NACE Flash Poll – Internships

kevin grubbA post by NACE Ambassador Kevin Grubb
Assistant Director at Villanova University’s Career Center.
Twitter: @kevincgrubb
Blog: “social @ edu”.

An issue that’s making national headlines this year is that of internships. In fact, it hit the news recently again: Conde Nast announced that they are discontinuing their internship program for 2014 after two former interns filed a lawsuit over issues of pay.

So, I’m curious: NACE blog readers, what do you think about internships? Vote in the flash poll below and share your thoughts in the comments! (Note: flash poll votes are anonymous)

For more on internships, read NACE’s Position Statements on US Internships and 15 Best Practices for Internship Programs.

12 thoughts on “NACE Flash Poll – Internships

  1. In general, I believe that all internships should be paid. However, I have a big problem with absolutes, and I can envision boundary conditions where an unpaid internship might be totally appropriate.

    I think the current legal guidelines are on the right track; if the interns are generating value for the host company, then they should be paid regardless of the investment that the host makes in the program. However, I can envision programs that are indeed educational in nature, where the host’s “work” is too hazardous or risky to permit direct involvement by the interns, so it ends up being strictly a training experience. At that point, I have trouble distinguishing it from any other educational experience, and think that an unpaid internship can be appropriate.

  2. If all interns had to be paid, a vast majority of smaller companies who currently provide extremely valuable experience to college students would not be able to continue to provide those services. Internships that provide valid learning experience are a fair trade of learning in exchange for time and service.

    For example, I try to give my interns the exact job they want to have when they graduate so they aren’t faced with the old Catch-22 disqualifier: “You don’t have any relevant experience”. They actually HAVE done the job before and can show real RESULTS. To me, that experience, the knowledge gained, and the resume entry are worth the price of admission (no salary).

    Of course there are internships that amount to getting coffee and making copies, but in my observations with hundreds of college student over the last five years, those happen more often at larger companies where the interns are interested in getting a brand name on their resume and will put up with a lower-quality experience.

    With my interns, I make sure they leave with industry-related experience and I counsel them to only take future internships that do the same.

    Bottom line, if I had to pay my interns, I could not afford to continue, and hundreds of my students would not have gained valuable industry experience, a valuable reference, and gone on to career-launching jobs in the field of their dreams.

    And if the interns felt they had been duped or taken advantage of, I wouldn’t have dozens of testimonials from students from Harvard, MIT, BU, Emerson, Suffolk, Tufts, Brandeis, Bentley, Wellesley, Boston College, UMass, etc. ( — John

  3. Kevin-

    Great question. And a toughie. In an ideal world, yes, I’d love to see all interns get compensated for work performed. But there are organizations that cannot afford to hire another employee or an intern, and a student could get an amazing experience by working on a project for that employer, observing, learning, and assisting. And some students are more than willing to do so. The fact that Conde Nast has pulled its intern program shows the extreme measures some firms may go to in order to avoid the rising number of lawsuits. Ultimately, this hurts the potential interns more than the employers in that it will only become more challenging to gain quality experience. Could Conde Nast afford to pay interns? Probably, but perhaps fewer than currently on the roster. I’d rather see them shrink their programs and pay the remaining interns as a way of dealing with their concerns. Also, when an unpaid internship is truly in line with the guidelines supported by NACE, there should be less doubt about its validity. Does that stop interns from bringing about lawsuits? I don’t know. And perhaps, there are unpaid internship contracts that could be developed to deter such action. I will leave that to the legal eagles however.


    • You summed up the complexity of the issues well here, Marc – thanks for sharing your ideas. Do we have any legal experts who can chime in about the possibility of unpaid internship contracts? That’s an interesting idea to explore.

  4. Each person’s labor has value, and to not offer pay in exchange for someone’s labor is exploitative. While internships offer value to interns as a result of the experience in the form of building network contacts and a wider array of professional skills, I find it unfair and unethical to take advantage of this sector of workers, mostly because they are students.

  5. International students are often left out of these discussions. Students on an F1 visa cannot work for pay off campus, and yet many of them strongly desire US work experience. We need to be careful that our internship policies don’t inadvertently leave a significant chunk of students out in the cold.

    And, of course, the Department of Labor rules for 501(c)3s look very different than those for the private sector. Obviously, many community-based organizations simply cannot afford to pay their interns.

  6. If a new business were to open and you walked into the shop that was selling…say…shoes, and they had only 10 shoes on the racks and the owner said, ” well I wrote up my business plan but I forgot to plan for buying shoes to sell”, you, like me would probably think that that person had no future in business. So, if someone goes into business and does not plan for how they are going to pay people to do the work they are planning to offer to their clients I say they are poor business people. Our laws clearly state that people who work are entitled to at least the legal minimum wage. Given the laws of supply and demand, I am guessing that Conde Nast does not really need the work done that interns did. However, many companies do have the money and the integrity to follow the laws. Companies like NBC, The Nation and The Atlantic have all changed their practices and are paying their needed interns.

  7. My sense is that Conde Nast has pulled the plug on internships for a larger reason. The lawyers representing the 2 who filed suit want to bring this suit to the “class action” level. Why? I can only speculate, so we must look at it logically.

    A lawsuit pays “damages” which are typically the $$ lost by the plaintiff(s). In addition there may be pain and suffering along with punitive damages from the defendant (Conde Nast in this case) as punishment for being “grossly negligent, malicious, reckless, or acting intentionally – not just for making a mistake or not being careful.” So how much do you think these 2 plaintiffs would receive for an unpaid summer internship? (since I don’t know how long they were there). Let’s take $10 per hour/ 40 hour week/ 12 weeks = $4800.00 x 2 = $9600. After the lawyers take 30%, the plaintiffs end up with $3360 each. Would it even be worth the lawyers time to take on this case? My guess would be No. People can sue for any reason, but the losses here may be so small, this case may not even make it to court – unless it’s TV’s The People’s Court. Judges aren’t looking to waste the time and effort, and most likely tell the attorney to work out an out of court settlement. The wild stories we hear (McDonald’s hot coffee spill) are incredibly rare and rarely the actual amount after settlement. And, a “McDonald’s” legal department can typically outlast a plaintiff who does pay many atty. costs along the way.

    It is actually in the lawyers best interest, not these clients, to raise this to the “Class Action” suit level. The more plaintiffs these lawyers can get, the more they could be able to collect. The more clients they find, the more the potential $$ to be gained. Yet, it is extremely costly to a firm to search for both additional companies which violated the law and litigants who want to participate. Usually Class Action suits are filed against entire industries, like the tobacco or credit card industries. In the end, the lawyers gain enormous sums and the individual litigants, all banded together, will get a fraction of the final settlement amount after the lawyers take their percentage.
    Whew – my apology for the long winded explanation.

    It’s on the books, but the decision in the Black Swan case which has created controversy was total over-reach by the judge. There are too many valuable internships. Some provide direct exposure and hands on experience. Some provide classroom credit which has proven to be helpful to all parties. And then there are those where interns do nothing relevant to their future. It only provides nice resume material. Those are the guilty.

    For me, the true test is whether the greater portion of the actual work performed adds experience and value to the intern’s planned future. Those in the arts, like film making or technology builders seem quite willing doing that over dollars. Companies will always have a challenge in keeping any intern busy 8 hours a day for 2.5 – 3 months. Their regular employees are often bored and not busy (or hiding in the weeds). But this decision threw the baby out with the bathwater. In addition, the size of the company should also be part of the measurement on paying or not.

    Both need to be part of the final determination and I believe regulations can be created where the criteria makes sense for all across the board. We still have freedoms in the USA and if a young person chooses to work for nothing (hopefully with parental approval), the government doesn’t need to intervene and take away another personal choice.

  8. The yes/no option is too limited for such a complex issue. A student I know had an excellent unpaid internship in a not-for-profit arts organization that is struggling financially. Her view was that if paying interns were required, there would have been few to zero interns, and thus little to no opportunity. She would rather have had the opportunity than not (although of course she would have liked to have been paid). Sometimes payoffs happen later.

    • Agree with you, Catherine, that the payoffs can definitely happen later! “Real world” experience has value, too, for the intern. I posed this as a “yes/no” to generate discussion: if it’s not “black and white,” how do we come up with something fair to all in the “gray” area? It’s a tough question.

      Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts.

  9. It is not a yes or no question because in many cases there can and should be real and substantive benefits to the intern that are not monetary. Some of the “national headlines,” perpetuated by things like this, are too small-minded and are doing a real injustice to legitimate and quality academic internships. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.

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