The Principals’ Office: Paid vs Unpaid Internships

Rick Teitloff, Intern, Shank Public Relations Counselors


Like much of my youth, when I needed to be taught a lesson (which was more often than I cared for) I got sent to the principal’s office. I guess a whole lot hasn’t changed in the past 20 years. In this series I sit down with David and Marilyn Shank – the principals of Shank Public Relations Counselors, Inc. – and ask them questions about public relations.

In this edition we discuss paid vs unpaid internships. With our internship application deadline coming up (it’s Monday!) it only seems fitting that we let you know where we stand on the issue.

Rick (R): Do you think unpaid internships are acceptable or ethical?

David (D): “This is a complicated issue. The terms paid and unpaid can mean different things. Some internships pay students through experience and genuine learning as opposed to monetary compensation. If an intern is unpaid, the internship must still be beneficial to the intern. For some not-for-profit companies it is a completely different story. But unpaid internships just aren’t for our company.”

R: Do you think this issue should be addressed by the PRSA or the U.S. Government?

D: “Both the PRSA and the Department of Labor have addressed this issue and have stipulations that must be met by the employer’s internship program to have unpaid interns. So I think that we currently have a fair system as long as the rules are being followed.” – Check it out here!

M: “Beyond the duration of the internship, some laws should be looked at. One that affects small businesses is state unemployment laws. Indiana should take a look at that one. But as far as the internship itself, I think the current rules are enough.”

R: Do you foresee a change in legal policy?

D: “It’s supply and demand. With the current system there are plenty of unpaid interns. As long as companies can do it, they will. And as long as students accept unpaid internships they will continue. I don’t see any changes in the near future.”

M: “I agree with David. I think it will be market driven. We won’t have any changes until we are forced to.”

R: Why do you pay your interns when you don’t have to?

M: “It’s the ethical thing to do. It also allows us to keep everyone in the race. The most talented intern candidates are most likely going to want a paid internship. There are also students who are putting themselves through college and can’t afford to take an unpaid internship. So it really opens up the door for the talent.”

D: “We have a responsibility to help students. We don’t want working here to be a hardship for our interns. Interns walk away from Shank Public Relations Counselors with professional experience and some money in their pockets. Studies also show that paid interns go on to have more job offers and higher starting salaries. An internship is not a one way street. We learn from our interns just as they learn from us. So getting those top candidates is truly important to us.”

R: Do you think paying interns affects their quality of work?

M: “Not really. It may keep interns a little more motivated, and if nothing else it encourages them to submit their time sheets on time!”

D: “I don’t think so. And it absolutely shouldn’t. The quality of work starts in the interview process. We carefully select who we put through that process and only choose quality candidates. So paid or unpaid, we would get quality interns.”

That does it for this week’s installment. What are your thoughts on paid vs unpaid internships? What are your personal experiences? Let us know what you think!

The topic for our next installment will be non-writing skills that are essential for public relations! If you have any questions for David and Marilyn you can leave them in the comments below, tweet at us (@shank_pr) or stop by our Facebook page. If you found this helpful, make sure to share it with your friends and spread the knowledge!

Rick Teitloff is our summer 2013 intern. Rick is a senior at Ball State University and will be graduating with a bachelor’s degree in public relations in December.


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