Are Unpaid Internships Worth it?

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Lawsuits are in vogue this summer as unpaid interns go after their former employers. Hearst, Conde Nast, and even Gawker are feeling the heat as disgruntled former interns take them to court.
As a recent graduate who used paid and unpaid internships to garner experience and help figure out a career path, I was taken aback by the recent slew of suits. When I was a rising sophomore I started my first unpaid internship at a government relations office Washington, DC. The experience gained and relationships made were worth far more to me than the paycheck I could have made at a normal summer job. My first internship served as a springboard to many other internships - paid and unpaid - that eventually led to the career path I'm on now. The diversity of the internships I completed helped shape my professional skill set and prepared me to compete in an over-saturated job market.
As our modern economy gets more challenging and complex, unpaid internships are an integral part of preparing for the current job market.
As Forbes recently noted, the Supreme Court established nearly six decades ago in Walling vs. Portland Terminal Co. that unpaid internships are legal and exempt from minimum wage laws as long as six conditions are met. These conditions heavily emphasize that the internship is to the benefit of the intern, not the employer. Thus, so long as the intern is aware of, and agrees to, the fact that his internship is unpaid, and the employer approaches the internship with the intention of training the intern rather than just receiving output from him or her, the internship is lawful.
The most important point is that unpaid internships are voluntary, and if an intern feels that the training isn't worth their time, they are free to leave. The inherent frivolity of these lawsuits is that these interns willingly chose to take an unpaid position to further their careers. By trying to extract damages from employers who generously provided a learning experience, they threaten a system that's created opportunities for thousands of students and recent graduates.
Internships also serve as helpful evaluative periods for employers. During a period of supervised training, an employer can evaluate an intern's professionalism, skill set, and ability to work collaboratively. Characteristics like these are difficult to glean from a resume or interview alone. Internships, therefore, are a low-risk method of giving a potential new hire a more thorough look. Even with entry-level jobs, recruiters prefer tried and tested applicants over a fresh graduate with only a degree.
Unfortunately, in today's fragile economy, the alternative to an unpaid internship is often unemployment, and being unemployed at a young age can have reverberating costs for decades to come.
The most troubling facet of the recent lawsuits isn't the misguided complaints of a few dissatisfied interns, but rather that they could ruin this avenue of opportunity for other aspiring young professionals. Despite the legal outcomes of these cases, the media attention surrounding this issue will surely have ramifications for how companies handle their internship programs - or if they'll even have them at all.
This probably won't be the end for unpaid internships, but they will certainly dry up in many instances - hurting the young people that need them the most.
Source- globalpublicsquare.blogs.cnn

Comments (19)

Apr 28, 2016

Did an internship my sophomore summer and it was absolutely instrumental in my development and would not have been able to get my subsequent internship (which I was very, very grateful for and is a good landing spot) without it.

Absolutely worth it and I don't see how unpaid interns can complain when they know what they were getting into.

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May 5, 2016

I did a part-time unpaid internship during my Junior year at a small private equity shop and it was well worth it. Having private equity experience on my resume made it much easier in terms of recruiting and I gained valuable analyst experience. Coming from a non-target school I was hungry for any experience I could get, so I never thought twice about the pay or stigma surrounding unpaid internships. At the time, I valued the experience more than the money, which I knew would eventually come down the road.

Ultimately, I think it depends on the individual's situation, but to me the thought of lawsuits surrounding unpaid internships is ridiculous. As long as the applicant understands what they are applying for I don't see how it is a problem, because the decision is completely in his/her control.

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May 18, 2016

It depends on your industry and your age.

Most internships in government, arts, and nonprofit sectors are unpaid but in most businesses the better the opportunity the more you are paid.

By junior year summer most successful people I knew left their unpaid opps for paid ones.

Jun 5, 2016

In my experience, unpaid internships are a great way to get experience. The relationship between you and your boss is much more of that of a mentor. As you are providing work for him/her but in return, he provides guidance and knowledge. At least that is the expectation.

Paid internships require more commitment as your time is on the company's dime and in some cases, the employer doesn't care if you learn anything as they are paying you already.

Those are my two cents.

Sep 7, 2017

I have recently completed my unpaid internship and what ? it was a great experience i have got. Many of us thinks that Unpaid Internship Good or not? But sometimes money isn't everything , you have to look for output also which you will get from unpaid internship. I have got good practical knowledge on market research and customer dealing so it absolutely worth for me.

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Sep 7, 2017

Internships stating that they are unpaid are 100% legal, and companies do not have to pay interns because if it was clearly stated in the job description.

I have done an unpaid internship and it was how I got my first finance position, it was at a small search fund. Personally, I was able to grow, develop a basic skill set, and felt that the managing partner was a huge mentor. Not getting paid sucks, no two ways about it. However, I improved my resume, knew that I was on the right path and wanted to continue in IB/PE, and had a great time. I chose to focus on the positives and counted myself lucky for even getting the position.

Sep 13, 2017

I am strongly against unpaid internships because it allows "rich" (relatively) people get ahead of poorer people who may have equal talents. Consider Steve Rich and Joe Poor: Steve can take an unpaid internship and gain the experience necessary to get a leg up in the competition whereas Joe is very poor and can barely afford to help his family make ends meet while going through college, let alone not be able to hold a job over the summer to help out. While unpaid internships would be good in a hypothetical world, there is some inherent discrimination against poorer people who may be of equal ability.

Sep 13, 2017

I think Unpaid internship are great for those who would not normally qualify for paid internships to prove themselves and learn. You always have the options of saying no.

I did an internship for a top 5 bank and they paid interns more than many companies pay their full time employees because they wanted to attract the best talent.

Sep 13, 2017


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Sep 13, 2017

It very much depends on the industry and the specific position. I think people tend to lump all "unpaid internships" as one broad category, but if you think about it, an unpaid internship at a boutique bank where you're doing work that a full-time analyst is doing is much more meaningful than an unpaid internship where you're doing nothing but updating the company's Twitter and Facebook page.

Regardless of the industry though, if my option was choosing between an unpaid internship or unemployment, I would choose the internship every time.

Sep 13, 2017

Coming from a non-target, my first internship after sophomore year was an unpaid internship with a healthcare startup. It was technically a 'marketing strategy' internship, but the principals and manager were all top MBAs and had excellent connections - my manager was formerly an MD in IB, other principals were high up in VC, F100, etc. So I took the position managed to get them to let me do more analysis stuff and it worked out pretty well, I'm glad I did it. Even though all the commuting and working for free was not particularly fun.

Sep 13, 2017

I do not know anyone who had success going this route. Search on internet sites refered on this site and you will find relevant material regarding this

Sep 13, 2017

I guess you have a good point. I was just trying to see if there were any other firms out there besides the ones I had mentioned that actually did offer such a service. I figured it was too good to be true but if you hear anything let me know.

Sep 13, 2017

"How much" is the impossible question to answer. Nobody can quantify that for you (I guess it's the engineer thinking). You can use your position to meet people, potentially be invited to events, and perhaps learn about finance. Worst case, it's a cold-calling only position and you wind up with an extra 4 lines on your resume.

So to be completely frank, "how much" it can help is completely up to you. I do suggest, if you can pull off high marks in your courses while working the paid engineering gig, that you take the position to see how it goes.

Sep 13, 2017

Do you touch upon Excel in your engineering role? Any analytics involved? If it is a respectable engineering firm (brand name, international), I would highly recommend doing that instead.

I had a couple of friends doing the RBC dominion role and didn't find it too helpful. But with that said, if the engineering firm is small, then I'd take the RBC experience for the brand name.

Sep 13, 2017