Do College Students Deserve Unpaid Internships?

Okay, I get it. College students generally aren’t responsible individuals, but do we really deserve an “exciting internship opportunity” that’s unpaid? After being in school for nearly fifteen years, I assumed that we knew enough to make minimum wage, possibly even more. I understand that many companies cannot afford to hire interns for the summer, yet I have a question for the business owners: Are you concerned about the future of your business AT ALL? I will be the first to admit that internships are a great way to gain experience, yet 70-80% of possible internships for college students are unpaid. Let me explain why unpaid internships are a BAD IDEA for the business as well as the student.

1. Want Talent? Pay for It.

Internships are a great, low-risk way to attract talented individuals to your company or organization, yet if you are looking to draw in the Linchpins, you must be willing to shell out some money in the process. These are the people who have an instant impact – they work at a rapid pace, don’t need constant monitoring, and go above and beyond what is required of them. Believe it or not, but college is getting expensive. Many students simply cannot afford to work for free – they have bills and loans that must be paid. Think of it this way, if you offer an unpaid internship, you just narrowed the students who will apply by 50%, and probably lost 85% of the prospective interns who you WANT working for you. Technology is changing the way businesses operate and a summer intern can have an immediate impact.

2. Internship Opportunity? Or Coffee Maker?

To those of you who view an internship opportunity as chance to receive free work, I hope your business dies a slow, miserable death. Internships should be viewed as an opportunity to gain and attract talent, your business depends on them. Technology is exploding at such a rapid pace that many businesses cannot keep up with the changes. The solution? Find a young college student who has grown up amidst these rapid changes, and place them in a position that utilizes this talent. Create guidelines for them to follow, yet also give them the chance to work at their own pace.

3. It’s all about “Experience”

Gaining experience is a vicious cycle for students. In order to work at one’s “dream job“, your resume must show experience. In order to gain experience, a student must be willing to work countless hours (for free) in order to bolster their resume. It amazes me how a single sheet of paper (your resume), offers potential employers everything they need to know in order to hire you. The truth of the matter is that anyone (even people with very little experience) can create a website or personal blog. This “living, breathing” resume will provide more information to the employer, and will also give you a competitive advantage.

4. My Unpaid Internship Experience

A few years ago, I was looking for internship opportunities as a high school student. These were both internships specifically meant for college students, but that didn’t deter me. The first internship was with Eastern Maine Healthcare, a leader in healthcare services in Eastern Maine. I understood that they could not offer compensation due to budget constraints, yet they offered me the ability to work (as often or as little as I wanted). I decided to work once a week for several hours, and I learned many concepts that I still use today.

The other internship didn’t go as well. I was thrust into a role that sounded great on paper, but in reality I was the person that was called when a boring, mundane task needed completion. The worst part was when I asked for a letter of recommendation – it contain numerous grammatical errors, and was essentially worthless. My boss would always tell me, “If  business grows, your unpaid internship may turn into a paid job.” Please don’t listen to people who say this! After these experiences, I decided that I wouldn’t pursue unpaid internships any longer. I am sure that other college students can agree with my experience – many businesses are only seeking free labor. Be CAREFUL!

As I look back on these internship experiences, I realize the x-factor was the amount of hours I worked. When given an option to work as many (or as few) hours as I wanted, it offered me the ability to determine my level of involvement. My boss understood that I was a student, and that I didn’t owe him anything.

*In conclusion, a student must be very careful when applying for unpaid internships. Use common sense, ask questions, and don’t allow yourself to be used. *