DEAR HARRIETTE: I have just started a new company and have a small team of people working with me, plus several unpaid interns. I need everyone in order to get things off the ground, and my resources are very limited right now. I give college credit whenever the schools allow, but sometimes the interns are simply volunteering.
One of my friends got mad at me for this and said I was like a slave owner. I took great offense to this. I am not forcing anybody to do anything. I am teaching them how to do the work that my company does, and when I can afford it, I will pay everybody. There is no lying or cheating or abuse at all. I have been upfront about how I work from the start. Do you think what I am doing is wrong? -- UNPAID INTERNS
DEAR UNPAID INTERNS: Obviously, if you can afford to pay volunteers, they would appreciate it. But I must say that I believe in internships, however they come. I got to New York City by creating two unpaid internships for myself. If I hadn't gotten that job experience writing for two small newspapers -- for free -- I wouldn't have had clips that helped me secure my first job at a national magazine.
Because of that, I always have interns. Over the years, some have been paid, others not. It depends on the size of my budget. I definitely have worked with schools to exchange work for academic credit, but I also accept interns who are not in school. I believe that the opportunity to get job experience can be invaluable. The symbiotic relationship that an intern and mentor can have is priceless. If you do your part to teach your intern and help to create employment options for him or her, you will be doing your job.