Before you get all up in arms, we are keeping the interns we have, but we don’t have the budget for any more at the moment.
However, we have work that needs to be done, particularly in sales and marketing. I talked to a few of our investors recently and they all made the same suggestion:
Hire interns but don’t pay them for the first two or three months.
I was taken aback by this suggestion because we have always paid interns and my impression of people who don’t is a cross between Scrooge and Mr. Burns from The Simpsons. Yet, all of the investors telling me this are kind, generous people who made their money the old-fashioned way – they worked for it. They started out with nothing and ended up in a position to invest in our company.
I had a long discussion about this today and pointed out that a core value of our company has always been that talent exists everywhere. We started designing and testing our games on American Indian reservations and then moved to rural California and rural Missouri for testers and experts in education. I argued that a lot of brilliant people can’t afford to work for free – I know, because I was that kid in college who needed a paycheck. Unpaid internships, I said, benefit kids from families that can afford to support them while they get experience in these unpaid jobs.
At this point, one of our investors made several points that still have me thinking:
- You have the maximum number of interns for your budget.
- You don’t HAVE to have interns work 15-20 hours a week. The new interns could work 4-6 hours for a few months and if they do work out, then you can start paying them. Anyone with a sincere interest can surely find 4 hours in a week to learn the job.
- If we hire 3-4 interns at once and one of them works out, we have not wasted the time we spent on-boarding them. If we do as much group training as possible, having 4 new people will take us 110% of the time of hiring one new person.
- Unpaid internships would give an opportunity to people we would otherwise NOT have a chance to work with us. Since I know I am where I am today because of the people who believed in me, it’s always been important to me to give chances to people to break into a new field or learn a new skill. It was suggested that there may be women who have raised their children who are interested in going to work in sales or social media. Maybe there are men in their 50s who are having difficulty finding a new career and would like to try us out. We would NOT hire anyone with no relevant experience or education at a salary for 20 hours a week, but we might consider them for an unpaid internship to see what they can do.
- As entrepreneurs, we have some “skin in the game” . We make FAR less than we did in our previous jobs. Some months, after we make the payroll, we pay ourselves nothing. So, why are we hiring sales and marketing people at market rate salaries, who work for us for a few (or several) months until it’s apparent it is not going to work out and then go on to the next thing?
After thinking about this, I am inclined to consider unpaid interns. Our CEO, Maria, on the other hand, is adamantly opposed. She was an intern while at NYU and felt it was taking advantage of young people, who desperately needed the experience, to get them to work for free.
I was an intern when I was an MBA student at the University of Minnesota, and I thought it was fine.
After much heated discussion, I told Maria we should leave it up to the wisdom of crowds. (This sounds SO much better than,
“Let’s ask some random people on the Internet.”
So …. what do you think? Unpaid internships – opportunity or exploitation?
If you are interested in an unpaid internship, email me, firstname.lastname@example.org
Don’t email Maria, she hates the idea.