Why Unpaid Internships Are Impairing Your Organization’s Growth

The benefits of internships are endless. Interns gain experience, responsibility, knowledge, and confidence. Today, interns and internships are a norm in organizations. While internships are held to favor the intern, there are ways in which the organization can benefit.

As young professionals, working our way up to manager level positions, we have to question; how can my organization most benefit from the internship program we have or lack? Drumroll please, and the answer is… by paying them for their time. The following are four benefits of offering paid internships.

1. It attracts talent.
Paid internships are highly sought after by both undergraduates and graduates. (In integrated marketing communication it can be the first year or two of your post-grad life.) Every company wants to have the best employees working for them, including interns.

Suzanne Lucas reports in her article, “A Strong Case for Why You Should Pay Your Interns”, that paying internships (of at least minimum wage) get three times the number of applicants. Although it will take more effort sorting through resumes, the reward of finding an intern that fits into your company is well worth it. InternMatch Chief Marketing Officer Nathan Parcells further comments: “When you switch to paying interns, the quality of applicants goes up, so does the speed of training, so does the value an intern adds over a summer, and so does the likelihood that you end up hiring that person.”


2. It increases candidate diversity.
In “FAQ and Guide on How to Hire Interns”, Parcells states, “not paying your intern immediately excludes a large number of college students [and recent graduates] who need some level of payment to consider internship employment.” He explains, “African Americans and Hispanics are much more likely to be holding college debt than white and Asian students. … Organizations that are trying to hire diverse candidates will struggle if they force students to choose between a paycheck and an internship program.”

Having worked as an undergraduate with a variety of individuals, from retired military to experienced entrepreneurs, my projects has benefited from the different perspectives and understandings these diverse candidates hold. Excluding pools of people leads to less cultural diversity and less creative, relevant work.

3. It makes your interns happier.
Interns are a happy bunch of individuals. (This is coming from my personal experience and from talking with others.) We like learning and applying our theories to real world work. Good internships will make us happy even if they are unpaid, but not having to worry about squeezing in extra hours at another part-time job to pay off credit cards or debt does make the load lighter.

An article by The Muse notes that by paying interns you aren’t limited to them working a few hours a week because of other jobs, “They’ll have more time to work for you.” In addition, “Happy interns say nice things about your company.”

4. It gives your company a good reputation.
When you pay an intern it shows you value them and that value, appreciation, and mentorship leads to word-of-mouth marketing. During college, I was lucky to be selected to intern at two organizations. They were both nonprofit, therefore I was unable to be paid, and I was completely fine with that because I was learning so much. At the end of one I was presented with a surprise stipend for my contributions. That token of appreciation meant a lot to me, and to this day I still advertise and recommend the two organizations to others.

Looi Qin En exclaims in “Why Interns Should Be Paid”, “[Interns] are willing to give up a higher paying job (the hourly wage for a part-time/temp job seeker is typically twice that of an intern’s hourly wage if you calculate allowance vs. hours worked). … [T]hey should be paid a gratuity allowance. No, not as a monetary reward, but a token of appreciation, a gesture of thoughtfulness. That the company cares about the intern enough to help defray living cost like meals and transport.”

Cartoon Unpaid Intern

Why does this matter for young professionals?
In fifteen years we will no longer be young professionals. We will be executives or small business owners that make the decisions and set the industry standards. In order to improve and advance in our field we have to start investing in its future.

There is a stigma that goes with marketing, public relations, and advertising. It starts in college, when you tell someone that you are a Communication Studies major, they automatically assume your major is easy. (If you went to my undergrad it means you couldn’t get into the business school. #nottrue) A professor told my undergraduate class that marketing and communication employees are the first to go in recessions because our work is undervalued and deemed unnecessary. How do we combat this? We show our trade and skills are valued, and that starts with valuing interns and changing our mindset about internships.

As David Sederholt remarks, “I and other managers strongly believe that we have a responsibility to teach young people the value of learning from and working in a real business environment. We give them real work, real managers, real responsibility, real accountability and yes, a real paycheck.”

 How do you feel about paid and unpaid internships? Share with us your opinions and experiences in a comment below.



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