Paid Internships Lead to Better Job Prospects and Higher Starting Salaries, Says Research

Posted By Donna Fuscaldo on May 18, 2016 at 4:59 pm
Paid Internships Lead to Better Job Prospects and Higher Starting Salaries, Says Research

For years, colleges and universities have extolled the benefits of an internship, unpaid or otherwise. Internships give students experience and something to put on their resume, even if they are only making copies or fetching coffee. But, it turns out that isn’t going to cut it anymore. Increasingly companies are shunning students who did unpaid internships, favoring those that earned a salary during their temporary stint, according to new research from Looksharp, the intern matching company.

Based on interviews with more than 21,000 current students and recent graduates, Looksharp found seniors who completed a paid internship were three times more likely to get a job than those who did unpaid internships. What’s more, paid interns were better able to find jobs in their major and earned higher starting salaries.

“There’s a myth that exists in the internship world that if you put in your dues with unpaid work, you’ll get access to jobs,” says Nathan Parcells, vice president of marketing at Looksharp. “The data shows unpaid roles are not substantially beneficial versus not doing it all.”

Some employers not taking unpaid internships seriously

The reasons employers aren’t hiring unpaid interns, even if they did multiple internships is varied but in general the work experience isn’t taken seriously, with many employers thinking students aren’t gaining the hard skills that are necessary to be successful in an entry level job. Not to mention that if the company couldn’t invest in the intern, why should the prospective employer do so?

That’s not to say there aren’t those fields like entertainment and fashion where the only way in is through unpaid internships. But for a lot of the majors, particularly the more technical degrees, opportunities abound to make some money during an internship. “The average engineering intern in California is getting paid $20 an hour and in San Francisco, it’s about $30 an hour,” says Parcells. “Some companies are paying interns salaries that are well above the average pay for a lot of professionals.”

School prestige can play a role as well in how much an intern earns. According to Parcells, 15 percent of students at Ivy League and top-tier universities are commanding $30 an hour as a paid intern. That compares to 3 percent at public and private universities.

More companies willing to pay their interns

While not every internship is going to get students top dollar, paying interns, in general, is becoming more accepted at companies around the country. Looksharp found 55 percent of respondents said they got paid for their internship, up from 52.5 percent a year ago. The top cities paying interns include Omaha, NE, Boise, ID, Fresno, CA, El Paso, TX, and Milwaukee, WI. Nebraska holds the top spot, largely because of the preponderance of oil and gas jobs in the area.

Cities where less than half of interns are paid include Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Memphis, Miami and New Orleans. Some of those cities are home to the entertainment and fashion industries and home to U.S. politics, areas that traditionally employ a slew of unpaid interns. Still, even with a lot of cities trying to recruit paid interns, the demand continues to outpace the supply. The Looksharp survey found 31.5 percent of respondents didn’t complete an internship to date, although 70 percent of those students searched for one.

Multiple paid internships can mean higher starting salaries

Even among paid interns there are some disparities in terms of who is going to do better with their job search. Paid interns who had multiple internships tended to do better in the job market, largely because they had more opportunities to gain skills, make contacts and network. They also tended to conduct searches for paid internships differently, increasing their chances. “They are more proactive in general and are more likely to do a number of searches,” says Parcells. “They are working with their alumni and peer networks.”

So who are the paid interns earning as much as $30 an hour? According to Looksharp, seniors who had a paid internship and a full-time job offer in hand had GPAs that were 10 percentage points higher than those with below-average GPAs and already have online career profiles on websites like LinkedIn and Looksharp. “A lot of those soft skills and networking to find roles is a big differentiator between those who get an internship and those who do not,” says Parcells.

Donna Fuscaldo
Donna Fuscaldo is a freelance journalist hailing out of Long Island, New York. She has also written for,,,, Business Insider, Dow Jones Newswires and the Wall Street Journal.

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