Back on the Soapbox: Interns Should Be Paid

A friend who will remain anonymous so he perhaps remains a friend asked me this week to help him find a top-notch intern. He sent job specifications that essentially required the intern to perform at the level of an account executive or above. Wishful thinking job descriptions are standard these days. The bigger issue with this one is the fact the intern will not get paid a dime. 

Despite the need for aspiring young professionals to gain experience, it is only reasonable for organizations to pay interns who are doing work that otherwise would be done by paid employees. Gone are the days interns mostly observed a professional workplace, ran a few errands and completed a non-essential project or two. Today, interns are hitting the ground running since lean PR teams need help and don’t have time to do much training. In many instances, interns are doing entry-level work so it is only reasonable that they should get a modest salary.

A majority of agencies in the U.S. are paying interns $10 to $12 an hour, while others have raised intern wages to $15 to $18 an hour in order to compete with bigger firms where most top talent first looks for opportunities. Considering that interns are increasingly billable at rates many times more than their pay levels, agency HR and finance organizations should reassess the true value of intern talent and start paying accordingly. As covered in this blog in the past, interns deserve to be paid, especially if they are working in for-profit organizations. It’s the right thing to do, and in many cases it’s the legal thing to do.

2 thoughts on “Back on the Soapbox: Interns Should Be Paid

  1. Agree, but would highlight that intern pay is not necessary at not-for-profit organizations, where such service could be understood as volunteer or public service work.

  2. Totally agree, Chuck. Nonprofit internships are exempt from my soapbox rant. However, an increasing number of nonprofit organizations are giving their interns token compensation to cover transportation and lunch.

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