In the age of the online ad, there’s been a huge shift in how advertising is done, and internships are one of the key ways companies can gain a foothold in the digital world.
While many companies have moved away from traditional job descriptions, some still employ interns to help with design and development, a trend that has taken off in recent years.
“Internships have always been a way to help companies learn about their users,” says Mark S. Rader, the director of business development at KPMG.
“The internships we have now are a way for companies to learn about a customer’s needs and to work together.”
In a recent survey, nearly two-thirds of respondents said they have used a paid internship at an online company, and nearly a third have used an unpaid internship at a traditional company.
“It’s always been that way,” says Brian O’Donnell, chief executive officer of The Office Solutions Group.
“It’s a great way to learn from and gain experience, but I don’t think it’s necessarily the right way to build a brand.”
O’Donnell says it’s important for startups to understand the role of internships in their businesses, as they help companies to scale quickly, and also grow their user base.
For the majority of companies, it’s more efficient to offer interns to build their user-base than to pay them to help out with their own brand.
“When you think about it, a lot of the time you’re actually paying the interns to come here and work with you,” O’Brien says.
“They’re not coming to you because they want to learn, they’re coming to help build a team, and a lot are looking to learn a new skill.”
But the practice of paying for internships can be costly.
“I don’t know that you should pay people to be your intern,” says Soren Johnson, the founder of SorenJohnson, a small company that offers online marketing services.
“But I think there’s a risk that you can take that risk and you can be quite greedy.”
When you are a traditional employer, you want to reward people who do their best work, says O’Reilly.
“You want to get people who have a really good understanding of their business and are very enthusiastic about their work.
You want to see how much they enjoy it and are able to get things done.”
And if you’re an online business, you might want to consider whether internships should be a part of your business model.
“You want people who can be very effective in helping you with product development, and that you really want to be able to have a very efficient brand,” says Rader.
“So it’s not just about getting a couple of guys in a room and having them go out and build something.”
But if you are an online entrepreneur, you may not want to pay people who might have a lot to learn.
“They’re really not good at doing the things you want them to do,” says Johnson.
“That’s a big problem.
It’s a really, really difficult problem.”
Rader says that while he’s never worked for a company that paid an intern, he’s been offered opportunities to work on their websites.
“Some of them were really nice,” he says.
But for others, it didn’t work out.
“I don’s like it.
I think I would probably not do it,” he tells Quartz.
“When you’re a company, you should be able see yourself in an intern or a part-time intern.”
But not everyone agrees with that view.
Some employees, including some with companies that offer internships for free, have voiced concerns that paying people to learn would make them less motivated to stay in the industry.
“This is a lot about being a little bit more competitive,” says Chris McQuinn, the CEO of online marketing firm A.C.T. “This is not about having to pay interns to learn.”
As long as there are no job-related or ethical issues, he says, there is no reason to pay for interns.
And if it’s possible for a job to be done without paying interns, why not use a paid intern program?
“There are lots of companies that have used interns to do other work,” says O-Reilly.
But it’s very hard to get a good job without being a great intern.
If you’re looking to hire a new intern to help you build a company brand, O’Kelly says, “If you really think about this, the reason I work here is to make sure you get a great person.”
He says it doesn’t hurt to get some advice on how to do this from his company.
“We do an internship for people who want to help us grow,” he explains.
“If I could ask you what you need to do to help me get more of these people, that would be great.”