Are unpaid internships worth it?

During your internship search, it’s important to understand the differences between a paid and unpaid opportunity. Working for free may not sound like the best way to spend your time. However, there are other benefits that can offset the lack of monetary value and make it worth your while. So before you decline an unpaid internship, consider every aspect of the opportunity. Learn more about how an unpaid internship works and what incentives are available.

Man and woman with documents in an office, smiling, close up

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires for-profit employers to use the “primary beneficiary test” to determine whether an intern or student should be considered an employee. If a student is considered an employee, the student must be paid. Below are the 7 standards for the primary beneficiary test:

  1. The intern must clearly understand that there is no expectation of compensation.
  2. The internship must provide training that would be similar to that which would be
    given in an educational environment.
  3. The internship is tied to the intern’s formal education program by integrated
    coursework or the receipt of academic credit.
  4. The internship accommodates the intern’s academic schedule.
  5. The internship’s duration is limited to the period in which the internship provides
    the intern with beneficial learning.
  6. The intern’s work complements, rather than displaces, the work of paid employees
    while providing significant educational benefits to the intern.
  7. The intern and the employer understand that the internship is conducted without
    entitlement to a paid job at the conclusion of the internship.

An unpaid internship is in no way, shape, form, or fashion designed to replace an employee. An intern that is unpaid should not be spending  more than twenty percent of their time doing busy work. This includes errands, filing, answering phones, and correspondence among other things. You are protected by law as an unpaid intern so you shouldn’t have to worry about becoming the office errand person. If this does happen, contact your school career office immediately and let them know about your situation.

Benefits of taking on an unpaid internship may include:

  • Academic Credit – This incentive can be offered in paid and unpaid internships. The employer must establish concise learning guidelines that are agreed upon by both the school and the employer. Choosing an internship for academic credit can potentially suit your needs better than learning in a typical classroom setting.
  • Scholarships – There are some organizations that will offer scholarships to students who participate in unpaid internships.
  • Travel Stipend – To make a commute easier for interns, companies may provide traveling expenses. Since many college students are on a fixed budget, unaccounted for public or personal traveling expenses can add up.
  • Benefits – Completing an internship can at times lead to full time employment. Your time as an unpaid intern can turn into benefits that will roll over once you become a full-time employee.

Paid internships may differ from unpaid internships in terms of workload and flexibility. If you are being paid for an internship, you may be treated more like an employee. You are more obligated to do whatever work is assigned to you no matter how tedious and repetitive it may be, unless of course the learning contract you have in place with your school and employer prohibits this.

No matter what internship you choose, don’t disqualify an opportunity based on pay or no pay. Choose the internship that will stimulate your mind, offer you a great learning experience, and potentially lead you to a full-time opportunity after college.

Visit to search for internships in Rhode Island for free!

3 Easy Ways to Improve Your Internship Program Today

While internships are indeed a pipeline for fresh talent and new faces around the office, internship programs (like interns) often need a push to get going. Once that push has been given, it can turn your internship program from competent to great and from an opportunity into a process that delivers consistent results.

To be most effective, the nurturing process should start before the internship itself begins. Getting your interns up to speed on your organization, and conducting a thorough vetting process will set appropriate expectations and prepare them well to start off on the right foot. So, how do you do this exactly?

Hand pointing to Internship concept

Tip #1: Prepare Interns for Success

What are the chief things that employers should be screening for when it comes to finding those interns that are a cut above the competition? In addition to seeking candidates that study a relevant field, have job-related skills, or even have previous experience to bring to the table, you’ll also want to look for interns that have certain soft skills and personal traits that make them easy to train and pleasant to work with like determination, good problem solving skills, and open-mindedness.

Explain what a typical day might look like for your internship candidates. Does your interviewee have a lot of questions along the way? That may show your potential intern is inquisitive and ready to learn. Ask your candidates about their goals after graduation. Have them tell you about classroom experience that would help them do the job. Find out why they want the internship. Are they eager to learn or are they just checking a box for their resume?

Preparing your interns for success starts by choosing the right interns for the job. If you need good communication skills, make sure your interviewee speaks well, explains herself clearly, and brings a writing sample or two. If you need someone more analytical, give them a problem to solve. Leave the room for 10 minutes while she comes up with a solution and then discuss. Find out her thought process. Are her critical thinking skills in line with what you are seeking?

All of the questions you ask in your internship interview should be designed to efficiently locate the interns that are really passionate about the field and have the necessary skills, traits, experience and open-mindedness to be a good fit.

Tip #2: Run an Intern Orientation

Having an orientation for new interns is the best way to establish clear expectations early on let interns know what’s expected of them if they’re to succeed in their new role.

Interns should know from the outset the short- and long-term goals of the internship and how this internship fits in with the company.

Orientations should make the company ethos clear, if it isn’t already, and clue interns in on what they need to do to meet future performance evaluations, daily responsibilities required to successfully carry out the internship, and important company policies to always bear in mind when speaking with superiors and employees as well as present and future clients.

In the orientation you also want to outline a blueprint for how intern supervisors can facilitate the internship experience in a way that enlarges, rather than detracts, from your business resources.

Even if you are a small organization, orientation is a must. Orientation can be a big group session or a simple conversation between intern and supervisor, but it shouldn’t be swept aside just because you only have a few employees.

Tip #3: Set Up a Mentor Program

A mentor program is essential for getting (and keeping) everything off on the right foot.

When mentors first meet with their interns, they should be supportive yet set up clear and practical expectations that both nurture an intern’s development and abet contributions to your overarching organization.

One of the things that mentors don’t often think about – but actually play a huge role in the success of internships – is making sure that the mentor’s schedule is aligned with the interns.

If there are days when mentors or interns are underused or super busy, then your schedules need to align accordingly to make up the difference and synergistically reap more from the mentor-intern relationship.

Want more help on improving your internship program. Download our free Employer Guide that can teach you tips on writing more interesting internship descriptions, show you how to set up a learning contract, discuss legal considerations for bringing on internships and more.

Download the Employer Guide to Creating a Meaningful Learning Experience for Students

How Can You Improve Your Internship?

Sometimes when an intern and employer connect, it’s fate. The communication is great; you learn from each other each day;  you are challenged and energized by solving day-to-day business problems and, as a student, make great leaps towards building your future career . But other times, an internship feels like, well…a struggle.  If you’re not sure that both you and your employer are gaining skills or knowledge from the internship experience, then listen up; this article is for you.


Are you getting paid?

If you are fortunate enough to land a paid position, you are equivilent to an employee of the company you are interning for. Unless it is a violation of a “learning contract” between you, your employer and your school, the employer has the right to ask you to do busy work (filing, scanning, answering phones, coffee runs!) as much as they want to.

If you are not getting paid, your time spent at this company must be educational and no more than 20% of your time should be  spent doing busy work. These are basic regulations all employers must follow if they take on an unpaid intern. If you find yourself doing much more busy work than you should be, it’s time to have a conversation with your employer and maybe even your career services office (if you have a learning contract in place). Try to rectify the issue as soon as possible to turn your blah internship into a positive experience.

Can you offer insight on everyday problems?

Companies love getting a fresh perspective, whether it be on package design, accounting dilemma, or marketing approach. Part of the reason why companies bring on interns is so they can gain new opinions on how their product or service is perceived.

Don’t be shy about offering your perspective. Just try to provide criticism in a kind, constructive way – and with the right audience. Consider the principals you’ve learned in the classroom and apply them to problems you encounter at your internship. How satisfying is it to actually use what you learned in school in the real world? By providing your insight regularly, you will show your employer you care, can solve problems, and may help you build more trust with your supervisor. All of this will help you get more out of your internship experience.

Are you acquiring new skills?

Your internship is supposed to be one of the building blocks to lead you to your future career. What better way to learn than in the field itself!? You should be applying the formulas and theories you’ve gained throughout college at your internship, but your supervisor should also be able to teach you something that you can’t learn in school. It could be a computer skill, a theoretical approach, or even a life skill (never underestimate the importance of “soft skills” in the workplace). Anything you gain from your internship experience is considered a win! Be open-minded to feedback because it could teach you a valuable lesson.

Is there something that you want to learn how to do? Ask your supervisor to teach you! They love when you show initiative and interest in what they’re doing. Take any opportunity you can to learn. Adding another skill to your resume could make you more desirable to future employers. Never sit idly waiting for your next task. Be proactive and you’ll find you get much more out of your internship!

Internships are great to have, whether yours is a positive or negative experience, because they teach you something that you can’t really learn in a classroom. Many internships (as much as 70%, according to NACE!) even turn into full-time job offers! That’s how I landed my full-time position here at RISLA. I was hired as a marketing intern and now I have a full-time job as a Marketing Associate. I was testing the waters with my supervisor and colleagues without even knowing it – how exciting! Remember this and maybe your internship will turn out the same. Best of luck!

Ready to start you internship search? Try our free internship finder tool. Go to to land your next internship.

How to ask for a raise and what to do with your extra cash

First, a word of warning: the vast majority of employees believe that they deserve a raise. We all want more money!


Does that mean you should ask? Maybe. Here’s the homework you’ll want to do before you have that conversation.


What are you worth?

  • Do your research. What are comparable candidates in your field earning? Be sure you’re looking at the right data, and be able to quote statistics that are detailed and reliable. We suggest Glassdoor and the Bureau of Labor Statistics as a starting point. If you’re well below market rates, you may have a compelling argument. If you’re on par with other professionals in your field, it’s time to look to the next factor: your personal value.
  • What do you bring to the table? Obtaining a raise is most often a question of proving your worth, so make sure you can demonstrate that worth. Have you boosted company sales? Are you responsible for an increase in social media-driven foot traffic, or a process change that has saved money? Write it up and be prepared to discuss in detail. Proven examples of your value are the single best way to justify a raise!

Look into the future

What do you like about this company, and what compels you to remain? Prove to your supervisor that an investment in you is an investment in the organization’s future. It’s all well and good to say “I deserve more money.” It’s another thing altogether to say “Spending a little more on me now is a worthwhile investment.”

Make sure your supervisor is prepared to talk turkey. Don’t blindside her with a surprise conversation about compensation. When you’re ready to talk, send an email that says something like “When you have some time, I’d love the chance to talk to you about my future with the company!” Be excited and positive, not frustrated or obstinate. This is a conversation, not a demand!

You landed a raise – what now?

Getting a raise is exciting, and you may be tempted to celebrate by upping your spending or purchasing something extravagant. Trust us – the best thing you can do with that extra money is use it to reduce debt and create an emergency fund!

Sure, take yourself out to dinner or buy those shoes you’ve been eyeballing. You deserve it! But don’t up your monthly expenses. Chances are, your raise isn’t enough to significantly increase your expenditures without hurting your budget. It is, however, enough to pay down on those loans or save for a rainy day.

Even a few dollars per month towards your student loans can decrease your total repayment time and reduce the total amount you pay in finance charges. And think about the options you will have without that monthly payment to worry about!

If you’re saddled with other debt – from credit cards in particular – pay them down immediately, focusing on your highest interest rate balances first. Credit card debt can sink you financially, and your new raise presents an excellent opportunity to free yourself.

Lastly, make sure you’re socking away any extra dollars into an investment vehicle or, if in doubt, a savings account. Your savings won’t just protect you against emergencies later, it’ll build a foundation for wealth.

Want to save on your student loans? Refinancing may be the key.

Office chit chat and your new job

There’s a lot to learn in a new position, and much of the expertise you’ll build will come with time and repetition. But some skills are better learned deliberately, and this is one of them: here are some guidelines to office chit chat!


  • Coworkers: Your colleagues are people with the same job title as you, plus lower-level support staff. These are the people who will become your friends at work, so it’s natural to chat with them about normal, everyday stuff: hobbies, weekends, families. Take it slow and get to know each of them before diving in. Remember that the best conversations are the ones where you’re doing more listening and less talking, so ask plenty of questions about people to make them feel comfortable!
  • Mentors: These are people who, like some teachers you’ve had, are responsible for helping you to build your career. Show them more respect by being consistently polite, and make sure to demonstrate gratitude when they help you solve a problem or learn something new at work. You can chat about weather and sports, but avoid conversations about deeply personal topics like religion or politics. This relationship must be strictly professional.
  • Superiors: These are people, just like you, but it can be pretty stressful to be stuck on the elevator with a manager when you don’t know what to say! If you know that the person has just achieved something at work or been recognized, congratulate them. You can also mention the weather or some event in the office, but be careful about taking up too much time with conversation. Most higher-ups keep their distance from entry-level staff in big organizations because part of their job is to oversee from afar, and because they just don’t have time to build those relationships. Of course, there are exceptions to this, especially in smaller organizations, but tread lightly until you have fully assessed how superiors in your work place converse with other staff.

When in doubt, remember to be polite and ask questions. A sense of humor is always appreciated at work, but keep jokes to a small circle of colleagues and remember that everyone’s definition of “appropriate” is a bit different, so keep it professional with anyone you don’t know very well. Practice makes perfect, but these general guidelines will help to avoid uncomfortable breaches of protocol until you know the ropes!

Ready to find an internship and start your career? Opportunities abound at!


Be effective at giving feedback [Employers]

Critical feedback is one of those truly necessary evils in the workplace. It’s essential to developing personnel, d



riving profits, and streamlining productivity. But it isn’t easy. For both the receiver and the person delivering the feedback, it’s tough to talk about what needs work.


The best supervisors know how to provide feedback in a way that minimizes damage and maximizes productivity. If that’s your goal, read on.

Provide a heads-up

The reaction you want to avoid the most is defensiveness, which happens when people feel attacked or surprised. There’s an easy way to mitigate this, and the most effective supervisors use this strategy every time: don’t surprise anyone.

Lead with this line: “Do you have a few minutes? I’d love to provide some feedback on that project.” Now your staff member knows what the conversation is about and has a little time to reflect, relax, and prep for your comments. It’ll feel more like a conversation and less like an assault, and that’s going to set both of you at ease. Remember, afterwards, to follow up with a “thanks for taking the time to listen to my feedback.”

Be specific

If you’re critiquing a behavior, be as specific as possible. Which of these scenarios seem most likely to produce a positive result?

  1. “I can’t believe you spoke to me like that during our meeting.”
  2. “When you sound angry during meetings, it reduces office morale and hurts our professional relationship.”

Example 1 is going to elicit some serious defensiveness. Example 2 is specific enough to encourage a change in behavior.

Don’t procrastinate

If you need to provide feedback, do it immediately. You’ll maximize effectiveness when the incident or the project is still fresh, and you’ll show that you’re really invested in whatever process you’re discussing. Of course, feedback may need to wait until the end of a meeting or a presentation. And if emotions are running high, consider waiting until the following morning to talk.

Make sure you believe in what you’re about to say

Spend some time thinking about why you want to provide feedback in this case, and what you hope to get out of the interaction and subsequent change in behavior. It goes without saying that your anger or frustration should never be justification, on their own, for critiquing an employee’s behavior. But if you’re concerned about the organization’s mission, the bottom line, or team morale, be prepared to discuss any/all of those as reasons for your feedback.

With a little practice and a bit of preparation, critical feedback can be a growth opportunity for you, your employee, and your organization.

Follow our blog to stay up-to-date on important tips and information for employers. And be sure to post your open internship opportunities on

Into Reality: From the Intern’s Desk

After four fantastic months at RISLA, it has come time for me to  change out of my intern hat and into my Marketing Associate hat – yay! It is a bittersweet feeling that I am graduating from college and becoming a full fledged adult. But I am certainly up to the challenge.

interns desk

Back in November, I started my internship search on and shortly thereafter I came across a marketing intern position at RISLA. After reading the marketing internship description, I felt confident that I was qualified and I knew I had to apply for the internship. Next thing I knew, I had an interview lined up for the following week. A few days later, I got a follow up email asking me to answer some supplemental questions to help narrow down the candidates. By mid December, I was offered the marketing internship. Score!

As any other college senior could tell you, this time in our life is very nostalgic. We look back on our past 21 years and wonder where the time went and we are scared to look forward because all we have ever known is school. By completing this internship, as well as one previously, I am fully ready to take on what the world has to offer me.

My internship at RISLA has been invaluable. I have learned more than how to work in a professional environment and necessary skills, but I have also become more confident in myself. That is not something that can be taught. During my internship I have worked on countless printed marketing materials, online advertising and even began helping the marketing manager re-brand RISLA – stay tuned. Needless to say, internships are important and they will prepare you for the real world. Not to mention 72.7% of interns get offered a full time job towards the completion of their internship. (That includes me! See, it’s worth it to be an intern!)

I look forward to my next 3 weeks off enjoying senior week activities, graduation and spending time with my friends and family. But I am most excited to start at RISLA full time on June 5th.

If you haven’t gotten your summer internship yet, take a peak on – some great internships are still available! Remember: internships do lead to full time jobs!