Posted by on Oct 14, 2015 in Internships

This may be totally obvious…but based on some experiences I’ve had over the last couple of weeks, I feel a manifesto coming on. Hopefully some of these ideas might be useful to you…

1) Internships Are Not Jobs

Just because they happen in the workplace, sometimes folks have a hard time detangling the idea of an internship from a job. Jobs involve producing a work product; internships involve learning. Just because it happens in the workplace doesn’t mean an internship is a job. While jobs may involve learning; internships must.


2) Stipend Is Not Salary

When interns get paid, that’s great and may open up an opportunity to somebody who otherwise couldn’t do an internship. Of course, if a student can learn from an internship that doesn’t offer a stipend, that’s great too. But any funds interns receive shouldn’t be considered compensation. Stipends are meant to defray living expenses during the course of internship, just like a scholarship. If an intern gets a salary, that’s compensation, which means it’s a job, not an internship. A student might learn during a job, but they might not. A student must always learn during an internship, whether they receive a stipend, or not. Do you have stipends based on the number of hours an intern does an internship? If so, you might be treating your stipend like salary without realizing it.


3) Interns Have Mentors, Not Supervisors

Folks who work with interns in the workplace are mentors, not supervisors. Interns have mentors; employees have supervisors. Don’t let your hosts use the wrong nomenclature; the terms will help them approach internships the right way.


4) Qualifications

Job listings ask for qualifications to produce work product. Internship listings can also ask for qualifications, but as prerequisites to learning. Just like many formal curricula require course 101 before course 102, an internship might require a student to have some prerequisites – but those prerequisites should be to scaffold learning, not to produce work.

Bonus idea: this changes the typical employer rhetoric from “we want a diverse pool of candidates, but of course everybody has to be qualified” to mentor rhetoric of “we want a diverse pool of candidates, but of course everybody has to be ready to learn.” This can be a powerful tool for diversifying the mix of people who gain access to the working world through internships.


5) Mentor Benefits

A lot of focus is put on the benefit host organizations get from the work interns provide. I would argue this benefit is often pretty marginal, at best. Mentoring takes a lot of time and correcting an intern’s work is often only slightly easier, or altogether more difficult, than just doing the work at a staff level the first time. On the other hand, the real benefit mentors receive by mentoring interns is that they become better managers, they become better organized, new ideas and energy are brought to an organization, a stagnant workplace is reinvigorated. Internships are about learning – but it’s not just the interns who learn. Mentors learn a lot too, and that is the most important reason host organizations should accept interns.

  • Make the distinction between internships and jobs
  • If money is involved with an internship, it’s not compensation
  • Empower employers to identify themselves not as just supervisors, but mentors
  • Any qualifications are prerequisites for learning
  • Mentors benefit not through interns’ work, but through mentorship itself


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