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!

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!

Creating a professional brand

Your “brand” exists whether you manage it or not. As the cumulative footprint of all of your web activity, your reputation, and your professional history, your professional brand will live on into perpetuity, even if you do nothing to take control.

Surprised female peeping out of tablet frame

That means that you must manage it. Fail to do so, and your brand will manage itself! So, how do you want to be presented to the professional world?

First, Google yourself

Yes, it’s a bit uncomfortable. But in order to manage your professional image, you need to have a good overall picture of that image now. Google yourself, and check out the image, web, and social media results. What results pop up on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, or LinkedIn? Are there details about your personal life that are better left to the imagination? Log in to each of those accounts and manage the results by hiding specific matters from the public. When in doubt, your default setting should be “private.”

Things to avoid: selfies and group photos at social outings that are alcohol-heavy, goofy insider-jokes, and vacation photos. A public photo or two of you with the family dog are fine – they humanize you and can show potential professional contacts that you’re a genuinely happy person! Just limit and monitor that exposure.

Develop continuity

If you can, try to utilize the same or similar professional photos across various website and social media accounts. Make sure that outsiders associate one or two images with your professional persona. It’ll make you memorable and will keep your brand recognizable. Make sure that you also use your name in connection with those images. During a Google search, you want that information to be readily available. If you can, include your name in identifiable URLs on Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.

Consider a logo

A logo – even a simple monogram – is customizable and adds recognition to your name. The human brain is much more inclined to remember symbols, so add a symbol to your brand and consider yourself memorable! Not a graphic designer? That’s okay. Plenty of services and tools are available online to help you out.

Build the brand

If you don’t have a profile on LinkedIn, it’s time. The site is free, easy to use, and a go-to option for employers and clients alike who are interested in digging a little deeper into your professional credentials.

Next, develop a few articles or blog posts to help demonstrate your expertise. Publishing those articles is as simple as clicking “share” on your LinkedIn profile, so there’s no need to develop a full blog or connect with a larger website presence.

Now it’s time to network. Start by selecting a few folks with web presence in your chosen field, and link up with them on social media platforms. These are the people who can help you to build your web network, so talk to them about your goals and your professional skillset. “Like” the things they share, and ask them to “endorse” you for specific skills. If they’re members of professional groups, join those groups. Remember –these people have similar goals, so your efforts won’t be perceived negatively.


Building a brand is a long-term project, so your work is never done! Make a point of checking in to investigate your web presence and make sure that you’re balancing deliberately published material with editing those published elements (on Facebook and otherwise) that have the potential to hurt you. Keep tabs on both and you’re well on your way to building a successful brand!