Unpaid Internship - How much is too much?

Jordan622's picture
Rank: Chimp | 15

Last September I landed an unpaid internship with a big commercial real estate firm. I was working with their brokers doing property pro formas/ database, lease abstracting, etc.

I worked roughly 15-20 hours a week for them. However, in May this group of brokers left the firm to start their own full-service firm.

They asked me to come with them. I saw this as a great opportunity and accepted. They told me that once they started closing transactions they would start paying me, but until they had some cash flow I would be unpaid.

I am currently working 30 hours a week for them UNPAID. I just graduated and have not been able to find many companies hiring in CRE. They keep telling me they want to talk to me about being a full-time employee and how I need to get my Salespersons license so I can start showing properties etc but I am still not being paid.

I guess you can call me an optimist, as I believe all this slave work I do for them will eventually pay off. But am I fooling myself? Am I just being used? I see this is a great opportunity to get into the industry, climb the ladder fast, etc but maybe I am kidding myself.

Should I just lay down the law with them and tell them I need a paying job ASAP or I am out or suck it up another month or two until they decide to finally start paying me?

Unpaid Internships - Worth it?

Unpaid internships can be seen as a necessary evil. Especially in highly competitive industries like commercial real estate and high finance. Pursue these opportunities if you can't get your foot in the door any other way.

Working the internship can be worth the sacrifice in pay for relevant skills, a deeper network, and an improved resume.

However, there are some firms that offer unpaid internships with limited benefit. These firms abuse the system of unpaid labor. Usually, this involves misleading the intern about the job they are doing and it's relevance to their future career.

Key Takeaways

  • If you are working an unpaid internship you should be gaining relevant skills and a deeper network.

from certified user @Dumpster Fire Yuppie

If you have no other options and you have the resources to support yourself with an unpaid internship, of course, you're going to be glad you have something on paper. It's better than nothing.

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Comments (108)

Jun 27, 2010

I would use all this awesome experience and start applying all over the place. Frankly, I would go do something else, intern somewhere else and tell them you gotta pay the bills. They are adults and should understand that a person cannot work for free forever.

What they SHOULD do is at least offer you $7-10 bucks and hour just to give you something to live off of with the agreement of a retroactive bonus when things pick up. It is pretty dumb on their part. They are investing all this time in you and are potentially going to be losing a trained and quality analyst.

Jun 27, 2010

I pulled an all-nighter once for my unpaid internship. Never turned into a FT job (or any money). I worried about being abused too so I quit. It will be hard for ppl to determine the likely hood of conversion without being in your exact situation.

I would try to figure it they really are making any money. If they are and are still not paying you, then quit. If there not, its really up to you how much you believe them and how long you can survive w/o a paycheck.

Jun 28, 2010

I mean 30 hours isn't really bad at all. I'd stick it out unless you have something else lined up.

Jun 28, 2010

Commercial real estate? Consider yourself lucky to be getting any experience right now, much less getting paid. However, like Anthony said, try to use this exp to land some interviews and get an offer for a paid analyst gig. If that fails, then you have a better idea of where you stand in the market.

Jun 28, 2010

to be fair, these guys don't get paid until they close deals. i've worked at a top manhattan brokerage before - you would be surprised how many guys weren't making anything in this market. get them to sponsor your license, and start hitting the ground yourself. every broker starts at the very bottom with zero salary or a very very low draw

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Jun 28, 2010

Believe me I am grateful that I am getting experience in this market, that is why I have been working for them for almost a year unpaid. And no, 30 hours is not bad but considering I need to make rent every month that is potentially $300+ a week I am losing out on from just a regular job. My bank account is getting very low, thus I start questioning if what I am doing will ever pay off.

Looks like the best bet is to get them to sponsor me on my license and start trying to get some deals done.

Has anyone heard anything, negative or positive, on the CB Richard Ellis Wheel Program?

Jun 28, 2010

You didn't mention you've been unpaid for almost a year, thats pretty ridiculous. Do they offer anything at all? (meals, etc..)

Jun 28, 2010

I worked for these guys at their old firm since last September, roughly 15-20 hours a week/ unapid. In May, they started their own firm and asked me to come along with them and now I am working roughly 30 hours a week for them. So, almost a year.

I did receive credit for school from September to December, and they buy me lunch every now and then but thats all...

Jun 28, 2010
Nobama88:

I worked for these guys at their old firm since last September, roughly 15-20 hours a week/ unapid. In May, they started their own firm and asked me to come along with them and now I am working roughly 30 hours a week for them. So, almost a year.

I did receive credit for school from September to December, and they buy me lunch every now and then but thats all...

..... so you multi-account as Jordan622 and Nobama 88........

Jun 28, 2010

what type of brokerage are you interested in? leasing, investment sales, financing.. etc. i know that cushman was looking for analysts for their consulting group. my other piece of advice is to network your butt off. real estate in particular is all about who you know. go through your school directory and see who is in the industry and reach out to them

Jun 28, 2010

I am interested in the investment and development (non existant atm) side of CRE. I have applied to Cushman for both their analyst roles in NY.

Jun 28, 2010

I would stick it out and try to find evening/weekend work like front desk agent at a hotel. They usually pay about $12 an hour and you get 10% extra for overnight shifts. You'll have 0 social life for a good 6 months but if you really want your spot on the street, you'll do whatever it takes to get it.
No matter what Bloomberg says, hiring on Wall St isn't anywhere near what it used to be. Even if the internship is unpaid, by September you'll have a years worth of experience and licenses.

Jun 28, 2010

Yeah, sorry I should have noted that. I lost access to this account so I started Jordan. Obviously I regained access and will stay with this one.

Jun 28, 2010

Stick with it for now. As another posted suggested, try and find a weekend and/or week night gig that will help put some money in your pocket to offset the lack of pay at the internship. To me it seems as if you have gone too far not to wait just a bit longer.

I would shop around for jobs, work the internship and work the late night gig, all while studying and getting my licenses. You will have a year (+) experience, the license and possibly a job offer. Plus, if you do get an offer, you can go to the guys you are interning with and say, hey, I got a job that's going to pay me and I wish I could stay here because I really like it, etc but I have to go because I just can't manage it anymore. Maybe they will match the offer, maybe they won't.

Just don't leave because you aren't getting paid what you are worth. You have to realize there is a massive amount of unquantifiable future revenue in this internship. I had a similar situation where I interned unpaid for a couple semesters. Paid me for my parking, had sandwiches in the office a couple times a week, but was told that I would receive a stipend if I did a good job. I eventually left for a different internship because the new one was going to give me school credit and eventually pay me (and they told me there would not be a FT offer because they were a new firm, etc). I did both for about a semester and transitioned out of the first and into the second one.

Luckily I left on good terms with the first because their approval and kind words is what landed me my current job. So just don't piss anyone off. Take your ego our of it if necessary and sacrifice a little more to put yourself in a better position going forward, whether its with them or another firm. Good luck.

Regards

Jul 14, 2010

Stick with it and be a sponge...Try to position yourself around the top producer in the office. I began my CRE career with Colliers in the Research Department. After two years of learning the local market and the basics (i.e. building characteristics) as a Research Analyst I transitioned into brokerage. It was discouraging at first as it seemed like my first deal would never come. However, as my network grew along with my client base, I realized how lucky I was to have entered the industry when I did (2007). Because of the sluggish economy and down market senior brokers had free time to dedicate to helping me grow as broker by answering questions, walking me through contracts, introducing me to clients, working deals with me, etc.

Once you get your License you may consider talking to the brokers about you running for them; that is, cold calling for their listings. If you find a potential tenant or buyer (depending on the listing) they can work it with you and pay you a fee. When you appraoch them about becoming a runner I suggest you plan an exit date where you branch off a a runner and become a fully independent.

Jul 26, 2010

Third (or fourth) vote for stick with it. Of course since you have $300 in rent, plus utilities and other personal expenses to cover, then (quickly) find a part-time job to help you cover your expenses.

These guys are either a)stringing you along to squeeze out as much free labor as possible, or b)honestly having a hard time closing deals and will cut you some cash once things pick up. Either way, the longer you stay, the more experience you'll get, and the better you'll look.

In the meantime, network like crazy. If it's not expensive, then save up some cash and get your license. Also, do not "lay down the law" with them as it will only hurt your chances of positive references or a warm network introduction in the future.

Jul 26, 2010

Since you've been working there for so long you have to know if they're pulling in deals right? I mean if they're making some money you have to know they're stringing you a long. If not, i'd stay stick with it because they're most likely being sincere

Jun 4, 2014

i work 40 hours a week for a not big broker.
unpaid
backofice
will spend july and half august
wont stay after that
i love spain

Jun 4, 2014

If you can afford it, take the unapid, and then continue to search hard for something paid.

Jun 4, 2014

I worked at a middle market bank, and we hardly ever paid interns. IMO, it is probably more likely that you will find unpaid at smaller places, because they have to justify the cost especially when there are plenty of candidates that are willing to take unpaid internships. This is really just the market working itself out.

Your opinion about an inverse between pay and brand is relevant only to you or others that think that way. Again, I can tell you from experience where I was, that there is a long line of interns willing to work for a boutique bank for free.

Jun 4, 2014

Unfortunately it has come to the point where people often need to work their asses off in unpaid roles to get the edge they need to break even/get ahead. I get working 40 hours a week unpaid would suck, but to put it in context, I know of people who have worked IB internships with "real" IB hours (80-100 a week) completely unpaid...one person in that situation ended up with a FT IB offer at more than one place, inc. a top BB bank though, so it can be worthwhile if you can/will make the sacrifice.

Jun 4, 2014

If you can get an IB internship, take it. I took an unpaid IB internship and worked around 60-70 hrs per week. That initial internship helped me get another unpaid internship (50-60 hrs/week). I was pretty much broke during these internships. I'm a little order than 22, but I will now be working in arguably one of the the top 5 groups (the groups always mentioned in other threads) on the street. Obviously, I caught a few breaks here and there, but what I'm trying to get at is the following:

"When opportunity knocks you let her the phuck in and for gawd's sake you let her go down on your girlfriend!"

I'll provide the WSO community with further updates on my situation once I'm a few months into my program. I will also be happy to do a Q&A at that point in time. If you have any further questions on dealing with unpaid internships, send me a PM.

    • 1
Jun 4, 2014

Same situation.

Did an unpaid ER internship last summer and averaged 60-75 hr weeks, especially during earnings season, and it was a major part of me getting an unpaid HF internship in NYC this summer, but I'm not working more than 45 hrs a week which is great. Where will that let me go next summer for Junior SA? No idea, but looking at the opportunity cost of the situation I couldn't care less about not being paid right now, I'll wait for the dividends to roll in.

Jun 4, 2014

If you could afford it, do the unpaid internship. I have done 3 unpaid internships right now (riseing junior) and I am pretty confident that with these experience, it will land me a pretty solid banking/PE job in third year. I know there are other factors such as GPA, extra curricular activities, networking, and your school, but at least the internship aspect will help out a lot.

Jun 4, 2014

i can fill you up with 40hrs of work, email me :-)

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Jun 4, 2014

I would take it. Having a sophomore banking internship will seperate you from others. I did the same thing. If you enjoy it it's not the worst thing in the world

Jun 4, 2014

I mean it might be worth it if you have nothing else and you can afford it, but understand you might be working at a chop shop. What are the job histories of the founders?

Jun 4, 2014

You need to get that first internship which allows you to get others ..

Jun 4, 2014

I've already had past internships. I'm just wondering whether it's worth taking an unpaid 40 hour a week internship if I can potentially land something that is paid and in the relevant field I want.

Jun 4, 2014

This is a good question to ask, and I don't think you're overthinking it.

My guy instinct would be that, since it's a boutique, they can overlook some of this legal stuff - but I could be completely wrong. Are you sure your school won't let you take like a 1 credit "independent study" class where a prof basically sponsors you for it, and then you write an essay or something on your internship experience?

Jun 4, 2014

I actually might be able to do something like that. I briefly discussed that with one of my professors earlier this year. I'll talk with my advisor and give that a shot.

But I've done two unpaid (like 5-10 hours a week) internships during the school year. Pretty much the exact same thing happened. I didn't think about this at all, and everything has turned out fine.

Jun 4, 2014

Yeah keep trying to find a finance/econ prof who is willing to help you set that up. I believe most schools will have some sort of 1-credit class that can do what you need so the key thing is getting a prof that will do it for you.

Maybe there's a difference between a 5-10 hour a week internship (since it's part-time) versus a full-time summer internship? That's the only potential problem I could think of, but have no idea if it actually would make a difference. More likely I'd guess it depends on the size of the boutique (the smaller they are, probably the more chill they are about this stuff).

Jun 4, 2014

I had a part - time internship at a boutique last summer. I had a written contract that was signed but I didn't get paid or credit because my school's policy on getting credit was also not even worth my time. I don't know if it was illegal or not...but I decided that it really wasn't worth the amount of work I had to complete and money I had to pay to get credit for the internship on top of already growing costs of traveling to NYC and not making money while there. I don't know if its ok because I still have the signed contract and continue to talk and keep a good relationship with the firm.
Anyone else who has information would be helpful, but thats my experience with a similar situation.

Jun 4, 2014

tell your contact you might try and get school credit for the internship so if he could just write up a paragraph stating start date/end date and position details with a signature. thats all you need

I used to be indecisive, now I'm just not sure.

Jun 4, 2014
Jun 4, 2014
whatwhatwhat:

http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs71.pdf

Yeah, I had read through that. My main concern is with #4. So if I built a model and it was used in a client presentation, the internship would be illegal due to the fact that my employer derived a benefit?

I know that most of the UBS/BAML PWM internships are unpaid and for credit, so that has to be legal at least (just based on the fact that they have big compliance/HR departments that exist to make sure they are covered legally). I think I'll just try and get the independent study credit and go from there.

Jun 4, 2014

Ugh really? So now I can't even offer to work for free as a summer analyst because it's illegal? Thanks, Uncle Sam.

Jun 4, 2014

You should continue. August - september is not enough to actually learn anything anyway, and employers know that. If nothing else, do it for the experience you will get.

I didn't say it was your fault, I said I was blaming you.

Jun 4, 2014

why don't you do it from Aug - Dec? instead of Oct/Nov

Jun 4, 2014

Continue it. If nothing else, being in the IB environment will help in interviews.

Jun 4, 2014

.

Jun 4, 2014

Why are you not learning anything? If you are doing meaningless work, then by all means quit.

Jun 4, 2014

You can always cut back on your hours, you are working for free. Just make sure you can balance schoolwork/internship and you should be fine. The experience is invaluable (as long as you are doing meaningful work)

I didn't say it was your fault, I said I was blaming you.

Jun 4, 2014

.

Jun 4, 2014

If the experience is not worth it in your opinion, then by all means drop it. It sounds like you're not too interested in it, and the resume won't look that different if you have (aug-nov) rather than (aug-sept). Just drop it since you're working for free but make sure to get a kick ass GPA this semester

I didn't say it was your fault, I said I was blaming you.

Jun 4, 2014

I would take it, especially if you have nothing else on the horizon

Even if it ends up costing you money, look at it as an investment into your future career

Jun 4, 2014
TheCityBoy:

I would take it, especially if you have nothing else on the horizon

Even if it ends up costing you money, look at it as an investment into your future career

Thats the way I see it - like the contacts and skills will most likely pay greater dividends then 4k annually compounded.

Jun 4, 2014

Yeah same. I would personally see it as an investment, especially considering the lack of alternatives. Experience + networking = good day's work

Bitch please, I love bananas! If you found my advice useful, hit me up with one.

Jun 4, 2014

Do you have any other options?

Jun 4, 2014

No, but I do have a heavy course load this semester

Jun 4, 2014

Hey, it's better than nothing.

Jun 4, 2014

Are you a sophomore? Also, how technical was the interview?

Regards

The difference between successful people and others is largely a habit - a controlled habit of doing every task better, faster and more efficiently.

Jun 4, 2014
mhurricane:

Are you a sophomore? Also, how technical was the interview?

Regards

no, i just graduated. the interview was pretty technical. this bank works with a lot of startup tech co.s so most of the technicals were based around modeling/valuation of startups

Jun 4, 2014

.

Jun 4, 2014

Stay for a month, get that shit on your resume, and then network out. If they pay you, stay. Otherwise, fuck 'em, get yours.

Jun 4, 2014

I was always under the impression that banks are pretty upfront about it if there's no chance of a FT offer; my SA firm told me straight up at the beginning that they didn't give out FT offers at the end, so I definitely didn't work insane hours even though a few of the other gunner interns were in-office until 1am. If there's no hope of getting an FT then there's no reason to bust your ass for $0, esp since you're a graduate and, I would assume, an independent whose top priority should be to get a paying job. Work hard, but work smart.

Currently: future psychiatrist (med school =P)
Previously: investor relations (top consulting firm), M&A consulting (Big 4), M&A banking (MM)

Jun 4, 2014
chicandtoughness:

I was always under the impression that banks are pretty upfront

The good ones are. If you're not an A-List candidate or choose to work at a smaller place, it's less structured. The smaller / less active the place, the less structure, and many people don't know this.

Jun 4, 2014
chicandtoughness:

If there's no hope of getting an FT then there's no reason to bust your ass for $0, esp since you're a graduate and, I would assume, an independent whose top priority should be to get a paying job. Work hard, but work smart.

ya i mean i'm graduate who graduate with 3.8 from a pretty solid business school but had no ibanking internships and didn't network well last fall so kind of missed the major recruiting season. so basically i'm using this experience to boost the resume and will be actively looking for an FT analyst positionduring this internship since my networking has been great lately and can hopefully get into a better position this fall

Jun 4, 2014

A friend of mine did something like this but got messed over in the end. He had an unpaid internship at a no-name boutique and was hired afterwards for FT because he was a good worker, but he was given "comission based" salary and didnt end up getting anything near normal salary (think four figures). Six months later, he quit.

If its really no-name make sure you trust them or are getting solid experience that you can use later.

rufiolove:

When evaluating whether or not to post something on WSO, I think to myself, "would an idiot post this" and if the answer is yes, I do not post that thing...

Jun 4, 2014
peepstache:

If its really no-name make sure you trust them or are getting solid experience that you can use later.

+1.

Jun 4, 2014

Keep in mind you literally have to survive through that many hours. The opportunity cost (both pecuniary and implicitly) of an unpaid internship is high.

Having to cover meal and travel expenses for that duration of time is just hell to go through.

Put in the work you have to but don't kill yourself over it - no one will ever know how you did beyond a simple reference.

Jun 4, 2014

Keep in mind you literally have to survive through that many hours. The opportunity cost (both pecuniary and implicitly) of an unpaid internship is high.

Having to cover meal and travel expenses for that duration of time is just hell to go through.

Put in the work you have to but don't kill yourself over it - no one will ever know how you did beyond a simple reference.

Jun 4, 2014

also would it be a fair assumption that a bank who doesn't pay their interns most likely give FT offers that are very poorly compensated?

Jun 4, 2014
Jam6:

also would it be a fair assumption that a bank who doesn't pay their interns most likely give FT offers that are very poorly compensated?

.

Jun 4, 2014

Brave man working 100+ hours, unpaid, after graduation.

Fuck that.

Jun 4, 2014

Yeah, if people are willing to be exploited, there will always be some people who are willing to exploit them. This whole unpaid internship thing is the biggest fucking slave-labor exploitation that can be imagined. Imagine a person with 3.8 GPA Bachelor degree from a good school working 100 hours a week for $0. Ridiculous. They should make this whole unpaid internship thing illegal. It is time the government stepped in and put an end to this nonsense.

Jun 4, 2014
TraderJoe1976:

Yeah, if people are willing to be exploited, there will always be some people who are willing to exploit them. This whole unpaid internship thing is the biggest fucking slave-labor exploitation that can be imagined. Imagine a person with 3.8 GPA Bachelor degree from a good school working 100 hours a week for $0. Ridiculous. They should make this whole unpaid internship thing illegal. It is time the government stepped in and put an end to this nonsense.

.

Jun 4, 2014
TraderJoe1976:

Yeah, if people are willing to be exploited, there will always be some people who are willing to exploit them. This whole unpaid internship thing is the biggest fucking slave-labor exploitation that can be imagined. Imagine a person with 3.8 GPA Bachelor degree from a good school working 100 hours a week for $0. Ridiculous. They should make this whole unpaid internship thing illegal. It is time the government stepped in and put an end to this nonsense.

So true. See http://unpaidinternlawsuit.com/

rufiolove:

When evaluating whether or not to post something on WSO, I think to myself, "would an idiot post this" and if the answer is yes, I do not post that thing...

Jun 4, 2014
TraderJoe1976:

They should make this whole unpaid internship thing illegal.

Absolutely not. The only reason I was able to break in was by working for free for a while. There need to be revised parameters, but just making an entire corner of industry illegal for the sake of moral righteousness will only gaurantee that many people will be shut out of industry completely.

Smarter rules are needed, shutting it all down isn't smart, it's just a way of raising the barriers to entry for people in my camp.

Jun 4, 2014

Working unpaid for any # of hours seems terrible, much less 100 hours/wk

Jun 4, 2014

70-80 hours in IB is part time. Depends how badly you need the experience

Jun 4, 2014

Depends on the experience and likelihood landing a job without it. If its decent experience that would help you get future interviews and that you can speak to AND you have not other viable options, sure why not. If you won't be able to get into finance without this then take the risk. It's an investment in your career. Bear in mind you it may never lead to anything else.

Jun 4, 2014

I'm just curious, what school did you graduate from? If you happen to intern while you were going to school, you should be able to land some sort of finance job after you graduate. You're only after IBD?

What company is it? You can always do research and ask people about their opinion on the company

Jun 4, 2014

i went to a non-target in the northeast. i just had a tier 2 consulting final round but was dinged which left me back at square one.

also the name is rutberg and co.

Jun 4, 2014

how long is the internship?

Jun 4, 2014

i was told a few months. hopefully i can get some interviews when recruiting opens up in a month of so.

Jun 4, 2014

It's it is only for a few months and you are going to be getting your hands dirty, then it would be worthwhile for FT positions. You would be able to use it in interviews to form "your story", and it would show the firms you're applying to that you have an interest in getting into IBD.

In addition, you got offered an internship, and while interning you can start looking at other firms and networking more so through your internship.

Jun 4, 2014

do it

Jun 4, 2014

at my unpaid boutique internship, another unpaid intern came from an unpaid internship at rutberg, so no guarantees

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