Summer's almost here, and it's time to plan vacations for many people. For others, it is time to find an internship.
In fact, there are approximately one to two million internships in the United States each year.
With such a wide selection, and pressure to find the perfect internship, young high school and college students are on the lookout. Part-time or full-time, office or home, long-term or short-term? Potential interns are ask themselves which internship is best. Yet, one aspect in particular seems to garner the most attention: paid or unpaid.
Though many companies believe the benefit is all in the experience, paid internships will provide your company with more motivated and qualified applicants and a better experience for the intern.
Accommodate a More Competitive Applicant Pool
Let's face it: Internships are not only about the experience.
Many students are looking to receive an authentic experience—one that includes paychecks and going to the bank to deposit them.
Moreover, many college graduates especially are in need of money. With the rising costs of college education, internships are one way to survive another year. That is especially true of some of the top universities (Harvard, Stanford, MIT, Yale, etc.)—the ones that you might look to for potential interns.
Without any incentive aside from experience, many bright and qualified applicants may look elsewhere for an internship or just apply for a paid position. Roles that offer at least minimum wage have three times as many people apply as those that offer unpaid internships, according to Nathan Parcells, chief marketing officer at InternMatch.
For many companies, the problem with unpaid internships lies in the uncertain quality of many of the applicants that end up working.
Find competitive students for roles that virtually provide no monetary benefit at all is difficult.
"First and foremost, the big difference is quality of applicants," Parcell states. "Everyone has heard stories of an intern who was hired for a summer and spent more time getting trained than adding value. That happens when you hire students who aren't the right fit. 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."
A More Meaningful Environment for Interns
A major issue for new interns is often the mentality going into a new role. The "pre-game jitters" begin to surface with doubts about fitting in, ability, and other concerns. That only heightens with unpaid internships.
Going in, students may often feel they are there simply as an "extra" or to perform menial tasks. Being unpaid creates uncertainty as to their practical role. A sense of serving only a temporary role in an organization often leads to unproductivity, discontent, or simply avoidance of a potential internship.
"There's research that shows that paid interns are more likely to convert to full-time hires and are more likely to stay with the company long term," states Parcells.
The reason for this finding is simple: Interns feel more secure and comfortable with a company when they believe that the company has a need or desire for their work. That feeling can only arise from paid internships; if companies refuse to pay, this alerts interns that there is no real need for them. In other words, a sense of ethos (feeling or development of credibility and authenticity) is not built.
Consider a recent Salvatore Ferragamo listing for an unpaid internship on LinkedIn that Susan Adams from Forbes details. It is a "retail intern for its New York Flagship Store," which promises that "this position will provide a valuable learning experience for those interested in the day-to-day operations of a luxury goods environment."
What can one truly expect from an opportunity of this caliber? For one thing, a heavy chunk of time will be spent on training and preparing%#8212;just like any other job. Put into action alongside seasoned veterans with years of sales experience, an unpaid intern may end up feeling belittled and discouraged from immersing himself or herself in everything the role has to offer. The fact that the internship is unpaid leads to doubt as to how much the company truly needs the applicant, and a "social hierarchy" would soon quickly develop with everyone knowing the newcomer makes no salary. In turn, this can lead to inefficiency and internal tensions, not just in this case but in most businesses across all industries.
Remember the Legal Issues
In recent years, disgruntled interns and other critics have gone to court to battle what they view as "unfair labor." Often times, legal battles have resulted in their favor and companies' woes were publicized for all (including consumers) to see.
In 2013, in the production "Black Swan," Fox Searchlight Pictures used unpaid interns as part of the production process, resulting in a court case that ruled against them.
"Courts have recently made it clear that in order to comply with the Fair Labor Standard Act, employers must satisfy a six-part test laid out by the Labor Department," according to Susan Adams from Forbes. "The Act stipulates that unless the unpaid internship is primarily a learning experience for the intern and doesn't have any immediate benefit for the employer, the intern deserves to make the minimum wage or better."
Consider these rulings the next time you decide whether to pay interns. If your business is for-profit, the internship must focus on benefiting the intern, not yourself. That is a hard task for many roles, as the primary purpose of internships is to benefit both parties. In retrospect, paying the interns—even just minimum wage—is easier. You can avoid all the hype and get straight to what really matters.