Should companies pay their PR interns?

Yesterday, I made my bi-annual journey down to my alma mater to speak to PR and Mass Comm students. In one of the classes I spoke with, an interesting discussion broke out around internships.

Specifically: Should companies pay their PR interns?

Understandably, many of the students tended to say “yes–companies should definitely pay us.” And, from where they sit, I can hardly blame them.

Soon-to-be college grads. College debt. Parents breathing down your neck to get that first job.

I get it. Internships kinda suck. Especially when they don’t pay.

But, I’m here to tell you one thing: I’m not sure it matters.

Should companies pay interns? That’s not my battle. I tend to think market forces should dictate that sort of thing–not regulators.

But, if you step back and look at the bigger picture: Getting paid for an internship really doesn’t matter. Here are three reasons why:

#1: Getting paid for an internship isn’t the end goal. Finding a full-time job that pays you a decent amount of money you can live off is the goal. An internship is just a means to that end. So, if that internship pays you–great. If it doesn’t–don’t sweat it. Just work your butt off, make connections and get that first job.

#2: The pay’s not worth it anyway. Think about what a typical internship pays. Probably somewhere between $10-15 an hour. That’s barely enough for most people to live off in most major markets. So, if that’s the case, why sweat the minimal pay? Why not reframe your outlook and look at the internship a bit different–again, see it as a means to a bigger end.

#3: Internships are all about experience and connections anyway. As an intern, you have zero leverage when it comes to the job search. You’re 21/22. You have zero experience. No leverage. So, utilize the internship for what it is: An opportunity to gain valuable experience (raise your hand to do EVERYTHING), and and opportunity to meet and network with people who can GET YOU A REAL JOB!. Do those two things well during your internship and you will have a job within 3-4 months.

Agree/disagree? I know you have an opinion on this one…

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3 comments on “Should companies pay their PR interns?

  1. Jim Parker says:

    Absolutely, interns are not slaves.

  2. Anna Wagner Schliep says:

    It absolutely does matter if internships are paid. That is, unless you either a) are well off enough to not have to worry about expenses or b) subscribe to the notion that you already have tons of student loans so why not more just pile on more to pay for summer expenses. The notion of “the pay is not worth it anyway” is just silly to me – any pay helps cover expenses and beyond that, the “typical” pay is still above minimum wage.

    Plus, internships – at least good ones – provide value not just to the intern but also to the company. While you’re getting experience, you should also be doing real work and that provides value and deserves pay.

    I appreciate the premise you’re trying to get at of appreciating internships for experience, but I can’t get behind the premise of not sweating pay and not paying interns.

  3. George C says:

    To be frank, yes! Getting paid matters! I can definitely see where you’re coming from Arik, but I think that getting paid should matter.

    True, getting paid for the internship isn’t the end goal — the end goal is the job you want — with the internship being a stepping stone of sorts.

    And like I said, I see the reasoning behind your mindset: working hard even without pay shows a sense of maturity, that the student is willing to go unpaid if it means learning necessary attributes and values that will prove valuable in the long run!

    However the truth of the matter is, many interns aren’t very rich, and having to do unpaid work is just not helpful for them. Even with school fees and debts aside, they are still human and need food and a roof over their heads, and having to spend 30-40+ hours a week doing unpaid work when it COULD be spent working for money to pay off things like rent, is simply illogical for many young adults out there!

    Ultimately, I can see the reasoning behind both sides of the argument, and you show that you do too. But for these youngsters, even a bit of pay could help them out tremendously and I just don’t think it does them justice for us to brush aside their pay.