Ethical Use of Interns

Did you happen to see the piece from PRSAY on the “Ethical Use of Interns?” Since I am the chair of the University Relations Committee, I was asked to give my perspective, so here goes…

I really don’t want to rehash the conversation (instead, I’m here to start a whole new one). If you are interested in the specifics of the PRSA guidelines on this subject check out PSA-17. I also checked with the Texas State Attorney General and the Texas Workforce Commission and they said potential employers should familiarize themselves with the Pay Day Law. Specifically, I was advised that if any employee, including interns, do work for an organization they should get paid. “Sure, that makes sense,” I said. But, the Texas Workforce Commission took it a step further and said that if you don’t pay an intern or an employee, they can actually come back and file a claim against you provided they have documented the hours they worked and the work produced.

To me the bottom line is if the work produced by an intern has any value whatsoever to the employer—I’m talking to nonprofits too—the internship should be monetarily compensated. The benefit of the arrangement is that each party, employer and intern, has a vested interest and motivation to make the arrangement productive.

To me there’s actually a bigger issue here than whether or not to pay interns and that is the ethical treatment of interns. The worst is when I hear stories about students being relegated to filling drink and lunch orders or being subjected to cattiness in the work place.

Typically, I hear students or junior communicators tell me they wish the people they interned for had talked to them more, explained things or put them into context. Most times, their employers just dictate orders and the interns blindly follow them. As professionals, aren’t we better than that?

Here are few tips to make the internship productive for both your organization and the intern:

EXPECTATIONS: On Day 1 set expectations for what the intern should expect and what your organization expects of the interns.

VARIETY: Give the intern a variety of work to do for a variety of clients. Most interns still aren’t 100 percent sure what type of work they want to do or in what industries. Give them a chance to see a diversity of both.

MISTAKES: No one is perfect and often making mistakes are the best way to learn. Allow your interns to make mistakes, but coach them on how to learn and improve from those mistakes.

FACE TIME: Expose interns to new business pitches, let them participate in client meetings and, if you’re a large agency, facilitate a Q&A with the boss.

REVIEW: On a regular basis, sit with the interns and discuss how things are going. I recommend weekly meetings but bi-weekly would be effective as well depending upon the duration of the internship.

EXIT: At the end of the internship, have the intern sit down and do an exit interview or survey so you can learn what they most valued and how you might improve.

RECOMMENDATION: Not every intern is going to be able to move into a permanent position with an agency, but give them the next best thing, a glowing recommendation they can use in their search for a job.

So, I ask that each of you take a minute to remember how your internships were, what you would have liked to have changed and apply it to how you treat interns now. The students will get more out of it. Your organization will benefit from it. Our profession will be better for it.

Ed Davis, PRSA Houston president-elect, director of Media & Public Relations at the United Way of Greater Houston.

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1 Comment

Filed under ethics, Mentoring

One response to “Ethical Use of Interns

  1. You are so right on this. Interns should learn during their experience at different companies. A lot of interns are getting school credit, which would make it horrible for employers to not educate their interns on their businesses.

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