5 things not to expect from an unpaid intern

Don’t be surprised if they come in late or don’t give their all. Without being paid, they have less motivation to do either and can damage your business, argues this PR pro.

By Hannah Stacey

 

 

Ah, the PR internship.

That much-maligned rite of passage for anyone hoping to make their way in the communications world.

It’s a bit like that inevitable bin-dunking you get on your first day of junior school (just me, then?) or learning to drive: Painful and a bit degrading at the same time.

Hopefully you emerge from the whole sorry mess a better, more enlightened person (or, alternatively, a sniveling shadow of your former self).

Those bewildering weeks spent shackled to the photocopier, the tea-making, the media-list compiling, the general skivvying—and without being paid—that’s all a massive favor, isn’t it? No, not on the intern’s part, silly! It’s an act of kindness from PR agencies, giving career-thirsty 20-somethings extremely valuable lessons in the workings of the illustrious communications industry (and hot beverage-making too, of course).

If anything, these interns should pay PR agencies for such an enlightening induction into public relations, right?

Wrong.

My cheekiness aside, unpaid internships can potentially be harmful to your business. At the very least, you’re probably not going to get the very best. And they could prove detrimental to your business.

Unpaid interns can’t do it all

Here are five things you can’t expect from an unpaid intern.

1. They get out of bed on time. We aren’t all morning people. It takes a wildly irritating alarm clock and the comforting reassurance that Starbucks will be open to get me out of bed on time each morning—and I love my job. If you’re not paying someone to get to work on time every day, chances are they won’t.

While punctuality may seem nitpicky to some, rocking through the office door at 9:15 a.m. just isn’t cool; it massively de-motivates everyone on your team. Hitting the ground running at 9 a.m. sharp is crucial if you want to maintain a professional working environment.

2. They give it their all. Okay, so your new intern might start out all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, but anyone who seriously expects them to arrive with a smile on their face, ready to bust a gut every morning when they’re not getting a dime in return, probably needs their head examined.

If you’re not offering your intern money or job stability for their efforts, you can’t really complain when they dedicate some of their working hours to finding someone else who will. When you pay interns, it’s not unreasonable to expect they’ll put a decent amount of effort in. The result? You’ve got someone who’s genuinely adding value to your business rather than sitting twiddling their thumbs.

3. They’re a team player. Your intern might be as altruistic as Robin Hood, but working day-in and day-out with people who are getting paid when they’re not earning a cent isn’t going to make them feel like part of the team. No matter how much they smile and laugh when you give them another media list to compile, chances are they’ll resent you. When everyone’s hard work is recognized and remunerated, they’ll feel more team-spirited and you’ll be free of office bad vibes.

4. They’ll hit the ground running. Having an “extra pair of hands” around the office sounds nice, but an intern is another person to manage (this is particularly true if they haven’t been through the company’s full selection process). I’ve said enough about how paying your interns will encourage them to work harder. It’s inevitable any intern will cost you in management time. Why not invest this time in someone who brings value to your business rather than someone who doesn’t feel like they owe you anything?

5. They’ll be the best of the best. Unpaid internships make the PR industry silly and elitist. Effectively they say: “You can only work for me if you (or your parents) are willing to fork out for food.” That’s nearly as absurd as saying: “You can only work for me if your surname begins with Q and your dad’s called Nigel.”

You’re shooting yourself and your business in the foot because, as we all know, being rich or influential doesn’t make one good at managing public reputation. Justin Bieber is walking proof of this. Give your interns enough to live off and you’ll likely attract the talented ones—not the ones whose mommy and daddy own a home in the countryside and let them crash at the penthouse in the city rent-free.

Not paying your interns is tempting, but will ultimately damage your business and prevent you from finding those hidden gems who could prove to be your best next hire. What are your thoughts? Are you pro or con paid internships?

Hannah Stacey is an account manager at integrated B2B marketing agency TopLine Communications. A version of this post first appeared on Spin Sucks.

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Comments

  1. While it is rough to not get paid during an internship experience it is essential to be as professional as possible during your entire time there. I interned for 5 months and always showed up on time. After I completed my tasks I always asked my supervisor if there was anything else I could do for her. I was working for a grade but I was also working in hopes that the experience could potentially turn into a long term opportunity. I finally got my big break as they asked me to come in part time and plan to make me the Sales and Marketing Coordinator. So my advice is that although it may be rough getting up and working on endless tasks that you will not be compensated for just think about the bigger picture and what the internship could potentially turn into.

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