Marketing Interns—The Uncle Sam Scam

Last summer, my college-age son was lucky enough to land a summer internship at a manufacturing company in Southern California. Considering there were over 100 applicants, he was thrilled to have been selected for a position where he could demonstrate his newly learned marketing skills. And as a college junior, he was excited with the promise of full-time employment upon graduation. He started the job with relish, and 4 and a half months later went back to college feeling on top of the world.
So he was stunned when he discovered this week that there was NOT a full-time position available to him this summer. Instead, he was offered a part-time, minimum wage position with, again, the promise of potential full-time employment at the end of the summer.

When he pushed back and suggested that his long hours last summer meant he had already been “trained” and could hit the ground running and therefore it might entitle him to a little bit more than minimum wage, he was told that he should consider himself “lucky” to have the part-time job offered to him when last year over 50 applicants applied for the open position. In other words, this organization has no strategy in place to hire, train, and groom future employees. Instead, they hide behind a summer internship as a way to get free labor for the summer, lower their overhead expenses and avoid paying Uncle Sam for payroll and other taxes.

While I realize my sons’ experience may be the exception, I was disgusted by this company’s behavior and wondered how many other organizations build and run internship programs properly (and with good intention)?

Internships are a way to give back to our youth—to help them take their text-book based learning and put it into action. And it’s a chance for us, as employers, to invest in the future of our business.

A blog that challenges B-to-B marketers to learn, share, question, and focus on getting it right—the first time. Carolyn Goodman is President/Creative Director of Goodman Marketing Partners. An award-winning creative director, writer and in-demand speaker, Carolyn has spent her 30-year career helping both B-to-B and B-to-C clients cut through business challenges in order to deliver strategically sound, creatively brilliant marketing solutions that deliver on program objectives. To keep her mind sharp, Carolyn can be found most evenings in the boxing ring, practicing various combinations. You can find her at the Goodman Marketing website, on LinkedIn, or on Twitter @CarolynGoodman.
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  • verymary

    Speaking from experience. My daughter chose paid internships at smaller companies, because quite frankly we couldn’t afford for her to live in NYC without getting paid. All of the "big name" companies do not pay. Now, fast forward 3 years, my daughter lives on her own in NYC with a fabulous full time job, she found on her own. She had an active role at these small companies, because they "needed" her and the friends who took the internships at the big companies made coffee and copies without any real lessons. She took the skills she aquired and landed the "big" job with her experience she gained from the internships. LISTEN up kids, don’t work for free just because "they" tell you they "might" have a job for you later! Look for an internship that you will gain real life job skills in. BTW, my daughter developed an internship program with her company and they pay them, if they do a good job and act like they "really" want a job and work, they hire them! This article was a poor example of how much studens "can" gain from internships, if they are willing to choose the right company!

  • Warren Hunter

    Nicely done! DMEF has one of the most exciting programs for grads call the Next Gen program. It’s an applied for program and only a few are selected. But the ones who get in get a wealth of real world training — and a paycheck.

  • Rebecca

    I disagree with #1. In the business world, mostly it is about "what is in it for the company", not how can we help students.

    It sounds like your son received some good marketing experience… in my opinion, experience is more valuable than a degree. (I have my undergrad in business with an emphasis on marketing, and I have my MBA with a focus on online marketing, and while an education is important, most of what I do in my daily life as a marketing manager for an electronics company, comes from on the job experience, not from my "degree".

    And many marketers I speak with feel the same way.

    Be lucky your son can how put some appropriate work experience on his resume while he looks for another job. And taking the job at minimum wage may be worth it. I know a LOT of more experienced marketers right now out of a job who would take a part time, minimum wage job for the summer, in hopes of landing a full time position come fall.

  • Chalia

    I disagree with # 1 with the addition of: employees need to look out for their interests. Granted students and recent graduates may learn a few lessons while they gear up for this – but you cent rely on someone else to always have your best interests at heart. Use the experiences as a learning and develop strategies so that "you" can get what you need out of a position as well.

  • Lisa

    So, is an employer supposed to guarantee employment to interns? And at a higher-than-market rate? The company has every right to offer whatever position is available, at whatever rate will get them the skills they need.That’s just good financial management, and any company that consistently pays more than it has to will soon find itself in the red.

    And on the flip side, any job candidate has the right to turn down an offer because he/she is willing to hold out for something better, or to take the position with every intention of continuing to look for other employment.

    Your statement that, "In other words, this organization has no strategy in place to hire, train, and groom future employees" is not an accurate deduction, from a purely logical standpoint. They very well may have all of that. Given today’s employment realities, they just don’t have to pay much to do it.

    And while you accuse the business of ‘taking advantage’ of your son in order to avoid taxes, he DID gain the benefit of experience that he can leverage more broadly, so it is not entirely one-sided, is it?

    I empathize with your son (and the many others in his situation), and with you as his mother, but in the end, the laws of supply and demand will always determine pay rates.