The first time I was in a meeting and we were discussing hiring some kids just out of college as interns, as in free labor, I was blown away.  I have mixed feelings on the intern.

I totally get that the economy is not exactly booming so free labor is a beautiful thing.  Letting someone in a door is a phenomenal opportunity for that person.  They get to learn, make contacts and if they are lucky, eventually get hired for pay.  Internships have been around forever. 

Personally, I have hooked up many kids in fantastic internships.  Most of these kids are either in college or high school.  Each of their individual experiences have helped them grow and of course put on the old resume.  Yet, the problem with not paying interns is not paying them.

I have known several kids to go on interviews for unpaid internships and this is what they are told.  You must work 3 months and you must work 9-6 five days a week.  Understandably there needs to be some rules set.  Having someone fly in for 3 weeks is not worth it when it takes a few weeks just to find the bathroom, I get that.   If these kids were getting paid something, they might feel a bit different about hard labor for little pay vs no pay at all.  Getting paid is important.  It recognizes your worth.  It could be as much as 200 a week.

MOUSE, although a non-profit, asks every school that works with MOUSE pay them something for their services.  When people pay, they have a very different ownership of the property. 

I get the internship but perhaps companies should start to rethink the cost of free labor.

Comments (Archived):

  1. bGreen lifestyle + building

    Gotham Gal, we’ve been trying to hire an intern for our new business ( and are finding that free labor is hard to come by. We’re based in Boston where there’s no shortage of students looking for jobs/internships. You would think that they would want the opportunity and experience of working for a consumer products start-up, but money is money these days. Our search continues…

    1. Gotham Gal

      Everybody needs a little cash

    2. daryn

      bGreen – think about what (dollar) value you expect to get out of the intern. If it is zero, you shouldn’t hire them. If it’s greater than zero, offer them some small percentage of that as good faith in valuing their time and their help. The good news is that college students have fairly low expenses, and a couple hundred bucks can go a long way. Honestly, people fresh out of school also tend to work a lot harder than people who have been working entry level jobs for a long time, so it is money well spent – and you may end up with a great future employee.

      1. Gotham Gal

        Great advice

      2. bGreen lifestyle + building

        Daryn, we’ve certainly thought about the cost of acquiring a great futureemployee. That would be ideal for us. Thanks for your thoughts andcomments.

  2. Joe Siewert

    Completely agree. College students or grads working as interns are providing value to an organization and should be compensated for their contributions. Unpaid internships also create a challenge for students that want to gain valuable career experience, but also need to find paying work to cover the bills. Everyone’s situation is different, but I’m guessing a lot of students face that trade-off.

    1. Gotham Gal

      I believe more students have to face that trade off. They need cash but want an opportunity too.Agreeing with Daryn, their lifestyle is not that expensive. A little goes a long way.

  3. Shelly

    Bravo on your positions and perspectives! My daughter, a soph at Northwestern has done 2 summers of internships (one paid, the other unpaid)in NYC. Since NU doesn’t offer credits for summer internships, the value has been in the experience and exposure she has garnered. But I know even the subway fare and lunch money she has received has been well appreciated and increases her value and connection to the business opportunity. We need some balance in the equation on this front. It’s out of control. And if companies don’t see the value these contributing students offer, then they shouldn’t bother exploiting their talents without some form of return.

    1. Gotham Gal

      Absolutely. These students offer value and should be compensated.

  4. Tereza

    In college I did every internship under the sun to ‘break in’ to television, because that was how it was done.But fast forward so many years. If it’s actual work you want done — and not just a shadow to stroke your ego — the logic of unpaid is breaking down.Thing is, “paid” sets up a social contract, an expectation. That can even be at the lowest end of the scale. Also, once you “pay” you can “fire”. It makes everything a lot clearer. In a good way. Keeps everyone on their toes and behaving (that’s both sides).If they’re volunteering, then they’re really just ‘hanging out’. And in that case you can’t really ‘fire’, so it becomes ‘don’t hang out here anymore’. And what a bizarre message that is. I think for a young person, there’s really nothing positive to be gained from that. No useful learning.And by the way, I’ve seen a lot of people pay no attention at all to interns or junior staff. And that’s totally wrong. If you can’t pay attention to them, don’t take them in.

    1. Gotham Gal

      You bring up a very good point. If you are paid, you can be fired. Thatabsolutely sets up the parameters from day one. Didn’t think about that.

  5. Tereza

    Another thing. Not long ago, an old mentor of mine told me how he realized a while back not to do work for free for someone else’s dream.If you’re going to work for free, have it be on your own dream, he said.That was a life-changing conversation for me.

  6. chefbikram

    I just read all the comments. Athletic-Minded Traveler has employed interns during the year and over summer. We’ve done paid and a hybrid paid system. I vote for the latter. Our paid interns underperformed relative to the “bonus” system interns. We post the internship and offer cash bonuses for performance. This way there is upside and we feel we get interns who really want to engage.Also, we offer a lot of upside in terms or the work. A lot! We also require 10 to 15 hours/week so it’s not grueling. Last, some of our interns get course credit! Getting college credit adds even more incentive.After managing college interns I think I’d be open to taking on a Senior or Junior in high school even…And given what I have read regarding the difficulty for high schoolers in obtaining any work experience, it could be very mutually beneficial.So for those who don’t want to pay, consider a bonus system.

    1. Gotham Gal

      Bonus system…that is a great idea. Promotes constant hard work.

    2. Tereza

      i really like the bonus idea. best of both worlds.

  7. JohnExley

    This is an interesting post, and I felt compelled to share my experiences. I am currently studying abroad in Singapore as a junior. Last spring, I was an unpaid intern who served as the Personal Assistant to Kent Heyman (…, President and CEO of Syncables ( was in the midst of a product launch with HP’s Mini 110 netbook, and the experience was nothing short of thrilling. I would meet with Kent twice a week and he would tell me more of the story of Syncables, what they were working on for the next couple days, and give me more details on my project (write a company story to be distributed within the company and perhaps to media, and also to create a PowerPoint to be adapted for use in potential M&A’s and media relations).I then worked from home or various coffee shops and meanwhile was able to meet some of the very successful and smart team at Syncables. I was able to meet with an HR consultant, Leo Naioti (… who was working with Kent again after joining him on his previous startup. Leo gave me very insightful advice on spreading myself too thin across many different projects while also in school, a weakness of mine that I tend to get into.Through and through, I loved the experience and wouldn’t trade it for something different, i.e. a situation where I might have been paid but had no chance whatsoever of learning from the CEO…during a product launch, no less. I even blogged about it for a friend’s blog: “Unpaid Internships: Secret to Success for Gen Y”…Sorry to write so much in your comments! It’s just a topic I am actually quite passionate about. I think the opportunity to gain experience in a field you are passionate about, to learn from successful leaders, meet influential people in the industry, etc. is a great one. Doing it without pay demonstrates, to me, sheer love for what you are doing.However, I understand that not all unpaid internships are created equal. I do see the point you are making, Ms. Gotham Gal. Thanks for writing on a cool topic!Kind regards – John

    1. Gotham Gal

      You had a seriously interesting internship. They certainly exist. Doing itwithout pay for something you love to do is fantastic. Doing what you loveto do all the time, even out of college and not get paid is tough. At theend of the day, interesting opportunities don’t pay bills.

      1. JohnExley

        Agreed. Ultimately, how long can one go (if he/she is graduated) without pay by working for free? Great opportunities certainly don’t pay bills in the short term. However, I am convinced that there are situations (many) that can make an unpaid internships very much worth it. If you are a student in college, let’s say you can live at home for free and bus tables at a restaurant on the weekends during summertime for extra change. You can certainly make ends meet enough to provide the time and resources to take advantage of a killer full-time 40+hr/week unpaid internship opportunity, ya know?Even, take this possible situation. Let’s say I come across a really amazing opportunity to serve as an unpaid intern for a super awesome company, part time. 10 hours per week, for instance. Meanwhile, I work my 40hr/week paid internship, then hustle on the unpaid internship for just 10 extra hours….reaping all the benefits of an unpaid internship just as you touched upon in your article as well as gaining some of the benefis I was blessed with that I detailed in my original comment. Make sense? Am I kinda reaching around in the dark or is this a plausible example?

        1. Gotham Gal

          Anything is plausible. Just depends how hard you want to work to juggle itall.