Should you be getting paid at your internship?

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Should you be getting paid at your internship?

This is a guest post from our camps ambassador Vanessa Moreno from San Diego Mesa College.

“Getting paid with experience” doesn’t sound too appealing to some financially deprived college students. The fact is that between transportation and food expenses you will end up spending money on a job that doesn’t pay you. It is hard to see an internship as an investment in your future when you live in a world where you always feel short on cash and yet keep on hearing so many dreadful accounts on the job market’s demand for “experienced” professionals.

I always laugh when I find articles online referring to interns as “indentured slaves”. It is probably true that most companies assign the most menial tasks to their interns, making internships earn a reputation for mind-numbing work. But, what happened to the “work your way to the top” mentality? Wouldn’t it be great to get that first high paying job based on all the hard work you’ve put in while still in college? Just because you are at the bottom of the ladder, it does not mean you do not have rights. Interns, whether they are paid or unpaid, are both subject to the rules under the Fair Labor Standards Act. If you have an unpaid internship at a “for-profit” organization there are six golden principles that define an unpaid internship:

1. The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;

2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;

3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;

4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;

5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and

6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.

Ideally, an internship should be structured as a learning experience in the area the intern is interested in and not around the companies specific and imminent needs. But if I had to guess, most interns would jump at the chance to contribute something meaningful if asked. If you are unsure about whether or not you should be getting paid, at your next internship interview ask about how the internship is structured and the scope of your responsibilities.

Accepting an internship is not about committing to show up to an office for four months just so you can add a few lines to your resume. You should explore all of the benefits the company has to offer. Because networking has never been more important than it is now, the greatest perk of starting out as an intern is all of the people you will get to meet—both established professionals and other interns your age you bond with can help you find a job later on.  The important thing to remember is that an internship is a tool at your disposal and it is up to you to use it wisely in the advancement of your career.