Using (or Abusing) an Unpaid Intern

Dear Anita,

I run a small business on a shoestring. We are starting to get really busy but I still can’t afford to hire someone else. How can I go about getting an unpaid intern?

Interncarrying stacks of takeout coffeesDear “Budget Boss,”

College interns seem to be a dime a dozen in summer. In 2015, 63% of college grads with a bachelor’s degree had participated in internships, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers. Of those, about 61% were paid, and 39% unpaid. How can employers get away with not paying minimum wage? Many unpaid internships may be walking the line of legality. Basically, if an intern does any work that is useful to the employer, the internship may not meet the exception in the Fair Labor Standards Act.

It’s easier for non-profits to utilize unpaid internships; they can simply classify the intern as a volunteer. But in the for-profit private sector, you must meet the employment exclusion or it is assumed the intern is, according to the FLSA, “suffered or permitted to work” for compensation.

Here are the six criteria from the Department of Labor to exempt an unpaid internship from being an employment agreement:

  1. The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;
  2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;
  3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;
  4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;
  5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and
  6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.

Unless you work closely with your local college or university to make sure the internship meets the educational requirement, chances are, you’ll have to pay your intern minimum wage. If you have fluctuating needs for additional help, consider hiring flexible personnel from a staffing company for the months, weeks, or even days that you need help.

Readers: How have you benefitted from an internship – paid or unpaid?

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

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How to Find Jobs Not Advertised on the Top Job Boards, Part 2

Last week, I offered a half-dozen alternatives to finding positions on the online job boards. To review those ideas, click here. For more tips on how to find unadvertised jobs, read on…

business visionJob Fairs. Also known as a career expo, this is an event where employers and recruiters can meet job seekers. Be sure to bring copies of your résumé, and jot down notes on the business cards you collect so you can follow up. Set up a Google Alert so you won’t miss the next job fair scheduled in your region.

Internships & Volunteer Opportunities. Don’t think internships are just for recent graduates. If you are able to get an internship or volunteer to work for free (a radical concept, I know!) at your dream company, you’ll have your foot in the door when that paid position opens up. Even if your volunteer activities don’t lead to a position, you may meet some people who can help you further your career.

Take a Temp Job. If you just can’t work for free, join a temporary employment agency, such as The Select Family of Staffing Companies. You’ll be able to make some bill-paying money with assignments that last from a few days to a few months, in addition to keeping your skills from getting rusty. You may even be offered a permanent position. In this US News article, “10 Reasons to Take a Temporary Job,” point #1 notes that temporary work isn’t so temporary.

Word of Mouth. If you’ve been searching for a job for any length of time, you’re probably sick of the term “networking.”  Don’t let discouragement keep you from chamber of commerce mixers, service club meetings, and even ponying up the greens fees for a round of golf. For tips on networking, read my post Networking Know-How.

Hit the Bricks. Whether you want to find a job in a downtown boutique or in the financial district of your city, dress for the part, pop some freshly printed résumés in your satchel, and go hunting on foot.  While higher-level jobs don’t often advertise with a “Help Wanted” sign in the window, chatting up the receptionist in an office suite building may lead to some inside information. If you ask to speak to a company’s hiring manager, you may be able to get 10 minutes of his or her time, even without an appointment.

You never know. Your next job may be hiding in plain sight.

Readers: Have you ever landed an “unadvertised” job? We’d love to hear your story.

Do you have a question for Anita Clew? Visit http://anitaclew.com/ask-anita/.

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Disclaimer

Anita Clew's blog posts are intended for general guidance and should never be taken as legal advice. In all instances where harassment, inequity, or unfair treatment is believed to be present, please consult your HR Department or legal representation.
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