In the last few weeks I’ve received more than a few emails from students asking if they should take unpaid internships for the summer. It’s a tough question. I’m inclined to suggest they refuse on principle — the practice is certainly unethical and may even be illegal – but if the only other option is to take an unrelated minimum wage position and the internship in question does, in fact, offer useful experience or the possibility of turning into a paying job, then perhaps it makes sense to accept it.
There are internships for credit, but in some cases those are worse. Not only does a student work for free, she has to pay tuition for the privilege of doing so. The real solution is for any company offering internships to pay and then figure out how to recover the costs.
At Mullen, we pay 28 interns every summer. We figure it’s a great way to identify future employees. But equally important we believe that the good will, positive word-of-mouth, and public relations that result from the program make the investment worthwhile even if we don’t hire anyone immediately.
It strikes me that most service companies – especially ad agencies, PR firms, and social media agencies – can even find a way to recover the costs if they need to. Figure that the average blended billing rate for a full time employee falls somewhere between $125 and $200 and hour and the average intern is getting $10 or $15 an hour and it becomes pretty obvious that simply billing an intern’s hours plus a little bit of overhead could be positioned as a bargain to most clients. It’s not that an intern can be expected to make anywhere near the contribution of an experienced employee (thought that’s not out of the question) but certainly there is billable work to which he or she can contribute.
If the average summer intern works 10 40-hour weeks and makes $10.00 an hour, the total compensation comes to a mere $4000. If any company in the creative industry isn’t clever enough to generate $5000 or $6,000 in revenues for each intern it hires, covering the costs by convincing clients that it’s an advantage to them — note that CP&B did something similar a few years ago — then they’re probably not a creative enough company to deserve the interest of interns — paid or unpaid — in the first place.
What are your thoughts. Would you work for free? Would you ask someone to?
The Atlantic: An argument against
The Atlantic: An argument in favor