Internships · Hiring

Ethical use of interns: Should I just go for it?

helloandyhihi

November 25th, 2013

I'm a solo entrepreneur who has avoided hiring anyone by outsourcing a number of functions. I have a friend in a related field who has two unpaid interns and a third who earns minimum wage. 

I definitely need some help but I've hesitated to even consider interns. I feel some guilt about having people help build my  business when they're not getting much other than experience. I remember Susan Sandberg's org receiving a lot of criticism for its use of interns that was considered unethical. 

But I know that internships benefit students and recent grads a lot. Perhaps I should just embrace the system as it is. Do any FD folks have some thoughts? 

Blake Garrett Founder and CEO at Aceable

November 25th, 2013

I personally believe in paying people for work. Now, I also have bootstrapped and understand sometimes there's not a lot of money around and they are getting a lot in experience. The compromise I've found is fixed fee jobs that if broken down to a time vs. task completion ration might not equate to min. wage but it's up to them to get it done fast and efficiently. For example, 10, 500 word blog posts for 100 bucks. Just my two cents.

Warren Cardinal Web Designer | SEO Consultant | Founder lucidcrew.com

November 25th, 2013

There are rules about unpaid interns.  Most are illegal.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/06/13/are-unpaid-internships-illegal/

Will Glasson Assistant County Attorney, Multnomah County

November 25th, 2013

First, THIS ISN'T LEGAL ADVICE. No attorney-client relationship is established from this, etc. (Had to get that out of the way.)

I second Warren's recommendation to proceed with caution. Essentially, you can't use unpaid interns or externs for much commercially productive work. See the DOL's rules on this. The DOL provided the most guidance to law firms in a recent letter. That said, the letter can be interpreted to apply to your circumstances as well. Note: you don't want to be on the cutting edge, using interns in merely arguably permissible ways. 

Alison Lewis CEO/Creative Director

November 25th, 2013

I went through this with a young lady and she was great. Personality and commitment was a good fit, but her skill level wasn't where it needed to be. She had a want to be higher in the company than she was fit to be (often this happens with inexperienced workers). She demanded shares in order to stay on and then left when things got tough. Better clarity from me and a compensation up front would have helped. 

Make sure you communicate clearly that this person is an intern and let them know what they need to do if they want to be more than an intern at a later time. As Mike states above a dynamic equity fund is a great idea. However, many interns don't know what that is and so again communication is key. 

It is easy to misalign expectations with someone who has never worked before. My advice is go for it, but be prepared to be direct at the beginning and set really clear boundaries. 

Paul Travis Multifaceted Online Executor: Product Marketing to Program Mgmt. to Business Development

November 25th, 2013

I don't have the source offhand but the data show that students who have internship experience get jobs more quickly and at an average starting salary of $7k higher.  The other thing you're discounting is the value of a professional reference -- who else do they have except a prof or Uncle Benjamin?

I started out in the 80's offering to work for free (didn't know the term "intern" then) and that got my career going.  So I have see only upside where the DOL sees only issues.  Yes, I engage interns.

Anonymous

November 25th, 2013

Pay them something, not nothing.

Paul Travis Multifaceted Online Executor: Product Marketing to Program Mgmt. to Business Development

November 25th, 2013

Warren posted at the same time I did.  Know the six considerations and be able to address them.

I think it's time the Fed start differentiating between publicly held corporations and small business...

Jonathan Bond-Caron

November 25th, 2013

I find the wording very ambiguous for 'unpaid' internship. I find that picking a small project and hiring an intern as a 'contractor/consultant' works well. If you have a signed agreement, it works pretty well to define a non employee-employer relationship.

The project benefits the intern to learn and you can pay him for certain milestones. If you go unpaid, you don't get the same quality of applicants.


Laura Putnam CEO, Motion Infusion

November 25th, 2013

My suggestion is to work through an institution that requires graduate students to obtain experience in the field.  I have worked with interns using this arrangement, so everything runs through the school.

Luis Avila Owner/Fullstack Architect at IdeaNerd LLC

November 25th, 2013

My suggestion is not to ask if unpaid internships are ethical or not but to find out when unpaid internships are LEGAL vs ILLEGAL. The law is quite clear.