Bridge Global Strategies had the pleasure of working with summer intern Jennifer Mulligan for the past three months, and we’re very sorry to see her go – she starts her senior year at the University of Michigan in a few days. Today, her last day, she wrote a blog post about a topic that’s hotly debated in the PR industry: unpaid internships. According to a May 5th article in the New York Times, unpaid internships have been standard for a long time in the film and non-profit worlds, but with high unemployment rates, they’re now are very common in public relations, marketing and advertising, fashion, publishing, at art galleries and talent agencies and even at some law firms. Here’s what our own intern thinks about the subject.
Former Fox Media Group interns Alex Footman and Eric Glatt filed a lawsuit against their former employer in October 2011 for violating employee compensation laws; they alleged their internships failed to meet The United States Department of Labor requirements for unpaid internships. While unpaid internships are a common practice, this lawsuit has opened up for debate whether or not this practice is ethical. What about the students who cannot afford to accept unpaid internships because they’re already struggling to pay tuition, or their parents cannot support them financially? Should companies only offer paid internships, or can unpaid internships be beneficial?
Any experience is better than no experience. That is what employers and career counselors have pushed at us college students for years. They tell us completing unpaid internships that give us relevant work experience will help us find full-time positions better than baby-sitting or bussing tables. They tell us this as we watch our student loans grow ominously (but that’s an issue for another time). Some tell us having a well-known company on our resume is better than a smaller one, but these recognizable companies tend neither to pay nor teach as well. We also don’t think we can negotiate a salary with these competitive positions. With the tough economy and more college graduates, we are willing to do anything to set ourselves up for success.
For the record, my internship here is paid; however, I have completed previous unpaid internships. I took previous positions for many of the reasons outlined above, and I am lucky to say that I learned a great deal and rarely did menial work. My paid internship, however, is the best of both worlds for me. Not only am I paid (not a lot, but it’s better than nothing); I am able to apply the concepts I learned from school into the workforce and receive training on PR procedures and programs that I can take with me elsewhere. I feel more a part of a team than a burden as a paid intern. Interning at this small firm has not given my resume name-recognition, but my portfolio has certainly benefitted. My hands are in everything at the firm including drafting press releases, participating in client meetings, pitching media, social media management, creating media lists and more. Plus, I work directly with the CEO daily. I would not have half of these experiences at a larger firm.
With all this said, I do believe that some experience is better than none. If you can get a paid internship, great! But don’t turn down an unpaid internship if it will benefit you.
Here’s a checklist of things to consider before compensation when choosing an internship:
- Is the position in your intended field?
- What skills will you develop?
- What will your responsibilities include?
- How often will you have contact with your supervisor and more senior managers?
- Will this lead to a job offer or career?
- Will you gain connections or mentors from this opportunity?
- How does the size of the firm impact your resume?
- Is it practical for you to commute to this firm?