The Internship conundrum

Hope Austin

It’s that time of year again, when many college students rush to find the best internships in their fields. For many, that means looking through endless postings for internships only to see the dreaded word “unpaid.”

Few people would disagree with the idea that workers should be compensated for their labor, and yet not enough object to the idea of an unpaid internship.

For some reason, it is acceptable to not pay employees for work as long as the job is considered an internship. We allow “experience” to be an acceptable form of payment, despite the fact that “experience” can’t buy groceries or pay the bills.

Unpaid internships exist in a nebulous space of legality and morality. As one navigates that space, it’s important to know your rights.

Before taking on an unpaid internship, you should know if it meets the requirements. So here they are, according to the U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division:

“An unpaid internship is only legal in the context of an educational training program. The training in the internship must be similar to the kind of training one would receive in an educational environment.

The internship must be for the benefit of the intern, not the employer. The employer must not receive any immediate advantage from the internship, and may actually be impeded by it on occasion.

The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the end of the internship. The intern and the employer both must understand that the intern is not entitled to a paycheck for the time spent in the internship.”

Sometimes, it is simply not possible for employers to pay their interns. However, if you’re going to work for someone who can’t pay you, you must get some other benefit out of it

If you’re not receiving any kind of college credit for your internship, it’s important to weigh the pros and cons of taking on an unpaid internship. What skills will you gain from this internship? Is the mission of the company or organization something you’re willing to promote, without pay?

When it comes to applying for unpaid internships, the internship should appeal to you as much as you should appeal to a potential employer.