you’re asking a totally fair question. The first step is this article, which is the beginning of our substantive approach to advocacy.

      We’ve thought hard about the question of unpaid internships being listed on InternMatch and have decided that instead of turning away employers and having them go elsewhere, we’d like to engage in a series of steps that educate employers on the benefits of doing a paid program, how to switch, and even create market incentives to encourage them to do so. The idea here is to encourage behavior change. These are early steps, but I think they are important.

      More information and detail in this post: http://employerblog.internmatch.com/a-call-to-end-unpaid-internships/

  • http://twitter.com/matthewnovick Matt Novick

    There’s this attitude that interns need to pay their dues. Organizations that can’t at least pay minimum wage aren’t trying to do interns a favor, they are just too lazy to make the numbers work.

  • Dylan

    There has to be a way for interns and employees to meet in the middle. Hiring and training workers is usually the most costly time period for employers so a compromise has to be made. It’s ridiculous major companies like fox can’t pay interns at least minimum wage, but for most companies there has to be a separate intern minimum wage for students currently enrolled in a university. I worked an internship last summer 50+ hours a week unpaid and I would have been happy to have received $1 an hour. Without this internship I wouldn’t have landed a paid internship this summer, so the experience was definitely worth it. I don’t feel employers are currently being unethical by offering unpaid internships because most of them really do want to help student grow but can’t afford it. Unpaid internships aren’t hurting the economy, the minimum wage is just set too high for employers to see the benefit of taking on and training new workers.

  • Sarah Harper

    Agreed. I worked an unpaid internship last summer and it was honestly kind of a bummer experience. I came to learn that when an employer pays an intern, they’re investing in their performance. When they don’t? They’re afraid to ask you to do too much and there’s a lot of hand-wringing. You can smell the guilt.

    What I’m curious about is the semi-paid internship. What’s the deal with tiny stipends? I’m interested in reading about the ethics of those.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Tasha-Richards-Mobasher/710978883 Tasha Richards-Mobasher

    I love that this article is thought provoking and encourages the must needed dialogue to create a system that is more fair for both sides. I can personally speak for myself that I am a working mother/wife and I’ve had to pass on unpaid internships that could prove a significant amount of opportunity, but there is no way I could go 4months with no pay. I feel these unpaid internships are absolutely only available to certain demographics or those that have “other sources” of income (parents,trust funds). For those of you that have worked unpaid internships I would challenge you to let us know how financially you were able to pay your bills!!! That is the point of this article. Think of those that don’t have “other sources” on creates discrimination from the very start.
    But that being said, I also am friends with many start up companies and they utilize unpaid internships (marketing, web design, creative talents) because their budgets are constrained. Interns provide a huge benefit with them. So it’s a complex issue. Maybe certain size companies should be obligated to pay?

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  • http://www.facebook.com/kyle.vernor Kyle Vernor

    I’m in my third unpaid internship (in New York City, nonetheless) and it has only increased my stress level, as I have no regular income. With the costs of living in the city, I only spend my money on food and transportation and I still feel the strain every month. My bank account is almost completely depleted, and I find myself having to rely on my parents more and more (something which I am grateful for, but wish I didn’t have to do). Although I have made several notable connections and learned a lot from my internships, I have a hard time saying that it was worth it.

    Now, as a senior graduating in May, I have three very reputable companies on my resume and it has hardly helped at all. This is the most frustrating part to me. If I am dedicating my time and energy for absolutely no pay, I find myself looking forward to a retribution. Hopefully, I’ll find that soon.

    • http://www.facebook.com/kyle.vernor Kyle Vernor

      Also, interns are expected to pay for the credits that they need to intern. Therefore, students are actually paying to intern for companies while getting no monetary return.

      • andrewmaguire

        That’s a very good point. There is a deeper issue here as well. Colleges have no costs associated with giving credit for an unpaid internship (vs. cost of instruction); therefore, it’s financially advantageous for them to support unpaid internships.

  • http://twitter.com/toddx Todd X.

    The socio-economic factors involved in unpaid internships also need to be called out. Besides the obviously unethical approach of for-profit companies deriving value from free labor aka “interns,” there is the hard reality that only people with support systems like upper-middle class families who subsidize their post-bac work education can afford to take unpaid internships. This perpetuates the imbalance between the haves and the have-nots. How can we expect students to be upwardly mobile, noting that internship experience may be more valuable than GPA, when they are effectively shut out of gaining this experience due to economic circumstances? It is, as I said, unethical. Pay people for their work. It’s just that simple.

    • andrewmaguire

      Exactly. We need to be thoughtful about whether or not we’re creating a system that will perpetuate the considerable inequality that characterizes our society.

  • Getajobwithtom

    Internships are a great way of getting a job… Half of getting a good job is being in the right place at the right time….

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  • Jordan Vera Burg

    So many good comments here! I tend to support the unpaid internship side. As a professional who has overseen interns many times, I can say it is definitely a ‘learning experience’ for the intern and a ‘teaching experience’ for me. I usually have to stop what I’m doing and explain things to the intern or walk him or her through what’s happening… and it’s my pleasure. I see new professional minds blooming right in front of me, and it’s wonderful to give them real world examples of this or that and watch them learn. But having interns hasn’t been especially valuable to me; it’s been a duty I’ve been happy to fulfill for the next generation of students. I know that interns within different companies do differing amounts of work. But when an intern comes in, just as they’d enter a classroom, they’re definitely gaining something of value. In fact, most interns receive college credits for interships. If someone told them to report to class at Acme Corporation and they’d receive 3 credits, none of them would then ask to also be paid.
    I think some of you are thinking of “paid internships” as what I’d think of as “entry-level positions” — entry levels require some amount of handholding, and the employee may know little about the day to day aspects of the job. He or she is trained, paid and performs a service for an undetermined period of time. Interns are not the same. Interns are apprentices, learning a skill from the masters in their field.

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  • Joshua Hennen

    I agree that this is the future of internships, however… just because you say “for profit” doesn’t mean that the company is making a profit. Many small for-profit businesses do not make a profit and operate at a loss, especially in the early days of a business and many of them are performing socially meaningful work. In quite a few cases, the employees and owner(s) are themselves putting in some form of “sweat equity” hoping for future rewards. So in this environment, interns are more likely to be involved in something meaningful and exciting with the hopes that they will prove their worth during the internship and if the company can, hire them on at the end of their internship. That is the real contract, as I see it. But if payment is REQUIRED, then that will encourage such companies to use experienced contractors on an ad-hoc basis instead of inexperienced interns. How does that benefit interns? And would such businesses be sinister for making that calculation?

  • http://curvysocialite.wordpress.com/ The Curvy Socialite

    As a small business (I’m the only employee) that got caught up in this mess but trying to do the right thing by paying a stipend to my said intern who worked less than 10 hours a week with me, I got hit by the state for unemployment insurance and workman’s comp (even though the intern worked off site) to a tune of almost $80K because once the intern made over $600 she was considered a full employee of the company. Dealing with the legal bills trying to correct this situation nearly bankrupted the company as it took almost 2 years to correct. So though I get that interns should be paid (and as I said I paid mine at the time) there needs to be definitions for companies as to what an intern is and what an employee is. Since my experience I never have worked with an intern again though i am routinely asked by schools in the area to do so. One shouldn’t be penalized for trying to do right.