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Who Will Replace the Interns?

March 3, 2009

At a friend’s company, all gathered around to wish the receptionist goodbye. She’d been there for years, but was not surprisingly being laid-off.

What did surprise my friend was coming in on Monday morning to find a dazed-looking intern sitting in the receptionist’s desk.

Here are the Department of Labor guidelines for an intern:

Pursuant to this law, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has developed six criteria for differentiating between an employee entitled to minimum wage or above and a learner/trainee who may be unpaid. The criteria for learner/trainee are:

The training, even though it includes actual operations of the facilities of the employers, is similar to that which would be given in a vocational school.
The training is for the benefit of the student.
The student does not displace a regular employee, but works under the close observation of a regular employee or supervisor.
The employer provides the training and derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the student; and on occasion, the operations may actually be impeded by the training.
The student is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the training period.
The employer and the student understand that the student is not entitled to wages for the time spent training.
Not all six factors have to be present in order for the individual to be considered a trainee. The experience, however, should look more like a training/learning experience than a job.

Now, I understand that there is a grey area in the legality of having unpaid interns. There’s nothing grey, however, about replacing a paid employee with an unpaid slave. The intern sits at the desk 9am – 5pm, has no interaction with employees, answers the phone. How is she supposed to shadow people, attend meetings, work on projects? It’s such blatant predation, it makes my stomach churn.

Unfortunately, this is more and more common as the economy gets worse. Here are awful “internships” on craigslist that obviously ought to be paid positions:

part time Buying Office intern (Midtown West)

Reply to: [Errors when replying to ads?]
Date: 2009-03-02, 12:51PM EST

Womens Specialty Store Buying Office looking for p/t intern. MUST be proficient in Microsoft Office. Responsibilities include: computer work, answering phones, going into the market with buyers. NO salary, we will pay for transportation or lunch.

Actual position: Assistant Buyer.  Starting salary in New York: $30,000 


Office Intern, design studio (SoHo)

Reply to: [Errors when replying to ads?]
Date: 2009-03-02, 11:34AM EST

Entry-level position. Seeking energetic, eager candidate to support busy creative office in all areas of administration and organization. Ideal candidate is a self-starter with a visual communications background or interest and strong organizational and communication skills.
Specific tasks will include: daily administrative duties and office management, research & image gathering, document layout and production (dependent on skill set)

This position is full time and reports directly to Manager of Visual Brand Strategy. Begins as unpaid, with the possibility of growing into a paid position.

Specific Skills:

• Basic working knowledge of basic graphic design tools and process (Adobe Creative Suite)
• Willingness to support all levels of design staff (ID, graphic, strategy)
• Great positive attitude and self-motivation
• Excellent organizational skills

Actual position: Graphic designer.  Starting pay in New York: $40,000


HTML / Web Coder Internships (New York City)

Reply to: [Errors when replying to ads?]
Date: 2009-03-03, 11:19AM EST

Looking to gain real world experience and practice in HTML and web coding?
Need a fast but valuable resume builder?

This is a temporary, part-time and short-term internship position that is non-paid.
Excellent opportunity for candidates seeking to fulfill college credit requirements and/or seeking to add to your resume/portfolio.

Please email your resume (copy/paste in the body of your email), and tell us briefly about why you wish to apply for this internship opportunity, and what you hope to achieve during your internship.
No phone calls please.

Actual position: Web designer.  Starting pay in New York: $50,000



Reply to: see below
Date: 2009-03-03, 11:17AM EST


Intern needed for busy radio executive within an on line radio network company. A successful applicant will gain a solid introduction to the world of Internet radio based in New Jersey. *** Applicant must be available 5 days a week (not negotiable) This is NOT a paid internship, but can be used for college credit. ***

Duties will include but are not limited to:

* Managing appointments calendar
* Answering phone & email
* Booking travel & organizing expenses
* internet research & client research
* Assist in presentations and sales material

A successful applicant must have, some experience in radio or Internet media (community/student o.k), a strong interest in music, be highly organized and detail orientated, have a basic computer skill knowledge IE; excel, word and power point. Lastly I’m looking for a proactive creative intern who’s a self starter.

Actual position: Executive Assistant.  Starting pay in New York: $50,000

It’s probably too much to hope that the Department of Labor get involved in this soon.  If you are seeking an internship, make sure you’re aware that you don’t have to work unpaid, and if you do, the more like a real job the position sounds, the less likely it is to actually help you in a meaningful way.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 3, 2009 6:07 pm

    This is certainly not good news to me. My wife and I are chronicalling a journey to NYC from Tennessee. I hope we have better luck but I’m seeing nothing but internships available like you say.

  2. sunny permalink
    March 7, 2009 12:55 am

    in France the law makes payment mandatory for all internships that are longer than 3 months…guess this the only way….

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