Unpaid vs. Paid Internships


Many of us have held intern positions, some paid, others not. Of course we’d all rather spend time gaining work experience and making money, but that’s not always possible to find. With non-profit organizations this seems like a legitimate problem to come across. But for organizations that just aren’t paying their interns, it may be doing more harm than creating holes in our pockets.

In a Forbes.com article, Richard Bottner writes “Never hire interns without paying them”. His argument is that businesses aren’t able to find the cream of the crop by neglecting to pay interns. Because it disqualifies the students who can’t afford to have unpaid jobs, the situation becomes discriminatory to wealthy students. Result: companies don’t get to chose from the largest pool of students.

After reading the article, do you think there’s a way to solve this issue? Would you be willing to work in a non-paid internship? If you have, was it a good experience?


13 responses to “Unpaid vs. Paid Internships

  1. Something about that article rubs me the wrong way. Maybe as someone who has taken two unpaid internships (while simultaneously working to sustain my living), it seems a little harsh to then assume I’m not among the best or the brightest.

    Internships are a two-way street meant to provide both help for the company and experience for the intern. It might not get you disposable income, but the lessons you’ll take away can be invaluable for the future. I see them as an investment. If you have a chance and the means to take an internship–paid or not–take it. Worth it.

    • I agree with you, Holly.
      So far, I have had one unpaid internship, and I have another lined up for the spring. On the side, I work other jobs to make money, and I like to think I am a worthy candidate for the jobs I have gotten.

      Also, my unpaid experiences have been worth it in networking opportunities, clips of work, and experience in the field. I might not get money, but these are priceless.

      Paid internships might widen the field for people who can’t afford to use their time and not make money, but these jobs are usually temporary and therefore not too limiting.

    • I also agree with Holly. It seems like the kids who are willing to take the unpaid internships would be some of the best to hire. It shows they care about the experience, not just the money. If someone works hard and doesn’t get paid for it, I think that says a lot about their work ethic. I think Holly and Alysse both prove that the people who take unpaid internships aren’t always people who don’t need the money. Both students worked other jobs for cash. These internships were about experience.

      • I definitely agree will you guys, people who choose to take unpaid internships are 100 percent worthy of those positions and potentially work even harder than those with paid internships.

        But just to be clear in reference to the article, I think what Bottner was getting at is that there are many hard working students who simply can’t take unpaid internships because of their financial situations. I don’t think there’s a lot of students at Drake that fit into that category. His point is that they are missing out on opportunities, not that people who take unpaid internships aren’t equal to students in other paid positions.

  2. I must admit I agree with the Forbes article. I would like to apply for many unpaid internships (there are several in New york over the summer that would be amazing) but I simply can’t afford to live without some kind of paycheck, especially if the job is full-time. It may be fine to have an unpaid internship if it’s during the school year, but if you live off-campus or stay over the summer, you need some sort of income for rent, food and other essentials. How do you get that when you’re working for free? Are you forced to get another job working at the mall or on campus just to make some sort of income?

    It doesn’t seem fair to overwork overwork yourself just for “experience.” I’m one of those students that have to pass up the unpaid internships, not because I think I’m above that, but because I simply need the money more than the credit hours.

  3. I completed two unpaid internships this summer, and it was worth it. Sure, the money would’ve been nice. But the economy is in bad shape right now and I’m grateful for any experience I can get, so I’m not about to pass up a great opportunity just for lack of paycheck. The only problem with unpaid internships is, well, they are unpaid. It was hard for me to get by this summer without a paying job, but that just made me work that much harder at my internships, so that I could make up for my lack of paycheck with some great knowledge, experience and clips. Now I have a job on campus, and am working hard for a paycheck once again so that if a great non-paying opportunity arises this next summer, I can afford to take the risks, and BUDGET. I by no means have a lot of money in my bank account or from the fund of mom and dad, but fortunately I was able to get by, because I wanted the experience that bad.

    • On the one hand you have people with the ability to take the unpaid internships, and on the other, there are those who simply can’t afford it. These two categories are very specific to the affect they are both hard.
      Those without funds to support the internship are faced with the hardship of not being able to do it.
      Those with the funds are faced with the hardship of making up for lost income in the school year and goes to follow they have a harder year going to school and working a job.
      It seems there’s some macroeconomics in this: weigh the cost to the benefit. If you can accept the cost of sacrificing some essentials for the higher experience rate, then take the internship; if you feel the money earned during the summer outweighs the experience gained from the internship, then don’t take the internship.
      Not all people can have the opportunities to do what they want all the time, unfortunately for us.

  4. Okay, so I’ve done unpaid freelance (not exactly an internship) and it was the best experience of my life. I think that those who are willing to put the time into it wil excel regardless.

    That being said, I think internships (not exactly freelance) should definitely be paid. Kids aren’t coming to work just to be there, they’re coming to get a job done. If you pay someone, it gives incentive. If you don’t pay someone, however, it makes those who excel stand out even more.

    I’m torn on this issue, only to realize I didn’t answer your initial question. How do we solve the problem?

    Hmm… heck if I know!

  5. The article raises valid points; I understand with the status of the economy that the feasibility of moving to another city for an internship is very low if it is unpaid… we all agree this economy sucks.

    That being said, whether it is paid or not, if the internship is “perfect” – providing you the experience that you really are looking for, and you can afford to live (even if it is uncomfortably for a while), then you should absolutely do it…

    Its a hard pill to swallow, but so much has changed in the last 6 years, and the college degree = job at graduation equation rarely exists anymore. It all comes down to how eager you are to get your ‘foot in the door,’ and it might be an unpaid gig that opens the door to a full-time job.

    • I believe internships are the equivalent to temporary jobs. The offering business or school acts like the temp agency and you are the temp for hire.
      Many people I know have worked for a temp service for six months to two years and have found employment just from their experience in the job they worked.
      Granted they made less money than their full-time counterparts, but with the chance they took in their positions of temping, they captured full employment just due to their experience from the short-term job.
      In the end, it’s a game one must play in order to secure better opportunities in the future, and the future may take longer than anticipated.
      Pass “Go” and land on a “Chance.”

  6. I completely agree with Forbes’ article. I have my heart set on working in New York this summer, paid internship or no paid internship. It’s going to be hard, however, if I don’t get paid, and I’m not betting on it. I think the only way to solve this issue is for companies to buck up and start setting aside money in the company budget for interns. If interns are necessary (and some are invaluable to the company) why wouldn’t an employer want to pay them?

    I’ve worked at two non-paid internships, and they were most definitely worth it, but the trade-off for a paid job that wouldn’t advance my career was originally a difficult choice to refuse ($20an hour as a pool manager or $0 as an intern?). On the other hand, students and alumni have to take what they can get in an economy that decided not long ago to do a nosedive.

  7. I’ve personally never taken an unpaid internship, and I dread the day that I have to. I’m by no means wealthy, so the thought of having to labor for an entire summer with nothing to show for it (I would in fact be losing quite a bit of money) is disturbing to me.

    I’m not sure there’s any way around it; magazines have a very limited amount of money to go around, and the intern is probably not the person who is most deserving of that money.

  8. I think it’s simply wrong and misguided not to pay people for their labor. These employers walk a mighty fine line over federal laws that prevent workers from being exploited. Seriously, Oprah can’t pay her interns? Or Letterman? Or a magazine publisher who’s EIC travels in first-class or by Town Car?

    That said, if you’re not willing to work for free, someone else will. A sorry state of affairs.

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