Internships

The following is the text of my June 6th broadcast on Bruce Hurwitz Presents.

Today’s program is the first in a restructured show.  In order to expand listenership and to offer opportunities to individuals starting their careers, I’ve reformulated the program’s structure and divided it into four different forums.

The Ph.D. Forum will introduce listeners to doctoral and post-doctoral students, giving them an opportunity to discuss what, by definition, is cutting-edge research, be it in the arts, sciences or humanities.  Starting off the Ph.D. Forum will be Jason Sole, from Capella University, who is an expert on gangs.  He’ll be appearing at 11 AM on June 21.  On June 23 at 5 PM I’ll be joined by Neal Ramer from Ryokan College.  We’ll be discussing coping with depression – something of which the long-time unemployed know only too well.  And the next day, June 24, at 10:30 AM I’ll be interviewing Christopher Morrissey from the University of Notre Dame on the influence of religion on war and peace.

The second Forum, Business Forum, will feature guests from the for-profit and non-profit sectors talking about their careers and professions.  Two guests who I have yet to schedule but who I am confident will be on, will both be discussing various aspects of career growth.  One, a Ph.D. himself, will be speaking about changing careers.  Check out my website homepage, http://www.hsstaffing.com, for updates.

The third Forum, Social Forum, will deal with current events.  The lead-off show will be June 16 at 11:30 AM.  Its focus is on health care and specifically insurance companies and the pharmaceutical industry.  The impetus for the program was an incident with my health insurance provider, EmblemHealth, and their on-line pharmacy, Medco.  Suffice it to say that I have invited numerous members of Congress, as well as a representative of the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office to participate, along with representatives from EmblemHealth and Medco.  The title of the show, “Are EmblemHealth and Medco Fixing Prices and Violating the Law?” pretty much says it all.  I hope you’ll be able to join us for what I am certain will be an energized show.

In fact, it will not only be energized, it will be the first in a series of programs dedicated to the pharmaceutical industry.  Again, check out my website for updates.

Finally, the fourth Forum, Oral Essays, features talks by me on various topics.  Today’s broadcast is obviously the first and I’ll be discussing Internships.  On June 14 at 11 AM I’ll be speaking on conducting a successful job search, and on June 30 at 10 AM on obtaining and profiting from free PR in business and employment.  I hope you’ll be able to join me and, as always, questions from callers will be welcome.

Which brings me today’s program on Internships.  If you have any questions feel free to call in.  The number is 323-792-2978.  I’ll also be glancing at the chat room.  If you have any questions, you can post them there.   I’ll take questions at the end of the presentation which will last just under 15 minutes.

With the onset of summer and vacation season it seems timely to discuss internships.  Of course, students should have arranged their internships long ago.  However, there is much for both students and employers to keep in mind.

First, for employers, do they have to pay interns?  And second, for interns, why are internships important and how can they assure a successful experience?

So the first question is, Do interns have to be paid?  And I begin with the standard disclaimer:  I am not an attorney and employers should discuss this with their attorney or financial advisor.

But it’s a simple question.  Do employers have to pay interns?  After all, they are affectionately referred to as “slave labor.”  Since this deals with Federal government regulations the answer is simple, Yes and no.

I am basing my answer on Fact Sheet #71, titled “Internship Programs Under The Fair Labor Standards Act,” put out by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division.  And I must add, employers need to check on the regulations of their individual states as well.  But I’m going to focus here on the Feds.

First, the regulations deal with, and I quote, “Internships in the ‘for-profit’ private sector.”  That’s important because an intern at a non-profit will no doubt be classified as a volunteer.  Volunteers, by definition, do not have to be paid.  Before becoming an executive recruiter and career counselor I had worked at non-profits in the US for well-over a decade.  We had volunteers doing real work.  There were security guards at a nursing home.  There were seniors helping with mailings.  And there were board and committee members offering substantive advice which, under different circumstances, would have constituted consulting services.  None was paid.  None had to be.

So were are speaking about for-profits.  According to the Supreme Court, if the work being done only serves the interest of the person doing the work, then that person is not an employee.  For example, if the individual wants to learn IT administration and an IT company grants them an internship, if the owner of the company, or one of his or her employees, takes the intern along with him and shows her, the intern, what the work is like and actually permits her to do some work, under his supervision, the employer is not benefitting.  In fact, the employer is losing.  Why?  Because he would get the job done a lot faster if he did not have to explain everything to the intern.

Another example might be at an accounting firm where the intern is being trained in what she has studied in school.  Let’s keep it simple and say she learned QuickBooks.  At the accounting firm the owner is allowing her to enter data using QuickBooks.  After she’s finished, someone has to double check what she did, a step that would not be necessary had an employee actually done the work.  So, again, the employer is losing.

There are, in fact, six criteria which must apply if the employer is to be free from paying the intern:

First, even if real work is being done, the internship is similar to school training.  Thus, my example of data entry.

Second, the internship is for the benefit of the intern.  The owner of the IT company didn’t need to train an IT intern.

Third, the intern did not replace any employee but worked closely under the supervision of an employee.

Fourth, the employer gets no advantage from the internship (good PR and a good feeling aside) and may actually have his operations impaired because of the internship, for example, when explaining or checking up on the intern’s work slows a job down.

Fifth, the intern is not guaranteed a job at the conclusion of the internship.

And sixth, in the beginning of the relationship, both the intern and the employer understand – and it should be in writing – that the intern will not be paid for her work.

If all six criteria exist, there is no employment and therefore no right of payment.

Basically, if the internship is educational there is no need to pay. However, and here is where things get complicated, if the employer is actually benefiting because the intern is engaged in actual operations – even if it’s just filing or other clerical work or assisting customers – the employer may have to pay minimum wages because he is benefiting from the intern’s work.

Another way to look at it, and to become even more confused, is by focusing on the issue of supervision.  If the intern is replacing an employee, the intern is entitled to minimum wage.  Same is true if the employer would have hired someone to do the work had he not been able to find the intern.   However, if all the intern is doing is shadowing an employee and doing at the most minimal work, then it will probably be considered educational and the employer will owe nothing.  But, if the intern is supervised to the same extent as an employee, the employer may have to pay minimum wage.

Lastly, time can be a factor in determining if the intern needs to be paid.  Internships should be for a fixed period determined at the start of the internship.   The internship should not be considered a trial period leading to employment.  If the intern expects to be hired after the internship, the employer will have to pay minimum wage.  That is why, as previously noted, I highly recommend written agreements with all interns so as to clearly state expectations.

So much for employers.  What about the interns?  How can an intern assure a successful internship?

First, interns should understand why their internship is important.  What do they need at the end of the day?  They need real work experience and, most importantly, a good recommendation.  They also need to show future prospective employers that they are serious about their careers.  Having internships on a resume, as opposed to just having a good time during the summer, can differentiate graduates from their peers.  Employers take internships seriously.  They do not take college students who fool around during the summer seriously!  You need that letter of recommendation.  Or, ultimately, you need the owner of the company where you did your internship to remember you and, maybe, when you have graduated, offer you a job.  A good recommendation or a job offer are the outcomes that make an internship a positive experience.

I recommend reading a recent article by Matt Brownell from Main Street.

Surprisingly, and encouragingly, Matt quotes a survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers that found that 58% of interns were hired as full-time employees.  I think that pretty much ends any discussion about whether or not internships should be taken seriously.

Here are some rules to follow that should help assure a successful internship:

  1. Act professionally – meaning dress the part, don’t talk on your cell phone, don’t be listening to your iPod or MP3 player.  Concentrate on your work.  Yes, I know that you are used to studying while listening to music.  But that’s not what the employer sees.  The employer sees someone who is listening to music and therefore not concentrating on her work.  And he also sees someone who is not going to be able to hear if a colleague calls her.  Impression is reality.  If the impression is that you are goofing off, you are goofing off!
  2. When you have nothing to do, ask people what you can do to help them.  In other words, show that you are not lazy and that you are a team player.
  3. Ask questions.  As Samantha Zupan of GlassDoor.com says, “You have to be insatiable and have to have curiosity about what you’re up to.”  However, don’t be rude.  Pick the proper time and place.  You want to be seen as someone who wants to learn, not someone who is a pest.
  4. If you have a problem, don’t be confrontational.  Raise issues in the form of questions.  But don’t ask stupid questions.  “Why was I sent to get lunch?” is a stupid question.  The answer is, “You’re the intern and we have work to do!”  You should know that.
  5. You will make a mistake.  You may even make a number of mistakes.  It’s called being human and being inexperienced.  And it’s expected.  Don’t cover it up.  When you do something wrong, own up to it.  Tell your supervisor about it.  Better he should hear it from you than from someone else.  If possible, have a proposal to fix the mistake.  Taking ownership of one’s mistakes shows maturity.  And it is a good life lesson.  The fact of the matter is, it’s rarely the crime that get’s you, it’s the cover-up.  It’s generally accepted that President Nixon would never have had to resign and President Clinton would never have been impeached had they just told the truth.  That brings up another life lesson: It’s better to learn from other people’s mistakes than to have to learn from your own!
  6. Follow the advice of Robin Richards of Internships.com and, when given a task ask about benchmarks.  Say something like, “I want to know that I’m doing a good job and contributing.  What’s the goal I should shoot for?”  And if during the work you have questions, ask them.  It’s better to ask than to make assumptions that will lead to mistakes.  Supervisors sometimes forget that what is obvious to them may not be so obvious to an intern – or anyone else for that matter who is doing the work for the first time.
  7. Attitude is everything.  You are not going to be judged solely on outcomes.  If Jane does the job better than Joe, but Jane is difficult to work with and Joe is a pleasure, as long as Joe has potential and is worth the investment, Joe will get the job.  It’s a lot easier to train someone nice to do a job better than to try and change a person’s character flaws.  And –
  8. Don’t try to ingratiate yourself to the big boss.  “Sucking up,” so to speak, is always transparent.  Moreover, if you are seen by your supervisor to be speaking with her boss, she’ll think you are going behind her back.  Be pleasant.  Be a team play.  Go to lunch with the gang.  But impress your supervisor with the quality of your work and the depth of your character and she’ll start talking about you to her bosses.  As I told Matt, “Once your supervisors start speaking well of you, they’re going to talk about you to the big boss.  You go over to the president and start schmoozing, that’s not going to get you anywhere.”

Finally, have fun.  An internship should be enjoyable.  You may very well be making contacts that will serve you throughout your career.  It’s the start of building a professional network.  Networking is the best way to find work.  And the more people who can say, “I knew her when…,” the better.  So enjoy and keep in touch with your new colleagues.

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Be sure to join me for our next broadcast on June 14, at 11 AM, when I’ll be discussing how to conduct a successful job search.

And remember, the mission of my company is to promote the hiring of veterans.  The most tangible way to acknowledge the sacrifice of a veteran is through employment.  So please, hire a veteran.

Thank you for listening and enjoy the remainder of your day.

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