The Lowdown on Internships

Entry Level:  No Previous Experience Necessary -  Today, a job ad like that would probably be a scam.  It's difficult to  land an entry level job at a top company if you have no experience. For communication graduates it means having a good idea of what you want to do before you graduate, and getting good internships under your belt before you hit the job market.

For companies, especially PR firms, hiring a good intern is like finding a pot of gold.  But after a high profile lawsuit, the Dept. of Labor took a closer look at internship abuses.  Last year, the Fair Labor Standard Act included some guidelines that we all should know about. Basically,  an internship has to benefit the intern not the employer.  These are the determining factors considered:

  1. The extent to which the intern and the employer clearly understand that there is no expectation of compensation. Any promise of compensation, express or implied, suggests that the intern is an employee—and vice versa. 
  2. The extent to which the internship provides training that would be similar to that which would be given in an educational environment, including the clinical and other hands-on training provided by educational institutions. 
  3. The extent to which the internship is tied to the intern’s formal education program by integrated coursework or the receipt of academic credit. 
  4. The extent to which the internship accommodates the intern’s academic commitments by corresponding to the academic calendar. 
  5. The extent to which the internship’s duration is limited to the period in which the internship provides the intern with beneficial learning. 
  6.  The extent to which the intern’s work complements, rather than displaces, the work of paid employees while providing significant educational benefits to the intern. 
  7. The extent to which the intern and the employer understand that the internship is conducted without entitlement to a paid job at the conclusion of the internship.

The question I would ask the internship director at a PR firm or communications department is:  Are you offering your intern "hands on training" (similar to an educational environment) or just giving them the grunt work so you don't have to pay someone else to do it?

Many young people graduate with no sense of the 'real world' and have little idea of how to apply what they've learned on the job.  I believe that a smart intern will learn no matter what they are given do.  They should be soaking in all that's going on around them.  Observing the relationships, listening carefully to how things get done,  recognizing the application of what they have learned.  There is so much to learn, even in a poorly managed environment.  Nonetheless, the employer should keep in mind the legal requirements which clearly focus on the intern's benefit.

Companies should also make sure to check state laws.  California follows the federal guidelines given above but NY State has expanded on the federal criteria and added some more!


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