Monday, July 23, 2012

The Hot Debate About Paying Interns

Recently, there has been lots of buzz in the news and papers about us interns, and whether or not we should be paid. I have to say this discussion topic has come up in plenty of conversations in the last few weeks and has given me a lot to think about.

Should we be paid? What are the benefits of not being paid? If we aren’t getting paid, then should we be working 12-hour days? So many questions, so many opinions, and yet, who is the right person to answer them?

Being an intern that has gone the last seven months working 30-40+ hour weeks and receiving nothing more than four credits, it’s hard to side with the Anti Paying Interns side of the argument. However, I understand that if you’re getting school credit, that’s some company’s way of skirting around monetary payment, which is fair in some cases. I know other internships that offer to compensate their interns with a meal plan where their lunches are paid for (which, frankly, adds up to be not so shabby of a deal in my opinion). At Condé Nast, they offer their interns a $550 stipend. I think that, even though it may be small in comparison to what you’re spending, a small amount of money does make a difference.

The hardest part about the whole argument is that interns, especially ones who travel to New York City to intern, end up paying a lot of money to gain hands-on experience in their field of choice. For me, in the fashion industry, it’s hard not to come to NYC because it’s one of the fashion capitols of the world. And in magazines, the biggest publishing houses of magazines reside in Manhattan as well. For one summer, I’m spending money on rent, food, amenities like laundry, as well as paying per credit hour for my internship. It’s costing over $4,000 for me to gain experience at the Fashion Mag. This begs the question…is it worth it?

In my opinion, I could argue for either side. I wish I were being paid. And I understand that not everyone is able to come and do an internship in New York because there isn’t any sort of payment for meals, housing, etc. On one hand, it’s hard to work the hours I do for the mere name of the publication on my resume and no extra numbers in my bank account. On the other hand, I could have found a part-time job in Manhattan to make up for a non-paid internship. However, I think a middle solution between the two sides would be for a small stipend to be given to each intern (like Condé Nast does). I see how companies can’t afford to put all interns on salary but then they shouldn’t expect interns to work 12-hour days for them. I think that there needs to be a balance of give and take between both parties.

Though the Fashion Mag might not be paying me, I am gaining invaluable experience from them that it's worth spending my summer sprinting back and fourth from Starbucks. It’s the contacts and networking. It’s the experience of living in a big city on my own. It’s the fact that I am learning more in one summer about what I want to do for the rest of my life than any professor or classroom at college could teach me in one semester.

In some cases, it’s a fair trade. The company you work for gives you invaluable experience, contacts, and networking as well as a potential recommendation letter or employment with them when you’re done with college. In return, you give them your time and commitment and learn as much as possible. Even though it might not be a monetary compensation for the hours and hours you spend working, the experience really is invaluable.

Ah, such a tough argument! But at this time in intern history, an extremely valid one that requires multiple opinions and I need people to weigh in on this!! I’m always back and fourth, torn and flip-flopping between paid or not paid. What do you guys think? What is a good solution? Does your experience with the company make up for the lack of payment?

Can't wait to hear your guys' opinions!

Until next Monday,
Fashion Intern


  1. I think stipends are decent compromise, but that's not feasible (unfortunately) in some industries. Right now, I'm interning at a community paper, and while the experience has been great, it's a non-profit so the only person on payroll is the EIC. The most upsetting thing to me is that there's only an exclusive, select group of people who can afford to intern in big cities for no pay. Luckily, I go to school in New York, so it's usually easier. But I had to turn down a summer internship with Hearst because I couldn't afford to pay my University for the credit required. And that's not fair for students in difficult financial situations, especially if they are pursuing a career where the leading place for the industry is far from their school.

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    2. I know exactly what you mean. It's extremely difficult for the majority of students to be able to feasibly afford a summer internship in a big city. I know I have been extremely fortunate enough to have had this opportunity because New York is far from home for me as well. But, you do have going to school in NYC to your advantage! That would be a huge stepping stone for you if you could work it out with classes to do internships in fall and/or spring. I also think for people who aren't able to do an internship like this could easily add to their resume and gain experience doing other things in the fashion, magazine, or whatever industry they're in. There are things like, for example in fashion, College Fashionista, HerCampus, etc. where you can build your skills as a writer, blogger, etc. and gain leadership positions or start a magazine at your own campus. I know that as I'm going through resumes looking at prospective interns to select for interviews for fall, I look at those things because they really do stand out and matter to potential employers.

  2. Great argument! And, I agree on the argument that the experience is way more than money. We receive recommendations, contacts, and a well-known name on our resume: what else could we ask for? With a potential of receiving a high-paying job at the end. That's where this quote comes to importance: "the problem is that people live for now and not the end". The end of the internship sort of guarantees us a job at the end.

    Another thing that should be discussed: why are internships only being offered for college-credit? It should be offered regardless that fact you are attending college or not? Right?

    Notwithstanding, I support the fact the internships shouldn't be paid. But it would be great to offer accommodation or something to accompany the fact the we are not getting paid. Its usually the hard part: when you have a internship in NY but have no place to stay; and that becomes the underlying problem in your move over there.

    Thanks for the article, very informative!

    1. I can see where you're coming from. But, I think the reason publishing houses require college credit is because the internships aren't paid. By receiving college credit, you're documented to be legitimately getting some sort of compensation for it (by advancing credits at college to get you closer to a degree). If there wasn't that requirement, and interns weren't being paid, there would be a whole lot of other issues on everyone's hands! At least this way interns are gaining something substantial from working, even if it is just a credit or two. I do know some internships provide a meal allowance and/or housing if you're reallllly lucky! It just depends on the internship, the company, and the location.

    2. So that's what it is, companies just don't want to pay the students for their labor so they feel like giving college credit is good enough. I honestly thought companies only request people in college because of the belief that college students are more intelligent or more qualified to work with them. What a twisted society. Its also funny because the companies want you to work two or three full days with them WHILE going to school. That is hard with sixteen credits or more.

  3. Anyone who argues that the experience is worth it clearly comes from a family or background that is able to pay. It's an answer that comes from naive, young, middle-class people who don't understand the value of money.

    There are exceptions of course - a driven young person who works 30 hrs at the internship and 30 hrs at minimum wage to pay for the internship. But it's not the norm.

    Unpaid internships are a form of discrimination. If you can afford to go without pay, you can get these opportunities that allow you to move ahead in your career. If you can't, tough luck. Maybe you'll catch up one day.

    Additionally, unpaid internships often violate local minimum wage laws. If you're doing any clerical work, writing, analysis, etc that is not strictly a learning experience, you are entitled to minimum wage unless you're getting school credit.

    Bottom line: unpaid internships favour the rich and keep the poor down by giving them fewer opportunities.

    1. I understand your frustration with the entire situation. But I do know that the company I intern for requires to get school credit and if you can't, then you can't intern there simply because they just don't offer paid internships. So the reason the interns there aren't paid is because we're all receiving credit from various colleges.

      I don't believe that interning has anything to do with socioeconomic status or class or any type of discrimination. Interning is an option not a requirement.

      Personally, I worked several jobs all through high school to be able to afford the living expenses of New York because I have had the goal of interning out here for quite some time. If people do want to intern and know they won't be receiving any monetary compensation for it, they could look into working another job while interning to supplement the expenses or work before hand and save up. There are also scholarships through universities and colleges that, depending on your school, will fund part or all of your living expenses to assist interns.

      I agree with you that interning costs students a lot of time and money. However, I disagree that people who intern, have a positive experience, and learn something from it are naive and don't understand the value of money. Interning isn't discriminatory simply because you can intern anywhere. It doesn't have to be in New York, it can be in your hometown. At the end of the day, experience is experience; it's the skill set you bring to your job that will set you apart.

    2. I agree with you a lot. I hate that offering an internship for-credit (which companies do to avoid legal problems and because of insurance issues, etc.) is supposed to offset the fact that your position is unpaid. The fact that in a lot of instances you have to pay to work for free just isn't fair, and makes it difficult for people to intern anywhere.

    3. Internships are optional, yes, but they are replacing entry-level jobs which makes them a stepping stone into many industries. You wouldn't be doing your internship if you didn't see the value of it, and excluding people of certain socioeconomic backgrounds from having valuable experiences that help them get jobs makes it a socioeconomic issue. This is how it is discriminatory - having unpaid internships favours a particular group of people within society.

      Ultimately, we all benefit if internships are paid. Everyone has access, everyone has a bit of money, and everyone is getting experience. Yes, it costs companies money, but if a company can't afford to pay someone minimum wage to be there for 40 hours a week, then something's wrong with their business, and the brunt of their failure shouldn't be thrust upon an intern.

      Also, I didn't say that people who intern are naive, but that people who think experience has more value than money are naive. Experience is INvaluable but we all have to eat.