Where’d you hear THAT? Top 3 Myths about Interns

This is my "interns are serious business" pose

All right friends, I’m sure some of you (especially those the read my last post) knew this day was coming. Let’s explore some intern-related assumptions we have seen from employers. Even those with the best of intentions are sometimes sadly misinformed about interns, and it is time we shed some light on common myths. 

Myth 1 – Interns…that’s just another word for free labor, right?
Actually, no. It’s definitely not. There’s quite a bit more to it than that. In fact, there are a number of national organizations (including the Department of Labor and the National Association of Colleges and Employers, NACE) that have weighed in on what interns can and cannot do for free. I highly suggest anyone considering interns check out, print out, and even memorize DOL Fact Sheet #71: Internship Programs under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

In addition to supporting the DOL standards, we at UC Irvine subscribe to following NACE principles:

1. The experience must be an extension of the classroom: a learning experience that provides for applying the knowledge gained in the classroom. It must not be simply to advance the operations of the employer or be the work that a regular employee would routinely perform.

2. The skills or knowledge learned must be transferable to other employment settings.

3. The experience has a defined beginning and end, and a job description with desired qualifications.

4. There are clearly defined learning objectives/goals related to the professional goals of the student’s academic coursework.

5. There is supervision by a professional with expertise and educational and/or professional background in the field of the experience.

6. There is routine feedback by the experienced supervisor.

7. There are resources, equipment, and facilities provided by the host employer that support learning objectives/goals.
source: http://www.naceweb.org/about/membership/internship/

So, the short answer is, if your opportunity does not meet the above criteria, it may not be viewed as a legitimate internship. As a result, you could find yourself with, at the very least, unhappy interns (and concerned Career Center staff) who are questioning your ethics and work environment.

Myth #2 – If an intern is showing up at my office, their school will automatically give him/her class credit, right?
I wish it was this easy!  UC Irvine is unique in that we don’t offer an internship program that covers our entire campus. Instead, different academic units have programs that suit their specific curricula. Students and employers should both be proactive to ensure that the internship lines up with a program’s standards, and if so, that all of the proper documentation has been completed for the student to earn credit. It is in no way an automatic process.

Myth #3 – I had to lay off our ______, so now I can get an unpaid intern to fill the role, right? Ouch. No.  For those who followed the DOL link, you may have seen these two criteria:

The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff

The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded

So, the short answer is that unpaid interns cannot take over the duties meant for a paid staff member. They can be guided, mentored, and they can often be helpful when they work with the staff duties, but they should not be solely responsible for a traditionally paid position (IE, receptionist, clerical, business development, sales, etc.)

These areas in particular often comes with a lot of questions. As always, let me know how I can help!

-DBO

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