Summer Interns: Trainees or Scut Puppies?

With summer near approaching, it is the season that many college students work as interns for business owners. In most cases, the interns work for free or for very little money in exchange for obtaining valuable experience.

My law firm which fights traffic tickets is no different and recently I gave my intern money and asked him to pick up lunch for the staff (including the intern, of course) at Shake Shack. For those of you who don’t know Shake Shack, it is a food stand located in Madison Square Park and owned by Danny Meyer. The burgers are REALLY good but often the line to place an order can take up to 45 minutes. In fact, even their logo displays a line of waiting patrons (see left).

While he was gone, a sensation of guilt came over me. Was this fair to him? Was I taking advantage? The more time it took him to complete this “task”, the guiltier I became.

When he returned almost 60 minutes later, I felt even worse. He wasn’t annoyed and didn’t complaint (although he was sweaty and starving). But it got me thinking, what are acceptable boundaries for an intern? They obviously need a lot of hand-holding and suck time from you for training. And, they can’t take on some of the more complicated tasks.

On the other hand, they are devoting time to your business and hopefully making you money (directly or indirectly).

Ultimately, I concluded that interns are there to learn and we owe them an obligation to teach them. But, I also think they are there to provide value. It has to be a two-way street. I therefore am okay with asking them from time-to-time to do some less desirable tasks.

By the way, I posted the above scenario on my Facebook wall and received a bunch of great answers. Surprisingly, most of the comments were merciless. Below is a list of some of the best ones:

  • What else are they for? Mine go get Crumbs! Ha.
  • On the day that I am not in the office! [obviously, one of my
  • colleagues]
  • Humility is an important lesson to teach. No need for guilt!
  • Builds character!!!
  • I sent 2,000 summer interns out knocking on doors all week long, then made them gut out evenings of cold calling on the phone, then I sent them selling, AND they don’t get paid until weeks from now. All that and they thank me for providing the best job they have ever had. You need to rethink your paradigm.
  • Several other software giants in India, charge interns for the training additionally while the interns are working for them (free).
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