The Changing Role of the Intern

Updated: November 18, 2019

Just as job expectations are constantly shifting, the role of the intern is always in flux. In tough times, companies often see interns as a source of free labor. In a thriving economy, employers invest in their future workforce. And in between, the intern experience varies widely. Read on to get the latest and learn how to adjust when the economy changes once again.


How have intern expectations changed in the past few years?

There’s been increasing debate lately around whether it’s legal and/or ethical to offer unpaid internships. From a legal standpoint, unpaid internships are A-Okay—provided they give students training and mentorship that benefits the intern more than the companies themselves. As such, internships are putting an increased emphasis on providing meaningful, applicable learning experiences. And, where possible, they’re providing wages, too.

In recent years, some companies have begun making huge investments in their internship programs, particularly in tech. Since many internship programs are the gateway to a full-time job, with more than 45% of interns accepting a full-time position from their internship (as per the National Association of Colleges and Employers), more and more companies are treating their interns as full-fledged employees—and giving them salaries to match. In fact, top companies pay their interns more than the median US worker makes (but, keep in mind, the average US worker also gets a 401k, healthcare, and an actual full-time job). More and more, talented interns want the full internship package, including an exceptional culture, salary, and learning environment.


What about recessions?

If you’re interning during lean times, you’d be wise to tweak your internship game and focus more on how you can add value for the employer. In a tough economy, employers are trying to stretch their dollars and get the most out of their workers. They want their employees and interns to contribute in a way that benefits the company. Promote yourself as the intern who can help them do more for less, and you’re sure to get noticed.


With smaller companies come great opportunities

Check out Evan’s video below on how you can tap into smaller organizations to learn more, make a greater impact, and figure out what you want in your career—no matter what.

Now, you’re ready to intern with the best of ‘em, in good times and bad. The sooner you start applying, the sooner you start interning. Search for internships here!