Small and start-up companies (do you identify?) are strapped for funds and an unpaid internship is a great source of free labor for a company that can’t afford to hire more help. For the intern, the experience can be a very valuable way to negotiate your way into the commercial world, gain experience and skills, and maybe make some contacts. Possibly the intern will get hired by the company. At the least, the intern is building a resume.
Whether you pay or don’t pay the intern, you still need to be prepared to guide and teach the intern and assign appropriate work. Too often interns show up all eager to work and nobody has lined up the work or even thought about it. No supervisor/guru has been assigned to the kid, or kids, and nobody really wants to be bothered. In the end they wind up doing filing and being gofers. So screen your interns and make sure you’re getting someone who with a little input is self directed. A colleague once had an intern who took on a computer research project and delivered a very cohesive report that was used for a new business pitch. The intern was hired and became an account exec.
A business friend made a habit of hiring the sons and daughters of Chamber of Commerce buddies hoping to curry favor and get business. Then he spent the rest of the year complaining about them.
I hired a paid marketing intern from Baruch College over a year ago. He hasn’t been able to find full time employment. So he still works for me. He handles all my established social media including blog postings, updates my petty cash accounts, runs some errands, and does some marketing research for me. He got a raise after a year. This is a win-win. He will get a great recommendation. And industry experience.
The bottom line is I’m a believer that some experience, however you can get it, is better than none. If it’s real experience. If you can give direct, relevant experience in the field the intern wants to go into, impart relevant skills in the process, offer exposure to senior people, and offer a line on their resume that will help take them somewhere, then a paid or non-paid internship can be a win-win. I personally believe in paid over unpaid. Even if it’s just a small sum that covers lunch and transportation, it gives everybody some skin in the game.