The best ways to compensate an unpaid intern

More and more these days, paid internships are becoming the standard for companies that offer internships. This allows companies to compete with others in the industry or region for both the best interns and new grads. However, for companies who offer unpaid internships, it’s a whole different ball game. Even when businesses have rich and varied experience to offer potential interns, they are at an automatic disadvantage when they can’t or don’t offer paid internships.

Organizations in this position must be creative with their compensation to recruit the best young talent without offering a paycheck. There are a number of ways they can do so without breaking the bank:

Professional development – The most valuable things you can offer interns are experience and training they can take with them when they begin their career. Even to cash-strapped college students, training and development is invaluable. This could include one-on-one time with senior employees, attending seminars or even just gaining hands-on experience.

Inclusion – It may not be at the forefront of your mind once you’ve been at your company for a while, but feeling included and like you’re a part of the team is a big deal. This especially true for those who may have not worked in an office before their internship. Include interns by inviting them to meetings, asking them to assist with brainstorming, taking them along to after-hours activities and even giving them their own projects.

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Performance bonuses – Offering results-based bonuses can be a more frugal alternative to offering hourly wages to interns. You’ll likely spend less and interns will be motivated to achieve results. If you decide to go this route, be mindful that your goals should be reasonable and bonuses should pay for more than a tank of gas.

Networking opportunities – When you’re searching for a job, it’s all about whom you know. Whether you end up hiring your intern or not, it will be valuable in the long term for your intern to meet other industry professionals, your peers and your organization’s executives.

College credit – Some companies shy away from offering college credit because of paperwork and accountability concerns, but it doesn’t have to be any more cumbersome than a regular internship. If you’re not paying interns, it’s a small incentive you can offer.

Travel stipend – During one of my college internships, I travelled two hours twice a week from my college town to the city nearby to complete my internship. I was happy to have the internship, which turned into a job, but it was tough to fill up the gas tank when my bank account was at about three figures. A travel stipend is a small token of appreciation that can make the opportunity easier on your interns.

Partnering with other organizations – Your organization likely has connections with other businesses, professional organizations and community groups that can prove valuable for interns. Make use of these connections and pull a few strings to get interns shadow days at other businesses, invitations to professional organization events and luncheons and access to community groups (think: chamber of commerce) where they can network.

Have you recruited unpaid interns for your organization? If so, what types of alternative compensation have you offered? Let us know in the comments section below.

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