Hey, you! Yeah, you – the student nearing the end of your college career with a sparkle in your eye, ambition in your heart and reality right around the corner.
You’re looking for a chance to break into your chosen field, right? You need the connections. You also need the experience. The best thing you can go for is an internship, regardless of pay, right?
You’ll be working alongside professionals doing what you hope to do one day and get a sense of what your future environment may be. So what if you aren’t getting paid, it’s the experience that matters!
This is what you typically hear from companies offering internships to eager college students or recent graduates.
But let’s look at the criteria for an unpaid internship. According to the U.S. Wage and Hour Divisions of the Department of Labor, there are six criteria for internship programs:
1. 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
2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern
3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff
4. 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
5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship
6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.
That doesn’t sound so bad. It sounds to me like interns have the opportunity to observe professionals as they work but what will they be doing if they can’t do anything their employer will benefit from?
Maybe go on coffee and lunch runs? Then why should the student even bother spending so much time in that office if they can’t even be productive?
Stephanie Martin, 22, senior marketing major, is an unpaid cause-related marketing intern for Power 106 and some of her responsibilities include assisting in finding contact information for possible sponsors to host events that will raise awareness for a particular cause.
She believes that it is important to take on internships in order to give the student an insight into the business and realize if whether or not that career is right for them.
“I think it’s fine that it is unpaid, as long as they have a good program and that the student is actually learning something,” Martin said.
Although Martin seems to be benefiting from the internship, it sounds to me like her employer is totally benefiting from her work, so shouldn’t she be paid?
The Unpaid Interns Lawsuit is an entire website dedicated to filing lawsuits against NBCUniversal, Conde Nast, the Hearst Corporation and Fox Searchlight. These complaints were submitted by past interns who felt all their work and hours deserved compensation.
“The practice of classifying employees as ‘interns’ to avoid paying wages runs afoul of federal and state wage and hour laws, which require employers to pay all workers whom they ‘suffer or permit’ the minimum wage and overtime,” the Unpaid Interns Lawsuit website states.
If results are what these large corporations are looking for, then paid internships is what they should be offering. Interns should not be taken advantage of simply because they are students.
Many students will take the unpaid internship over no internship and do the work because they want that experience to fill up their resume.
Besides, these corporations are big enough to pay interns decent wages for their work. It’s not like they desperately need the free labor in order to keep their business afloat.
According to a National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) student survey, among 2013 graduates who had applied for a job, those who took part in paid internships enjoyed an advantage over students who took an unpaid internship or none at all.
The results of NACE’s survey revealed that about 63 percent of paid interns received at least one job offer compared to only 37 percent of unpaid interns or 35 percent for those with no internship experience.
The starting salary also varied, with paid interns receiving $51,930 after graduation compared to $35,721 for unpaid interns and $37,087 for grads with no internship experience.
In the end, an unpaid internship may not be the best route. It may lead to making connections but it can also lead to being taken advantage of, long hours, with no promise of a job offer.
The best thing would be to find a paid internship, one where you will be allowed to work alongside professionals and receive constructive criticism based on that work.
We may be college students trying to break into our field but that does not make us any less deserving of a fair working experience that will ultimately benefit us in our future endeavors.