HR, internships

Do I Have to Pay Interns? (You Should.)

This is the fourth installment in a five part series about how to cultivate excellent interns.

Do I have to pay interns?

The payment of interns is an ongoing debate and a contested issue.  There are many types of internships, with different genres and sizes of companies with varying degrees of hands-on, real world experience.  The variance makes it difficult give a simple answer to this question.  Legally, the government states what determines whether the interns must be paid wages.

All companies should respond, “YES! Pay them! Interns are awesome!”  But that’s not always an option.  Are you a small company or a bootstrapping startup?  Are finances keeping the office on a tight budget yet there is much to be done, many hats to wear, a multitude of areas to learn in, and a busy but personable environment?

I’m biased on this topic. The programs I’ve developed and managed have been while working with startups.  Whether an internship is paid, unpaid, or stipend based, a program should include all of the following:

  • Hands on work that interests and stimulates the intern
  • An office space that’s not physically isolated
  • Integration of interns with team lunches, active participation in meetings to learn and observe, and encouragement to freely contribute ideas, thoughts, and suggestions
  • A relaxed environment where they feel comfortable talk to other employees
  • An effort to make sure interns feel valuable to the company while also finding worth in their experiences
  • End of program evaluations reviewing the outcomes of their work, the skills they demonstrated and strengthened, and how they enhanced the work of the organization

Does a company have to pay interns?  No.  Should a company pay interns?  Heck yes.  Anyone contributing to your company should be fairly compensated in some capacity.  With a well run internship program, Interns help to strengthen skills of current employees and add positively to company culture. 

The fifth installment of “5 Questions to Cultivate Excellent Interns” will outline how and what to look for in interns to ensure they’ll contribute to your company in a productive and engaging manner.

jobs, career, internships

An Unexpectedly Empowering Conversation with an Intern.

Today I had an unexpectedly empowering conversation with an intern.

She, lets call her Jane, contacted me a week earlier over Eko messenger and said, “I don't feel like I’m a good fit here.”  When asked about specific concerns that could be addressed in that moment, she deferred, asking to wait to talk in person.  I made an active choice not to read anything into Jane’s comments and to wait (albeit anxiously) for our in-person meeting the following week.

Seated in a small private conference room, I inquired what was on her mind, asking Jane to be as forthright as possible.  She brought up issues of compensation, not feeling comfortable with the possibility of other interns being compensated differently, and the lack of communication between the interns themselves about the topic of compensation.

The discussion of these topics did not catch me off guard.  What was surprising is the fact that of all my interns Jane was the one to address the subject directly. Jane is very productive and an active member of our intern community but her interactions with our full time staff members and me had been minimal and timid.


Pride and openness were my initial reaction to her comments.


I told her that whether or not this conversatio­n ends with achieving her desired outcomes, it is extraordinarily important that she advocated on her own behalf.  I told her how proud I was of her candor and ability to approach me directly.  She nodded and verbalized understanding while I underscored the importance of this skill, especially as a female, a millennial, and a woman working in the tech industry, and that a conversation is a great place to start.


“I shouldn’t be guilty for asking for more money, should I?” she asked.


I responded with a resounding no, also acknowledging that when asking for a raise or promotion, it is important to support the “why” with reasoning (the Human Resources side of me went into coaching mode).  After reviewing her current compensation and her ideal compensation, we left the conversation as ‘to be continued’ pending a conversation with my managers.

After the meeting, I walked back to my desk feeling proud and excited on Jane’s behalf.  She was comfortable enough with me as her manager to ask for a conversation and to speak candidly.  Jane asked questions seeking information, not just answers.  Most importantly, she took her life and career into her own hands for the better.

I am part of Jane’s career path and have cultivated an environment where her success is possible.  This conversation is part of both Jane and my accomplishments, present and future.

Through one conversation, Jane inspired me to do more and to be better.  Through one conversation she empowered herself and her future.

jobs, career

5 Questions to Cultivate Excellent­­ Interns: Part 3

This is the third installment in a five part series of how to cultivate excellent interns.

What does it takes to find an intern who’s a good fit and is interested in your company?




You’ll post the identical job description in 10-20 places and realize a grammatical error needs to be fixed.  Or part of the description needs to be altered.  Make changes on all postings and know it won’t be the last time changes need to be made.

Much like life, many factors affect the applicant pool.  Big factors like paying job vs. (unpaid or stipend) internship, graduate or current student, location of internship, and accessibility of posting greatly affect your applications outcomes.  The best job ads, best interviewers, best company to work for doesn’t always mean that the best interns apply.  Excellent internship programs take time and persistence.




There will be poor quality applications that provoke a “what were they thinking!?” response.  There will be unprepared interviewees who stumble through.  As the interviewer you smile politely (for your own sanity) and conduct a shorter interview.  Do not let an unqualified interviewee throw off your game.  Find clues from the application process that might improve the pre-interview candidate review in the future.

On the first day of an internship, often interns won’t have the right paperwork or will ask endless questions (that you’ve already answered).  Dumfounded looks, insecurity, and lack of awareness pepper those first weeks.  Remember, interns have a lot to learn.  Being armed with a sense of humor is the best way to diffuse various scenarios before they become more complicated situations.

Mistakes and Growth


As the company’s needs change so will the intern program.  Adapt job ads, modify the interview process, and evaluate placement of job ads.  Office changes like modification to seating arrangements or creating more meeting spaces for the interns can quickly show new productivity results.

Find the practices that work best for the company; don’t be afraid to change the program as frequently as needed.  The number of quality interns working for your company will increase as awareness of the program and company’s needs grow.


Interns bring passion, engaged interest, and fresh perspectives to any workplace.  Finding an intern who is a good fit for your company is a worthwhile mission.

The fourth installment of “5 Questions to Cultivate Excellent Interns” will focus on paid vs. unpaid internships.

career, jobs

5 Questions to Cultivate Excellent­­ Interns: Part 2

This is the second installment in a five part series on how to cultivate excellent interns.

How Do You Find an Intern?

Finding interns can be a daunting task.  Don’t have preconceived notions about where to advertise internship openings. Networking, contacting colleges, universities, and taking advantage of the social and digital space will begin the intern hiring process.


Interns at Eko Communications networking and mingling with the WeWork staff at a launch event

Interns at Eko Communications networking and mingling with the WeWork staff at a launch event

Networking: Talk with friends, family, and colleagues about internships they’ve had or companies they’ve heard have great intern programs.  Contact individuals in charge of the intern programs.  Have a conversation about how they find excellent interns and continually develop a successful program. Work with an intern consulting company who specializes in finding interns and development of intern programs.  Check out intern-based meetups or ones targeted at HR professionals (even if you aren’t HR). Create lines of open communication with previous intern experts.


Representing Eko Communications at NYU Wasserman Spring 2015 Advertising, PR & Communications Industry Expo.  I was giving away stickers of stickers that our interns have created

Representing Eko Communications at NYU Wasserman Spring 2015 Advertising, PR & Communications Industry Expo.  I was giving away stickers of stickers that our interns have created

Colleges and Universities: Hang catchy, colorful posters in high-traffic areas often used by students (think mailrooms and dining halls).  Post job ads online with college career centers.  Contact faculty and department chairs; they regularly interact and directly advocate on the behalf of their students.  Sign up to be an employer who recruits at internship and job fairs.  Ask to speak at student events and attends special campus events.  It is important not to limit the postings to one college or university.  Diversify the types, locations, and size of schools where internship ads are posted.


Social and Digital: Post ads online on internship websites like,, and other job board websites. Even craigslist can be a great place to advertise to pull in a more diverse set of applicants.  Tweet from your company (or personal) account, post on Facebook or company Facebook pages, and always write about openings on LinkedIn.  Be aware many digital sites have a fee associated with an internship job posting.


With the social connectedness of today’s society and job market, finding a multitude of interns isn’t difficult.  If struggling with getting applicants, readjust job descriptions and where they are posted. There are quality, motivated intern candidates everywhere!

The third installment of “5 Questions to Cultivate Excellent Interns” will outline what it takes to find interns who are a good fit for your company’s culture, mission, and objectives.

career, jobs

5 Questions to Cultivate Excellent Interns: Part 1

This is the first installment in a five part series of how to cultivate excellent interns

 Why Interns?

“Why do we want an intern program?” is the most important question to ask before developing one.  Defining how interns will help bring company success while simultaneously engaging them in new learning experiences will lead the way to an accomplished and successful program.


Company Benefits

Employees get a new challenge with the opportunity to directly mentor and have an important impact on growing minds.  Happy interns are advocates for your company and its mission.


Fresh Perspectives


Interns bring new ideas, modern and updated perspectives on old and outdated routines.  This benefits employees by improving skills and awareness of new technologies and practices. Interns are often students or fresh out of college, they are filled with knowledge and ideas waiting to be put to use.


“Real World” Education

Giving back by providing a “real world” education is rewarding in a number of ways.  Allowing an intern a glimpse into the boardroom, cubical, or tech startup allows them to make better choices for themselves in the future.  Helping them to figure out an area of interest to pursue powerfully affects interns’ future and those in it.  Lessons about deadlines, networking, and hard work are invaluable for any direction they may choose.


New Hires

New Hires

Often overlooked but a very important aspect of internships is a chance to test-drive a new hire.  While this could seem selfish, the intern should also be trying out your company.  Interns are a great way to network with new groups of people, organizations, and colleges and universities.


Employee Training

Higher-level employees have a chance to manage and engage a new generation, which improves management skills.  Human Resources gets a chance to interview more, learning about the best ways to present the positions available, talk about culture, and gather more information about how the hire a new generation of employees.


Why interns?  In short, interns benefit employers of all sizes.  They help to bolster and augment skills of current employees.  With high expectations, internships create win-win situations for all parties involved.  If this all makes sense, the real question is, Why not interns?


Ways to Impress on Your First Day as an Intern

9.         Be On Time & Prepared
Show up 10-15 minutes early.  There are a lot of factors that go into arriving early.  Attempt a dry run for the commute during similar office hours and the pre-commute routine is all set.

Arrive prepared with all supplies you might need for the first day or the duration of the internship; this may include a computer, notebook & pen, proper identification for any security issues, or paperwork for HR.  If you’re unsure of what to bring contact the person who hired you at least 3 days before the internship start date.


8.         Dress Professionally
Ask about dress code well before the start date. Plan to exceed dress code standards.  Aim to always be more professionally dressed than your boss or supervisor.  This doesn't mean one should buy a new wardrobe but is more about awareness of presentation.  While dress code isn’t always a big deal in some office cultures, it’s a great way to make a strong positive impression.  In addition, make sure all articles of clothing are appropriate; if this is a new work environment for you research what is appropriate to wear.

7.         Be Friendly
Make friends with the receptionist(s) or office manager(s).  These are the people who know everyone in the company; secretaries and office managers know employee’s habits, schedules, coffee preferences, and are good resources and friends to have.  Plus, it’s always nice to have someone to smile and chat to on your way in and out of the office.


6.         Ask Questions
If there is an orientation, have two or three questions prepared in advance and ready to ask; not all questions need to be asked in a public forum so be aware of which should be asked directly to a supervisor.  Asking questions will make supervisors more aware of your presence and distinguish you from other interns.  Most likely other interns will want similar questions answered and speaking up in a well informed and thought out manner will emphasize leadership capabilities.  This is especially important if you want to take on more responsibility or special projects during the internship.


5.         Make Yourself Known
If there is time, reach out to superiors who have already or can possibly have impact on your internship.  Find the person who hired you, whether your direct boss or HR, and thank them for this opportunity.  With sincerity, seek out the CEO or other C-Suite team members and briefly make note about your excitement and readiness to work for the company; this tends to work better in smaller, start up-like companies.


4.         Maintain Connections
Ask your supervisor for the names and titles of the top people in your company and in your department.  Find them and connect on LinkedIn with a note in the invitation about being the newest member of the intern team.  Take time to read their profiles, look at their accomplishments, and find connection possibilities to bring up in conversation; this will give you a better perspective on the company and what experiences they value in employees.


3.         Start Networking
Ask a potential mentor to lunch or coffee sometime during your first week.  Try to eat lunch with a different person once every week.  Build your network, better understand the different jobs within the company and cultivate a mentor.  Make sure when you ask someone to lunch or coffee you have a list of questions prepared beforehand.


2.         Set Goals
Make and update a list of goals for the internship.  As they are accomplished or changed adapt your list.  This becomes a great source of information for reflection, performance review, and resume building at the end of the program.


1.         Start & Stay Productive
Set yourself up for a productive internship.  This means smile, work diligently, be friendly, introduce yourself to people you don’t know, volunteer to help out even if it isn’t the most glamorous task, ask many questions and learn as much as possible.  Not sure of the best way to contribute to the company?  Ask your supervisor for a “sit down” meeting early on to discuss in detail ways to enhance your achievements and how to aid in the success of the company.