MBA Intern Pay? Zip. Experience? Priceless

Posted by: Louis Lavelle on April 3, 2009

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By Anne VanderMey
Internship salaries may be up this year , but that doesn’t mean everyone’s getting paid more—or at all. Even MBAs. Unpaid internships, long associated with arts and social sciences, have crept into the moneyed grounds of the business school campus.

With the financial crisis forcing internship hiring down 21% this summer, a rise in unpaid positions isn’t exactly surprising. But until now, unpaid work for MBAs was largely unheard of.

Jack Oakes, director of career development at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, says in a typical year unpaid internships make up less than 1% of placements. This year? Think closer to 5%, or possibly as high as 10%.

That could be the case for a lot of schools, says Stacey Rudnick, MBA career services director at the University of Texas at Austin’s McCombs School of Business. Usually McCombs sends 5% of students to unpaid internships, but Rudnick predicts many schools will be sending at least 10% down that road this year. Another first for the program: McCombs will solicit companies for unpaid work this summer, along with the standard requests for paid internships.

The trend isn’t limited to small companies and non-profits, either. Private equity firms, hedge funds and other fairly large companies have all expressed interest in unpaid labor, career services directors say. While the trend toward unpaid internships is pervasive across sectors, not every school is seeing an uptick—New York University’s Leonard N. Stern School of Business hasn’t seen an increase. At Cornell University’s S.C. Johnson Graduate School of Management, there’s been an uptick in unpaid positions on job boards, but only up to about five postings.

The University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business hasn’t received an outpouring of unpaid postings this summer either. However, many more Smith students have expressed an interest in working for free.

Career services directors stress the internship choice is a “personal decision,” with the caveat that if the only way to get MBA-level experience at a prestigious company is by working unpaid, it’s probably a good idea. “There’s nothing on a résumé that says you need to show whether or not you were paid,” says Oakes.

In all, that’s good news for MBAs hoping to pull down big paychecks at some point in the future—if, that is, they can afford it now.

Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

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