flipping burgersWith summer approaching and unemployment stuck at 9.7%, students looking for a summer job are going to have a tough time, even if they’re willing to flip burgers. Those looking to boost their skill set and resume through a professional internship are really up against the odds.

Summer internships used to be a boon to employers who were looking for “cheap labor” to do filing and answer the phones. As the economy tightened, cheap often became “free”, or internships were eliminated all together.

Looking to build any edge they could in the job market once they graduated, students who could afford to, took the free internships, and moved home with mom and dad, or held another job. According to a recent article in the New York Times, “Employers posted 643 unpaid internships on Stanford University’s job board this academic year, more than triple the 174 posted two years ago.” 

Not so fast: The Federal Labor Department is starting to investigate free internships as possible minimum wage violations. Whether this is a little too much of “Big Brother” is a post for another time,

If you are a college student, or know of one who is looking to gain some valuable international experience this summer, there are some bright spots. One of them, or rather five of them, are  being offered by the “The Business Council for Peace”. Bpeace, headquartered in New York, is an international non-profit coalition of business professionals who believe the path to peace is lined with jobs.

Students accepted as 2010 Bpeace Fellows will work virtually on projects that help developing countries create more employment and lift people out of poverty and violence…and they will be paid. The deadline  to apply is April 19, and the information is available on here on the PR Newswire site.

6 thoughts on “The Internship Dilemma: No more free lunch”

  1. I am offering unpaid internships this summer in Kutztown. My organization is the type of organization that typically provides academic credit opportunities. Rather than filing and answering the phones, I try to give the interns at least two or three tangible projects that they get to manage and claim as their own when they are done. No better way to build a resume than to have actual accomplishments.

    While in college I had four unpaid internships, all of which allowed me similar experiences and put me in a good position to claim some qualifications when I finished my master’s.

  2. I think hiring someone to work for free is a violation of labor laws. If it’s a JOB, you are expected to show up on time every day and do the kind of work that makes the company money, where you have a boss and would consider it professional development. That’s different from VOLUNTEER work, wherein you are giving of time to a nonprofit organization.

    (I suppose that interns at nonprofit organizations could be considered volunteers, although I was always paid at least a stipend for my intern work at nonprofit organizations in DC.)

    Students should beware any company that is not willing to fairly compensate them for their work. I’d venture that the company is not likely to fairly compensate their employees, either, and have questionable HR practices. Even in a down economy, it’s not fair to ask students to volunteer while a company profits from their work.

  3. Pamela Varkony


    With unemployment still so high, internships are becoming a very gray area. The NYT piece that I link to in my post made some excellent points about the economic divide highlighted by unpaid internships: Only the students from wealthy families can afford to take them. Students from working class backgrounds can’t.

    Like you, I worked several unpaid internships. I learned a lot about the real world, not all of it good.

    If you want to post contact info for your internships, please feel free to do so. I’m sure there are lots of students out there who would appreciate hearing about them.

    1. LV Transplant,

      You’re backing up the point being made by our government who is starting to investigate companies offering free internships. If you haven’t read the NYT piece that I link to in the post, you would appreciate it.

      I have mixed feelings about this: One side wants the government to stay out of this process. College students are smart enough to make their own decision about whether they want the experience that will boost their resume badly enough to work for free.

      The other issue, which the Times brought to bear, is how discriminatory free internships are: Poor kids can’t afford to take them…they have to work. So in the end I agree with you. Internships should offer some compensation.

  4. Hey, what is all the fuss about?

    Obama says he is focused like a laser beam on the economy!

    To all those college kids who flocked to vote for Obama :

    Do a little research BEFORE a Presidential election next time.

    I beleive the current crop of college kids are in for a VERY RUDE awakening once they leave the security of their insulated, arch-liberal campuses.

    College kids, in my opinion, will be getting what they voted for – NOTHING.

    (But, hey, at least they can stay safely under their parents’ health insurance umbrealla until they are 26 now).

    Okay, having bad-mouthed Obama, it must be time to start calling me a racist!

    Still ain’t gonna change the fact a lot of FREE LUNCHES will become toast in the days to come for Obama’s “transforming” America.

  5. Pam,

    My organization is the Kutztown Community Partnership. Email: kcp@hometownu.com. Phone: 484-646-9069. Marketing, business administration, communications, public administration and ecomomics students are probably our best bets.

    In our job descriptions, we do state very clearly that it is an unpaid position. I am also quick to point out that this is not an internship in which somebody shows up on a schedule. We lay out a scope of work and determine a timeline. Most of the interns would probably take on 4 week projects where they would come in 2-3 times a week for 4 hours. It is a very independant learning environment that we connect directly to academic credit.

    I have checked all of these out with our lawyer and am confident that we are doing it the right way. This was all good info, however. Not all non-profits (which we are) are so effective in ensuring proper work-place compliance.

    I did all of my internships while working full-time summer jobs and I certainly didn’t come from a wealthy family (or even a middle-class family for that matter… we were poor). I often worked 8-4 and then by 4:30 was at my internship for 3 hours or staggered my responsibilities accordingly (perhaps explaining why I’ve never had a job that always requires more than 40 hours a week). If you want the good experience, it requires sacrifice.


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