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Paid vs. Unpaid: Taking a Look At Intern Compensation

The fact of the matter is that deciding whether or not to pay your interns can have company-wide implications. Let's take a look at what paid and unpaid internships provide for your company.
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To pay or not to pay? It's the question faced by intern employers everywhere. When will we be able to finally put this argument to rest?

In the future, I hope every student and recent graduate has the chance to make at least minimum wage during their internships. Recently, our CEO Andrew Maguire wrote about the ethical and social implications of intern compensation, but there are still unpaid internships being made available to students throughout the nation. This means the case for paid internships has yet to be closed.

The fact of the matter is that deciding whether or not to pay your interns can have company-wide implications. Let's take a look at what paid and unpaid internships provide for your company.

Paid Internships
According to The Chronicle Of Higher Education, nearly 20 million Americans attend college each year. Sixty percent of those students borrow annually to cover their costs. So why ask students to take on even more debt in their search for the valuable experiences necessary for landing a job? Or worse, why make students choose between paying their bills or taking on an unpaid internship?

Paid internships aren't just beneficial to students, they also provide a variety of benefits for your company:

1. Access to more a diverse workforce. Companies across the globe are looking to acquire a more diverse workforce. Hiring a more diverse staff opens the door to fresh ideas, a chance at a better work environment, and a wider variety of skillsets. Developing a more diverse staff starts with your internship program -- today's interns are tomorrow full-time employees. Providing paid internships will allow more diverse intern candidates to apply for your opportunities.

2. A larger talent pool of higher-quality of intern hires. On InternMatch, for example, paid positions get an average of two and a half times as many applicants as compared to unpaid internship listings. Many companies are making the switch to paid internships due to this fact alone.

Greater access to awesome interns will positively affect your bottom line. In fact, an exceptional intern can easily add $50,000 of value to your company -- while a fair-to-mediocre intern hire could actually cost your company money. Offering an unpaid internship actually decreases your company's chances of finding a talented intern to impact your company -- and your intern's salaries don't have to break your budget. Even offering minimum wage is sure to engage more qualified students.

3. A boost intern culture. Do you want a more engaged and productive class of interns? Compensation will do the trick. Pay shows your interns that they're a valued addition to the team. Your entire company culture is certain to thrive from this small consideration.

Unpaid Internships
It's a struggle to find any real positive side of unpaid internships. But it's also important to note that adequate compensation doesn't ensure the quality of an internship. A high intern salary doesn't relieve you of providing a valuable educational experience to your interns.

If paying your interns isn't high priority, consider the following implications:

1. Opening the door to discrimination. Unpaid internship programs act as gatekeeping mechanisms. They only let in those who can afford to gain out-of-the-classroom experience. This is unsettling since internships are one of the top ways for landing entry-level employment.

2. Numerous legal repercussions. Many companies have been faced with lawsuits after failing to pay their interns. Could your company be next? In 2010, the U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division released a clear set of guidelines for for-profit companies to determine whether they're required by law to pay their interns. By not paying your interns you may feel like you're getting a bargain by allowing them to "pay their dues," but you might actually be setting yourself up for serious legal troubles.

3. Create a poor image for your company. Providing interns with an unpaid, under-educational experience is certain to get people talking. Repeated negative reviews will ruin your image as an employer of interns and full-time employees. Consider providing your interns at least minimum wage for the hours your interns spend with you.

Think before you post your next internship listing. Do you want a large candidate pool of qualified diverse interns or a gatekeeping experience with possible legal repercussions.

Where do you weigh in? What do you think about the paid vs. unpaid internship debate?

Ashley Mosley is Community Engagement Manager of InternMatch, an online platform connecting the best intern candidates and employers. Connect with Ashley and InternMatch on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

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