Are Unpaid Internships a Scam?

Dear J.T. & Dale: What do you think about the concept of unpaid internships? It has always been a pet peeve of mine. It’s a two-sided problem, where as long as students accept unpaid internships, companies can get away with offering them. The way companies get around this being illegal is that they say the compensation is school credit. I say BAH! Am I being unreasonable? — Marissa

Dale: One of my sons did an unpaid internship for one of the big ad agencies in Manhattan. I got stuck paying for him to live there for a summer, and BAH!, the thought of it galls me even now. But … but, but … I would do it again. He learned a lot and has a great resume item — things I can’t say about his other summers.

J.T.: I think it’s ironic that we pay so many thousands of dollars for our children to be educated, but they still aren’t prepared for the workplace. I wonder, Marissa, if some of the blame you’re putting on the companies that offer unpaid internships should be redirected at universities and colleges. In fact, having an internship each semester would give a student enough work experience by graduation to help land that first job. Yet very few schools encourage or require this. A recent college graduate, Greg Barrette, wrote an article called “Three Ways Unpaid Internships Pay” after realizing how his own internship experiences helped launch his career. I’ve posted the article at — see if he can convince you that the right internship is not just worth the time, but is worth far more than the lost wages.

Jeanine “J.T.” Tanner O’Donnell is a professional development specialist and the founder of the consulting firm,, and of the blog, Dale Dauten resolves employment and other business disputes as a mediator with Please visit them at, where you can send questions via e-mail, or write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th St, 15th Floor, New York, NY 10019.

© 2010 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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