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BusinessColumnistsJamie Herzlich

Paying summer interns can benefit you and them

Some majors can command higher internship hourly wages,

Some majors can command higher internship hourly wages, such as computer science and engineering. Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto / monkeybusinessimages

For many firms, bringing on summer interns is the easy part.

Figuring out what to pay them, if at all, not so much.

While they don’t fit the mold of a traditional employee, paying them could help attract a wider pool of talent, say experts.

“The company is going to get a better quality intern if they pay them, because the applicant pool will be more competitive for the paid internship versus the unpaid internship,” says Jonathan Ivanoff, associate director of internships at Adelphi University in Garden City.

Many students can’t afford to take an unpaid internship, so that offer essentially limits the number of applicants who will apply, he notes.

Plus, there are strict criteria the internship must meet for an internship to be unpaid.

“If you’re a for-profit company, it’s very hard to have an intern without actually paying the person because of labor laws,” says Mimi Collins, spokesperson for the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), a group for college HR recruiting and career services professionals. (See labor.ny.gov for more on wage requirements for interns.)

So if you opt to pay, how do you determine how much?

Well, it has to be at least minimum wage, which is $9 per hour in New York, says Scott Green, a partner in the labor practice group at Rivkin Radler LLP in Uniondale. Interns are also entitled to overtime pay if they work more than 40 hours a week.

“If you’re going to classify your interns as employees, you’re on the hook to abide by all wage hour requirements and regulations including recordkeeping and payroll requirements,” he notes.

If you decide to pay them more than minimum wage, try to be competitive to attract the best crop of interns, suggests Green.

Locally, Ivanoff says interns generally get $10-$12 an hour for paid internships. Adelphi has a summer program on campus called the Jaggar Community Fellows Program, where it recruits, vets and selects up to 70 students for full-time paid internships at nonprofits on Long Island and in New York City. Through an $875,000 grant, Adelphi pays undergraduates $10 per hour and graduate students $12 per hour for a 30-hour week for 10 weeks, says Ivanoff.

Nationally, the hourly average wage for a master’s-degree intern is $24, and for a bachelor’s-degree intern it’s $17.69, according to NACE’s 2016 Internship & Co-op Survey.

When determining pay, companies generally look at multiple factors, says Collins. Some base the internship salary on some percentage of what they pay their full-time hires for a similiar position. They also consider the geographic area, the student’s field of study and year of study, she notes.

“It’s usually some combination of all of these factors,” she adds. Some majors can command pretty high internship hourly wages (ie. computer science, engineering, etc.), says Collins.

Just remember if interns are performing comparable work and have a similar level of experience, pay should be commensurate, says Green.

Similarly situated interns “should be paid the same without regard to gender, race, religion or membership in any other protected class,” he notes.

Jaclyn Zepernick, CEO of Executive Enterprise, a Massapequa consulting and marketing firm specializing in brand development, says she tries to offer her interns competitive pay.

An intern’s average base pay at the firm is $400 per week, but that could rise to $900 with bonuses and commissions.

She says she wants to attract strong talent because some interns may ultimately end up working for the firm. Executive Enterprise offers five full-time positions to its interns upon graduation.

“I pay them because I want the best possible candidates,” says Zepernick.

Fast Fact:

While many employers might try to get around paying their interns, nationally last year more than half of interns were paid, according to NACE’s Class of 2015 Student Survey.

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