As an investor, founder, CEO and business book author, I write about startups, design, how to build a good business, and I like to muse about culture in any form.

Why paying interns is a civic duty for our company


An insightful short comic by Toby Morris is blowing up online. (See all the panels here.) It’s about how success and privilege are unmistakably correlated. Reading the diverging tale of two young adults, it’s easy to shake your head and move on. After all, none of us can really affect the birth and family circumstances of other people.

But just wringing our hands– that’s not enough.

Those of us who lead organizations can easily give a leg up to “Paula”–the kid in this comic who illustrates the “no-privilege” script. This is why my co-founder and I started insisting on paying our college interns as soon as we had achieved salaries for the full time staff. We don’t want Grommet to be exclusively accessible to wealthy kids who do not need to make money over the summer.

It’s also a reason why I encourage our recruiting managers to ignore the prestige of an applicant’s college. Sometimes state school kids have a hunger that graduates from an elite school will never experience. Too many Ivy League kids are living their parents’ dream, and not their own. In the abstract, I am far more impressed with someone who worked significant part time hours during college than someone who went to Yale. I hold the same esteem for college athletes who juggled team demands and still achieved a strong GPA.

Employers can get lazy and let elite college admissions be their proxy for a graduate’s potential. It takes more insight to realize that sometimes tough circumstances are the best “privilege” and basis for success. An employer actually can mitigate hiring risk with those less conventional applicants–as their accomplishments are entirely their own.

That’s why we pay our interns.

It’s good for society. And yes, it’s good for our business.

2 Responses to “Why paying interns is a civic duty for our company”

  1. Pedasi Pundit

    I worked in Silicon Valley for over thirty years and actually started an Intern recruiting service in the mid-nineties. Too many employers had no idea how to recruit interns and how to pick the correct one for their needs. I always insisted that the employer pay the Interns. I was able to recruit some very impressive talent from the Bay Area colleges and I looked for that hunger in the individual, not the school. Several of the Interns I recruited were hired by the company they interned for, part time while they finished their degree and full time when they graduated. I now live in a small village in Panama and am looking for a couple of interns for the new business that I am starting here and I will pay them. BTW – I only got paid for my Intern recruiting services if the Intern worked out, if they did not work out, then I found the client a new Intern.

  2. julespieri

    Pedasi (apologies if I am using your name incorrectly), your intern matching service sounds great. We spend a great deal of time in that recruiting process. I have to admit I do like giving inexperienced managers a chance to hire for a relatively low-risk situation so there is some benefit to our current laborious system.


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