No pay? Many interns say, 'No problem'

intern pay
intern pay

A recent article in the New York Times about the growth of unpaid internships has spurred an interesting debate among many people -- one that mirrors conversations I have with students almost daily about intern pay. Several times each week, I receive queries from media outlets and other organizations and businesses seeking interns. Most of these opportunities are unpaid, offering (or sometimes requiring) college credit in exchange for the experience.

But a lack of intern pay doesn't seem to dissuade students from applying to many of these internships, particularly ones that offer the chance to gain useful professional skills and experience. To my surprise, paid internships don't always attract the most candidates. Location and intern duties play just as large a role, in luring students to apply. And many of these students are juggling classes as well as part- or even full-time jobs -- and sometimes even a child of their own -- along with the internship.

After reading the Times piece, I took an informal survey of several recent and about-to-be graduates about intern pay, some of whom are still looking for jobs, on whether they thought unpaid internships were worthwhile or fair, or should be illegal. I thought many would express frustration over having done work for which they weren't compensated monetarily. On the contrary, a common theme among their answers was that while paid internships would be better, unpaid internships were beneficial if they offered real-world, practical experience. The feeling I come away with is that unpaid internships are an important lesson in the concept of caveat emptor. As with any job, applicants should try to find out as much ahead of time about the duties involved before signing on.