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Ethical use of interns: Should I just go for it?

I'm a solo entrepreneur who has avoided hiring anyone by outsourcing a number of functions. I have a friend in a related field who has two unpaid interns and a third who earns minimum wage.

I definitely need some help but I've hesitated to even consider interns. I feel some guilt about having people help build my business when they're not getting much other than experience. I remember Susan Sandberg's org receiving a lot of criticism for its use of interns that was considered unethical.

But I know that internships benefit students and recent grads a lot. Perhaps I should just embrace the system as it is. Do any FD folks have some thoughts?

18 Replies

Warren Cardinal
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Warren Cardinal Entrepreneur
Web Designer | SEO Consultant | Founder lucidcrew.com
There are rules about unpaid interns. Most are illegal.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/06/13/are-unpaid-internships-illegal/
Paul Travis
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Paul Travis Entrepreneur
Multifaceted Online Executor: Product Marketing to Program Mgmt. to Business Development
I don't have the source offhand but the data show that students who have internship experience get jobs more quickly and at an average starting salary of $7k higher. The other thing you're discounting is the value of a professional reference -- who else do they have except a prof or Uncle Benjamin?

I started out in the 80's offering to work for free (didn't know the term "intern" then) and that got my career going. So I have see only upside where the DOL sees only issues. Yes, I engage interns.
Brian Ross
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Brian Ross Entrepreneur • Advisor
Engineering Lead at Haven, Inc.
Pay them something, not nothing.
Paul Travis
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Paul Travis Entrepreneur
Multifaceted Online Executor: Product Marketing to Program Mgmt. to Business Development
Warren posted at the same time I did. Know the six considerations and be able to address them.

I think it's time the Fed start differentiating between publicly held corporations and small business...
Will Glasson
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Will Glasson Entrepreneur
Assistant County Attorney, Multnomah County
First, THIS ISN'T LEGAL ADVICE. No attorney-client relationship is established from this, etc. (Had to get that out of the way.)

I second Warren's recommendation to proceed with caution. Essentially, you can't use unpaid interns or externs for much commercially productive work. See the DOL's rules on this. The DOL provided the most guidance to law firms in a recent letter. That said, the letter can be interpreted to apply to your circumstances as well. Note: you don't want to be on the cutting edge, using interns in merely arguably permissible ways.
Jonathan Bond-Caron
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Jonathan Bond-Caron Entrepreneur
Founder at GOL Network
I find the wording very ambiguous for 'unpaid' internship. I find that picking a small project and hiring an intern as a 'contractor/consultant' works well. If you have a signed agreement, it works pretty well to define a non employee-employer relationship.

The project benefits the intern to learn and you can pay him for certain milestones. If you go unpaid, you don't get the same quality of applicants.


Laura Putnam
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Laura Putnam Entrepreneur
CEO, Motion Infusion
My suggestion is to work through an institution that requires graduate students to obtain experience in the field. I have worked with interns using this arrangement, so everything runs through the school.
Luis De Avila
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Luis De Avila Entrepreneur
Owner/Fullstack Architect at IdeaNerd LLC
My suggestion is not to ask if unpaid internships are ethical or not but to find out when unpaid internships are LEGAL vs ILLEGAL. The law is quite clear.
Mike Moyer
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Mike Moyer Entrepreneur • Advisor
Managing Director at Lake Shark Ventures, LLC
In some cases unpaid internships is okay. Especially if they do lower-level work that helps free up other employees for more core job functions. They should be actively included in opportunities for them to learn. If, however, they are making a material contribution to core aspects of the business because others on the team don't have the skills then you should probably consider some kind of compensation. Many start-ups don't have the money to pay them. This is understandable, but it's not an excuse to take advantage of people. The best way to compensate someone for their contribution is by providing a slice of equity. Use a dynamic equity fund to determine exactly how much each person deserves. If you email me at [removed to protect privacy] I can send you some links to how to implement a dynamic fund.
Sharon Schanzer
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Sharon Schanzer Entrepreneur
Client service consultant, graphic designer, WordPress developer
Andy: As far as I know, it's completely illegal to hire unpaid interns (at least in NY), unless they are really, truly earning college credit. I'd avoid it personally, even though it's very tempting. S. +++ Sharon Schanzer Founder & Creative Director : RLDGROUP : where technology, creativity & strategy meet Founder : Helix : Coworking and connecting on the Upper West Side [removed to protect privacy] [removed to protect privacy] office [removed to protect privacy] mobile/sms www.rldgroup.com www.helixnyc.com http://www.linkedin.com/in/sharonschanzer
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