We’re Approaching Intern Season. Is It A Good Thing?

Back in college, I was lucky enough to score an summer internship at an agency that actually paid. I got something like $100 a week, because as I was told, the agency President believed in paying something rather than not paying at all. Hey, it was lunch and gas money, and I was grateful for it.
But paid internships are an exception these days, and not just in advertising. It’s convenient for interns to get some sort of college credit for their time, but as The New York Times reports, there may be bigger problems:

Convinced that many unpaid internships violate minimum wage laws, officials in Oregon, California and other states have begun investigations and fined employers. Last year, M. Patricia Smith, then New York’s labor commissioner, ordered investigations into several firms’ internships. Now, as the federal Labor Department’s top law enforcement official, she and the wage and hour division are stepping up enforcement nationwide.

And who can afford to take an unpaid internship? The article probes that question a little, too:

While many colleges are accepting more moderate- and low-income students to increase economic mobility, many students and administrators complain that the growth in unpaid internships undercuts that effort by favoring well-to-do and well-connected students, speeding their climb up the career ladder.
Many less affluent students say they cannot afford to spend their summers at unpaid internships, and in any case, they often do not have an uncle or family golf buddy who can connect them to a prestigious internship.

Are unpaid internships offering an easier path to the ad industry for richer, or more well-off kids? Is that inhibiting the industry’s attempt to encourage a more diverse workforce? Is there an answer to this?
One thing’s for certain–there are few, if any, training programs in advertising. It’s the old can’t-get-experience-without-a-job and vice versa catch-22. So whether it’s a portfolio school or an unpaid internship, many people looking for a career in advertising resort to buying their way in, one way or another.



About Dan Goldgeier

Dan Goldgeier is a Seattle-based freelance copywriter with experience at advertising agencies across the U.S. He is a graduate of the Creative Circus ad school, and currently teaches at Seattle's School of Visual Concepts. Dan is also a columnist for TalentZoo.com and the author of View From The Cheap Seats and Killer Executions and Scrubbed Decks.