To Pay or Not to Pay – The Great Intern Debate

Mark Cuban tends to be a polarizing force in the business world and one of his many opinions he frequently shares is why employers shouldn’t pay their interns.

Cuban has been outspoken about why he thinks people should work for free, and it’s brought up a large debate about the issue.


A Rise in Unpaid Interns

Since 2008 there’s been a big uptick in the number of unpaid interns working at companies throughout the country, and that’s largely because of the weak economy. Job seekers have been seen as desperate to take on work, and employees, particularly young ones, have often been working for free.

The U.S. Department of Labor has spoken out against unpaid internships, citing employment law concerns.

On the heels of this, Mark Cuban has been very vocal about why he thinks employees should be entitled to work for free, and why employers should be able to let them do just that if they’re willing.

Cuban wrote, in a controversial blog post, that he felt the government was dissuading people from working and gaining valuable experience, whereas on the other hand they would be doing nothing in the meantime.

Some interns would agree—they may get an amazing opportunity to work in a top company and in the process they’re going to make connections and gain experiences that are worth much more than a paycheck. On the other hand, interns are often charged with doing a significant amount of work in a company and they feel like it’s unfair to not receive payment in exchange for what they’re doing.

There’s no right answer to the question in our opinion, and we see value in internships in general, whether paid or unpaid, but for companies who are unsure of which approach to take, it’s important to see that paying your interns doesn’t just have to benefit them—it can also benefit the employer.

Here’s a few reasons:

  • Paid interns are more likely to become long-term fulltime employees. If you really want internships that aren’t just a way to get free labor but instead are a way to identify, recruit and nurture your talent pool over the long-term, a paid internship may be the way to do that.
  • You’re going to get a better pool of applicants, and ultimately stronger hires. You want the best of the best when it comes to interns and research shows the best way to attract them is to pay them for their time. Even just paying minimum wage can really improve the talent pool you’re able to attract when you’re hiring interns.
  • You may be missing out on finding not only the most talented, but also the most diverse interns if you’re not willing to pay. A huge number of college students, and in particular talented students from diverse backgrounds, have a staggering amount of student loan debt. They’re often not able to afford the luxury of an unpaid internship because they have to begin paying this debt so you may not be able to access these young people without some sort of payment for their work.
  • Paid internships can be incredibly beneficial for your overall employer brand. When you’re willing to pay employees it helps build your reputation as an employer so you’re not only able to attract great interns and students, but you’re going to have a better talent pool in general.
  • When you pay your interns you don’t have to worry about possible litigation or negative publicity. This can be costly in and of itself so rather than worrying about these very high costs, paying a minimal hourly salary to your interns can help you avoid that potential situation altogether.

What do you think about paying interns? Do you agree with Mark Cuban that the experience is enough of a payment, or do you think more companies should be willing to pay their interns?

November 5, 2014   Updated :March 25, 2015      

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