Moving Closer to Prohibiting the Onboarding of Unpaid Interns

By Adam Robinson,
June 19, 2013

If I had to highlight the three most memorable lessons I’ve learned in college, they would be…

1. The time you spend in college will be the best years of your life.

2. You’ll need internship experience to get a job, but don’t expect to get paid for your work.

3. The job market is competitive – take what you can get.

These “lessons” are memorable not for their message, but for how contradictory they are. Yes, college is great. You can wake up at noon, go to class wearing sweatpants and be home (beer in hand) by 4 p.m. But for those of us burdened by the cloud of looming student loans, college isn’t as great as it seems. Take it from someone solely paying her way through school – we can’t afford to take on an unpaid internship, nor can we afford to forego the opportunity for such experience. 

Good news for students

A New York judge recently ruled against FOX Searchlight Pictures stating that labor laws were violated when the company used unpaid interns for “production tasks” on the 2010 film Black Swan. According to Reuters journalist Amanda Becker, “Employment lawyers said [the FOX Searchlight] decision and similar lawsuits that are likely to…force employers to reconsider using unpaid or underpaid interns.” Although this transistion would likely occur first in ‘”glamour” industries such as movies and publishing,’ similar policies may very well be adopted in all industries. 

In other words, unpaid internships may be on their way out. 

What this means for employers

The bad news is that you may not have access to free labor, but the good news is you’ll (probably) see stronger, more efficient work coming from that paid intern. 

Think about it this way: Giving a college student an internship (paid or otherwise) doesn’t guarantee them success. It will probably help their resume stand out to future employers, but it certainly won’t secure them a job. If you were that student, would you really do your best work and give it your all if you weren’t being paid? Aside from the chance at landing a job down the line, what else would be driving you to do well?

We live in a materialistic society, and like any regular job, money is what drives people to do well. Interns are no different – if you pay them, they’ll be encouraged to push themselves and produce the best possible work. If you don’t, there’s very little driving them.

For now nothing has been set in stone, but it’s important to stay on top on the latest news surrounding the legality of unpaid interns. You never know, you may be so blown away by that paid intern you won’t want to let them go once they get a degree. 

Before you hire any interns or full-time millennial employees, be sure to download our guide “Inside the Mind of a Millennial Job Seeker.”

About the Author

Adam co-founded Hireology with the mission to help growing companies make better hiring decisions through data and better technology. Adam is passionate about entrepreneurship, donating time to a number of organizations that support the entrepreneurial cause. Adam completed his undergraduate study at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and received his MBA from DePaul University in Chicago, IL.

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter and learn how to build your best team.