Why it Pays to Pay Your Interns

Feb 11, 2013
This article is part of a series called Opinion.

Screen Shot 2013-01-24 at 10.17.36 AMRecently, NBC News announced that it would begin to pay its college interns because the network hopes to attract more minority talent.

If you pay your interns, you get a much larger candidate pool. You get students whose parents can support them while they work for free, plus talented students who need to earn tuition money for school.

Who pays their interns and who doesn’t pay their interns? Is it fair to expect a college student (who may have huge educational loans to repay) to work for free or for “the experience?” Does paying an intern pay off for employers?

Here’s your answer, based on research from the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

For employers, an internship program gives you the opportunity to “try out” soon-to-be graduates on the job before offering a full-time position. It’s a 10-week interview that can deliver great perspective on a new hire.

A recent survey shows:

  • A paid intern is more likely to accept an offer of a full-time job than an unpaid intern.
  • The more time spent on real work — analytical and problem-solving tasks — the more likely a new grad is to accept your full-time offer.
  • Successful interns are likely to stay with your organization longer than someone without an internship experience.

Further, an earlier survey suggests a correlation between what students prefer in a job and an employer and the values and corporate culture they absorb through their internship experience.

Almost 80 percent of employers use their internship programs as incubators for new hires. Close to 60 percent of interns in 2012 were offered full-time jobs with their internship employer: 87 percent of those interns accepted, meaning these employers get a return on their internship program investment.

And, while wage rates vary depending on the major, year of study, industry, and location, the average hourly rate for an intern ranges from $13.91 to $17.57. That means, for just over twice the minimum wage, an employer gets a chance to test a potential hire’s mettle: Does this person have the knowledge and skills needed to do the job? Do they fit into the company culture? Are they reliable — do they have a good work ethic?

Plus, according to NACE’s 2012 Internship & Co-op Survey, employers who offer their interns a full-time job are more likely to retain the employees they’ve trained. Research shows:

  • After one year on the job, hires who came from the organization’s own internship/co-op program were retained at a rate of 75.7 percent. (Just 66.5 percent of hires with no internship/co-op experience of any kind were still with the organization after one year.)
  • After five years, 62.4 percent of hires from the employer’s program were still with the company compared to just 48.1 percent who came with no experience.
This article is part of a series called Opinion.
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