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The impact of compensation, supervision and work design on internship efficacy: implications for educators, employers and prospective interns

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Internships are a growing, yet controversial, labour market phenomenon. In particular, the issue of unpaid internships has been the source of legislative, judicial and ethical debate. Some have criticised colleges and universities for promoting an expansion of internships for undergraduate students – with little regard for internship characteristics such as compensation, quality of supervision and work activities. Meanwhile, there is a paucity of research examining the role internship characteristics, such as compensation, supervisor behaviours and work design have on internship efficacy. Based on a survey of undergraduate students in the US, the results showed that supervisor mentoring, the developmental value of the internship and the job pursuit intentions of the intern with the host employer were lower for those reporting on their unpaid internship vs. paid internship. Meanwhile, supervisor support and supervisor mentoring are significant predictors of internship efficacy regardless of internship compensation, while work design has much less of an impact on internship efficacy. The implications of the findings for educators, employers and prospective interns are highlighted.
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The impact of compensation, supervision and
work design on internship efficacy: implications
for educators, employers and prospective interns
Patrick P. McHugh
To cite this article: Patrick P. McHugh (2016): The impact of compensation, supervision and
work design on internship efficacy: implications for educators, employers and prospective
interns, Journal of Education and Work, DOI: 10.1080/13639080.2016.1181729
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13639080.2016.1181729
Published online: 11 May 2016.
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JOURNAL OF EDUCATION AND WORK, 2016
http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13639080.2016.1181729
The impact of compensation, supervision and work design on
internship ecacy: implications for educators, employers and
prospective interns
Patrick P. McHugh
Department of Management, George Washington University, Washington, DC, USA
ABSTRACT
Internships are a growing, yet controversial, labour market phenomenon. In
particular, the issue of unpaid internships has been the source of legislative,
judicial and ethical debate. Some have criticised colleges and universities for
promoting an expansion of internships for undergraduate students – with
little regard for internship characteristics such as compensation, quality of
supervision and work activities. Meanwhile, there is a paucity of research
examining the role internship characteristics, such as compensation,
supervisor behaviours and work design have on internship ecacy. Based
on a survey of undergraduate students in the US, the results showed that
supervisor mentoring, the developmental value of the internship and the
job pursuit intentions of the intern with the host employer were lower for
those reporting on their unpaid internship vs. paid internship. Meanwhile,
supervisor support and supervisor mentoring are signicant predictors of
internship ecacy regardless of internship compensation, while work design
has much less of an impact on internship ecacy. The implications of the
ndings for educators, employers and prospective interns are highlighted.
Introduction
Over the past 25 years, internships have become an increasingly common feature of the labour market
in industrialised countries, particularly among university students hoping to enhance their employabil-
ity and career opportunities. Job applicants can use their internship experience as a signal as to their
capability (Spence 1973). Both human capital (Becker 1993) and social capital theory (Coleman 1988)
suggest that the skills and networking opportunities acquired through internships provide participants
with positive labour market outcomes. Employers favour job applicants who acquire career-relevant
work experience while pursuing a university degree (Bennett et al. 2008).
Colleges and universities have contributed to the growth in internships (McDermott 2013). In mar-
keting to prospective students and their parents, higher education institutions emphasise internship
opportunities and the integration of internships into their curriculum. In 2010, arising from concern
that stronger enforcement of employment regulations would dampen internship opportunities, thir-
teen university presidents requested that the US Department of Labour relax employment regulations
pertaining to unpaid internships (Aoun et al. 2010; Eisenbrey 2010). Burke and Carton (2013) assert that
the major reasons educational institutions make an internship a requirement for a degree programme
include: improved placement rates for programme graduates, augmentation and complementary to
ARTICLE HISTORY
Received 28 September 2015
Accepted 8 April 2016
KEYWORDS
Internships; compensation;
precarious work; career
development; mentoring
© 2016 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
CONTACT Patrick P. McHugh mchughp@gwu.edu
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2 P. P. MCHUGH
classroom learning, and nancial benets to institutions if academic credit is aorded to internship
participants in lieu of classroom instructional activity (Burke and Carton 2013). Some researchers have
expressed concerns regarding the level of monitoring and assessment of internship placements by
educational institutions (Bowman and Lipp 2000; Burke and Carton 2013).
Employers utilise interns as a cost savings measure and recruitment tool. Compensation for paid
internships is generally less than for entry-level positions (Meinert 2013). Moreover, interns oer employ-
ers exibility since there is no expectation of a long-term employment commitment. In the case of
unpaid internships, employers gain the usage of human capital at only the cost of training. In addition,
internships can serve as an extended recruiting and selection process where the intern/potential job
applicant engages in an extended work sample test (Zhao and Liden 2011). After completion of the
internship, the organisation can better assess the t and potential of the prospective job applicant (ie
former intern).
While the prevalence of internships has increased, they are also quite controversial. Perlin (2011)
critically examined the growth of unpaid internships in the US raising concerns regarding the legality of
these arrangements and the lax enforcement of applicable regulations surrounding unpaid work. Since
2011, more than 30 lawsuits have been led against employers by unpaid interns in the US (Suen and
Brandeisky 2014). Moreover, Perlin (2011) and Curiale (2010) note the obstacles that unpaid internships
create for socio-economic mobility. Low-income individuals may be unable to aord engaging in unpaid
work. Thus, while internships oer cost and exibility advantages to employers, their growth is consist-
ent with a trend toward casualized (Kalleberg et al. 1997), and precarious (Kalleberg 2009) employment.
In addition to these challenges, Perlin (2011) provides anecdotal evidence suggesting that unpaid
internships all too often lack substantive benets, such as helping interns crystallise their vocational
interests, providing developmental guidance or identifying viable employment options. However, there
has been a lack of empirical research focused on the relationship between internship characteristics and
intern outcomes. In order to move beyond anecdotal reports, additional research is needed to better
understand the role that internship characteristics, such as compensation, supervisor behaviours and
work design have on internship outcomes (Beenen and Rousseau 2010; Narayanan, Olk, and Fuk ami 2010).
In this paper, the results of a survey of undergraduate students are used to draw comparisons
between student experiences in paid and unpaid internships regarding internship content and intern-
ship outcomes. In the following section, a review of the internship literature helps identify several key
internship outcomes, in addition to design features that capture important aspects of internship content.
Internship outcomes
An internship experience can have a number of possible outcomes worthy of study. For example,
researchers have examined the relationship between internships and academic performance (Manseld
2011; Binder et al. 2014); developmental value (Brooks et al. 1995; Taylor 1988); school to work entry
shock (Cole, Kolko, and Craddick1981); employment opportunities (Taylor 1988; Gault, Redington, and
Schlager 2000; Gault, Leach, and Duey 2010); job search activities (Knouse, Tanner, and Harris 1999;
Callanan and Benzing 2004; Beenen and Pichler 2014; Rose, Teo, and Connell 2014); and internship
satisfaction (McCaery 1979; Feldman and Weitz 1990). A broad investigation of internship outcomes
is beyond the scope of one study. This paper focuses on three outcomes: the developmental value of
the internship; the job pursuit intentions of the intern; and intern satisfaction. These variables were
selected because of their inclusion in prior research and their importance in terms of understanding
the value of internship experiences.
Educational and vocational researchers often focus on the developmental value of internships as
part of career exploration and growth (Jordan 1963; Super 1990; Virtanen, Tynjälä, and Eteläpelto 2014).
Internships have the potential to provide students with insights into their career aspirations, advance
student vocational self-concept, oer skill acquisition, as well as inform and revise student assumptions
and beliefs about career and work preferences. Pedro (1984) showed that female college students par-
ticipating in an internship reported changes in work-specic needs – such as placing greater emphasis
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JOURNAL OF EDUCATION AND WORK 3
on task variety and less need for working with people. Taylor (1988) found that a cohort of students
participating in an internship reported greater crystallisation of vocational self-concept and better
employment opportunities than a matched cohort of students who did not complete an internship.
Brooks et al. (1995) examined four dierent occupational proles of college seniors – those with only
work experience, those with only internship experience, those engaging in both work and internships,
and those with neither experiences and found that internship experience by itself or in combination
with work experience is associated with higher vocational self-concept.
In addition to the potential developmental value of internships, they also provide an intern with the
opportunity to cultivate an attraction to the organisation in terms of future job pursuit. This is particularly
important since employers often look to hire their own interns to ll full-time positions after graduation
and that the interns themselves are typically interested in job seeking with their internship employer
(Zhao and Liden 2011; Maertz, Stoeberl, and Marks 2014). An internship oers a realistic job preview
(Premack and Wanous 1985) where interns/potential job applicants can obtain genuine information
about the organisation, such as organisational culture, job characteristics and work-life.
The third outcome variable of interest is intern satisfaction, which is conceptually analogous to job
satisfaction. Job satisfaction has been linked to job performance (Judge et al. 2001), organisational
citizenship (Organ and Ryan 1995), life satisfaction (Rain, Lane, and Steiner 1991), employee health
(Faragher, Cass, and Cooper 2005) and turnover intentions (Hellman 1997).
Internship content
Compensation
The extant research on internship compensation has focused on legal and regulatory issues (Coker
2009), fairness and social mobility (Curiale 2010), and the responsibilities of educational institutions in
the unpaid internship space (Bowman and Lipp 2000; Svacina 2012). Most empirical studies examining
internship outcomes fail to distinguish whether study participants are reporting about their paid or
unpaid internship experience. In studies where intern compensation data is gathered, pay is not typically
a focal variable (Dixon et al. 2005; D’Abate, Youndt, and Wenzel 2009; Zhao and Liden 2011). Recently,
however, a survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) found that
students who completed a paid internship received more job oers and higher starting salaries than
those participating in unpaid internships (NACE 2013).
Given the volume of organisational studies showing strong relationships between compensation and
work-related outcomes, the lack of attention compensation has received from internship researchers
is somewhat surprising (Currall et al. 2005). For example, pay satisfaction is an important facet of job
satisfaction (Heneman 1985). Unpaid interns may experience pay inequity, and thus lower satisfaction
with their internship, if their referent group includes paid co-workers and/or peers participating in paid
internships (Adams 1963; Feldman and Turnley 2004). Unpaid interns may feel exploited by the lack of
compensation (Siebert and Wilson 2013), thus reporting lower satisfaction than paid interns.
Compensation has also been recognised as a key variable in studies of job pursuit intentions
( Aiman-Smith, Bauer, and Cable 2001). Organisational image, based partly on perceptions of fairness
in the recruiting process, can enhance organisational attraction (Chapman et al. 2005). Since internships
oer employers an opportunity to engage in an extended recruitment process for future full-time
employees, the lack of compensation during the internship may be viewed as unfair. Thus, unpaid
interns are more likely to report lower job pursuit intentions with the internship host.
Lastly, the linkage between compensation and the developmental value of an internship is lacks
clarity. As note earlier, most empirical research linking internships with developmental value omit con
-
sideration of compensation. The prevalent assumption among employers and universities is that unpaid
internships oer signicant developmental value to interns. In other words, the ‘compensation’ received
by the unpaid intern is not ‘nancial’, but rather in the form of developmental opportunity. In this view,
unpaid internships potentially oer greater developmental opportunities than paid internships.
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4 P. P. MCHUGH
However, research focusing on volunteers can inform our understanding of the relationship between
compensation and the developmental value of internships. Studies have shown that volunteers, in part,
share some of the same motivations as interns, particularly surrounding the potential developmental
and career-related benets of participation in volunteer work (Clary et al. 1998). Shore and Tashchian
(2013) found that unemployed workers that had engaged in volunteer work were more attractive job
applicants.
In a review of studies identifying dierences between volunteers and paid employees, Farmer and
Fedor (1999) concluded that volunteers have lower status, receive less orientation and training, are
held to lower performance standards, and encounter infrequent performance feedback relative to paid
employees. Volunteers often confront management practices that lack formality (Lynch and Smith 2008).
Unpaid workers also confront potential stigma because they don’t meet ‘ideal-worker’ norms, such
as working full-time, for pay, with a singular focus on their employer interests (Kmec, O’Connor, and
Schieman 2014). The violation of ideal-worker norms have been used to explain employment-related
penalties, such as perceived unfair treatment, poor performance reviews, and unattractive work assign-
ments (Kmec, O’Connor, and Schieman 2014). Moreover, unpaid interns may have a heightened sensitiv-
ity to any shortcomings surrounding the lack of developmental opportunities since their psychological
contract is less transactional and more relational (Farmer and Fedor 1999). Thus, unpaid interns are likely
to report less developmental value from their internship experience compared to those reecting on
their paid internship experience.
Hypothesis I: Paid internships will be associated with higher developmental value, higher satisfaction, and greater
job pursuit intentions than unpaid internships.
Supervisor behaviour
Supervisor behaviour is particularly important for interns because the supervisor reects the organisa-
tion’s ability to provide developmental opportunities, along with the organisation’s concern for intern
well-being (Rose, Teo, and Connell 2014). Supervision has been found to be critical during the early
stages of employment because the supervisor delegates work tasks and oers resources to newcomers
(Graen 1976; Grin, Collela, and Goparaju 2001). Moreover, interns require a more intensive integration
eort than typical organisational newcomers because the intern is seeking both narrow (skill devel-
opment) and broad (career development) learning experiences in a condensed time frame, as well as
care because of their likely fragile sense of workplace self.
Supervisor mentoring is central to interns, where ‘… the mentor provides support, direction, and
feedback regarding career plans and personal development’ (Russell and Adams 1997, 2). For protégés,
identication of a mentor is a critical aspect of career development and has been associated with career
mobility and self-esteem (Russell and Adams 1997). Studies have shown that mentored individuals
report higher job satisfaction than non-mentored employees (Chao 1997; Scandura 1997).
Interns are similar to new hires in organisations in terms of their socialisation needs. Strong mentoring
relationships are particularly important for newcomers as part of the socialisation process (Ostro and
Kozlowski 1993). Since mentoring is fundamentally developmental in nature (Kram 1985), it is likely
linked to perceptions of the developmental value of the internship experience. Mentoring has been
found to be an important factor in internship ecacy (Anson and Forsberg 1990; Narayanan, Olk, and
Fukami 2010). Zhao and Liden (2011) discovered that mentoring was related to organisational attrac-
tion for those interns who were interested in permanent employment with their intern employer at
the outset of their internship.
Hypothesis II: Internships with greater supervisor mentoring will be associated with higher developmental value,
higher satisfaction, and greater job pursuit intentions.
Supervisor support also inuences the internship experience since it focuses on the degree to which a
supervisor values employee contributions and cares about employee well-being (Kottke and Sharanski
1988). Supervisor support has been positively linked to job satisfaction (Cummins 1990; Babin and Boles
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JOURNAL OF EDUCATION AND WORK 5
1996), particularly for organisational newcomers (Bauer and Green 1998). In a study where students
reported on their internship experience, D’Abate, Youndt, and Wenzel (2009) reported that supervisor
support strongly inuenced intern satisfaction.
Since supervisors are agents of the organisation, employees view supervisor support as indicative
of organisational support (Kottke and Sharanski 1988). Studies have shown signicant relationships
between supervisor support and employee retention, organisational commitment and turnover among
newcomers (Fisher 1985; Eisenberger et al. 2002). Thus, unfavourable supervisory suppor tive behaviour
will be viewed by interns as reective of the organisation and will lessen the attractiveness of the organ-
isation and the job pursuit intentions of the intern. Hurst, Good, and Gardner (2011) found supervisors
were an important factor contributing to the desire of interns to convert their internship into full-time
positions with their host organisation.
An intern, like any newcomer that joins an organisation, must learn and make sense of their organisa-
tional surroundings (Louis 1980). Similar to newcomers, interns face uncertainty and anxiety regarding
their organisational role. Supervisor support is associated with lower work-related stress (Viswesvaran,
Sanchez, and Fisher 1999). Additionally, supervisor support can facilitate learning because interns will
more likely seek feedback regarding their strengths and deciencies, and be willing to experiment in
a safe environment for task and career focused exploration.
Hypothesis III: Internships with higher supervisor support will be associated with higher developmental value,
higher satisfaction, and greater job pursuit intention.
Task goal clarity
Task goal clarity refers to understanding the work products that are expected and the standards by
which those products will be evaluated (Beenen and Rousseau 2010). Because of the short-term
nature of internships, it is important for interns to quickly understand their roles in terms of task goals.
Uncertainty and stress, due to a lack of task goal clarity, can negatively impact task activities, learning
and work-related attitudes. Moreover, uncertainty is likely higher for individuals transitioning from
school to work, compared to those who are newcomers transitioning from one job to the next (Bauer
et al. 2007). With clear task goals, the intern can focus attention on task activities and skill development
centred on task goal accomplishment.
Frenette (2013) determined that the management of music industry interns is often an ‘opportunistic
endeavour’ involving a lack of reection or prioritisation on the part of management regarding task
delegation – leading to chaotic and ill-structured tasks. Frenette (2013) argues that this opportunistic
approach is due to the temporary nature of internships, and the low status and presumed incompetence
of the intern. Considering task goal clarity as part of the socialisation process, research suggests that
interns are more satised with their internship if the socialisation process is more formal and structured
(Feldman and Weitz 1990). Sawyer (1992) found that goal clarity predicted job satisfaction, which in
turn predicted job search and turnover. Educational researchers have discovered linkages between
goal clarity and student learning in the classroom environment (Seidel, Rimmele, and Prenzel 2005). In
a study focused on MBA interns, Beenen and Rousseau (2010) showed that goal clarity was positively
related to intern learning and job pursuit behaviour.
Hypothesis IV: Internships with higher task goal clarity will be associated with higher developmental value, higher
satisfaction, and greater job pursuit intentions.
Autonomy
Autonomy is the discretion that individuals have to complete their assigned tasks and has been iden-
tied as one of the core job characteristics associated with creating motivational and satisfying jobs
(Hackman and Oldham 1980). Empirical research tends to support the relationship between job satis-
faction and autonomy for paid employees (Loher et al. 1985) and among community clinic volunteers
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6 P. P. MCHUGH
(Millette and Gagné 2008). However, the benets of autonomy for interns have both mixed theoretical
and empirical support. On the one hand, autonomy may be viewed as particularly benecial for interns
because autonomy increases problem-solving eorts and decreases passivity which reduces learned
helplessness (Seligman 1975). The opportunity to inuence the way work is done has been found to
positively impact workplace learning (Virtanen, Tynjälä, and Eteläpelto 2014). Gamboa, Paixão, and
de Jesus (2013) determined that high school interns with more autonomy engaged in greater career
exploration initiatives. Greater autonomy has been associated with employee learning and a wider array
of behavioural responses to work demands (Parker, Wall, and Jackson 1997). Taylor (1988), who found a
modest positive relationship between intern autonomy and crystallisation of vocational self-concept,
asserts that self-direction can increase an intern’s ability to cope with complexity and enhance personal
ecacy, as well as ‘… increase individuals’ opportunities to explore their vocational interests … (394).
In a sample of retail interns, Feldman and Weitz (1990) determined that autonomy was a signicant
predictor of job satisfaction and willingness to accept a job oer from the internship host.
On the other hand, an intern, like any novice, often needs guidance and direction (Virtanen, Tynjälä,
and Eteläpelto 2014). Anson and Forsberg (1990, 208) suggest that interns often experience
… alienated independence, a sense that they have to do things on their own, of being expected to know already
how to execute tasks and being apprehensive about consulting others, and of not knowing how or when it is
appropriate, to ask for information
While entry into an organisation is associated with uncertainty and anxiety which are associated with
perceived lack of control, gaining control for newcomers may be more about relationship building with
bosses and co-workers rather than control over task-specic activities (Ashford and Black 1996). Since
interns are employed for short time frames, if given discretion, they are likely to overemphasise task
accomplishment and neglect developmental opportunities (Beenen and Rousseau 2010). Further, too
much autonomy in an internship context may trigger engagement in inappropriate task activities and
subsequent frustration leading to dissatisfaction. Beenen and Rousseau (2010) posit that more direction
and less autonomy may focus interns toward more eective task-related activities. D’Abate, Youndt, and
Wenzel (2009) found no relationship between autonomy and intern job satisfaction, while Brooks et al.
(1995) found no relationship between intern autonomy and six dierent career development variables.
While the theoretical and empirical evidence to date provide mixed support for the benets of intern
autonomy, the impact of autonomy may dier depending on internship compensation. As noted earlier,
unpaid interns have low status and presumed to lack valuable skills, while the management of unpaid
interns is often informal, opportunistic and decient in terms of performance standards and feedback
(Farmer and Fedor 1999; Lynch and Smith 2008; Frenette 2013). Thus, autonomy in an unpaid internship
may reect neglect, whereas in paid internships autonomy may be more akin to giving interns greater
discretion over well-thought out task activities. Therefore, the following hypothesis is proposed:
Hypothesis V: Autonomy will have a positive relationship with developmental value, satisfaction and job pursuit
intentions for paid internships, but will have a negative relationship with developmental value, satisfaction and
job pursuit intentions for unpaid internships.
Data and method
A snowball sampling technique was used in order to increase the institutional diversity of the sub-
jects, a shortcoming of prior research noted by internship scholars (Feldman and Weitz 1990). Initially,
students enrolled in an undergraduate management class at a university in the mid-Atlantic region of
the United States were asked to complete an online survey. These subjects were encouraged to invite
additional students, outside of their home university, to participate in the study. As an incentive, student
names were entered into a rae to receive a gift card. A total of 99 students completed the survey.
The respondents hailed from 17 dierent universities in the US, majoring in 26 distinct areas of study.
Respondents were asked if they had ever participated in an internship. If so, participants were asked
whether they had ever held an unpaid internship. If yes, they were asked to consider their most recent
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JOURNAL OF EDUCATION AND WORK 7
unpaid internship and answer a series of retrospective questions based on that experience. Likewise,
if respondents had ever participated in a paid internship, a similar set of retrospective questions was
asked based on their most recent paid internship engagement. Thus, the internship content and out-
come variables were measured based on whether or not the respondent was reporting on their paid or
unpaid internship. For example, the variable ‘internship satisfaction’ is in reality two dierent variables
internship satisfaction with their unpaid internship or internship satisfaction with their paid internship.
Ten per cent of the respondents did not have internship experience; therefore, they were excluded
from the analysis. The majority of respondents indicated that they had obtained both paid and unpaid
internships (37%). More than one-third of the participants indicated that they only had an unpaid intern-
ship experience (34%). About 19% of the sample indicated that they only held a paid internship. All of
the measures in the study, unless otherwise noted, used a Likert scale ranging from ‘strongly agree’ (5)
to ‘strongly disagree’ (1) with high scores indicate high levels of the measured variables.
Dependent variables – internship outcomes
Internship satisfaction was measured with one item ‘Overall, I was satised with this internship expe-
rience’. Job pursuit intentions was measured with a three-item shortened version of the Highhouse,
Lievens, and Sinar (2003) job pursuit intentions scale (eg ‘I would make this organisation one of my rst
choices as an employer’). The job pursuit intentions measure had a coecient α=.78 for unpaid intern-
ships and a coecient α=.80 for paid internships. A ve-item internship developmental value scale was
created for this study, adapting some items from the Beenen and Rousseau (2010) learning scale (eg ‘I
learned skills or knowledge important for my career development’). The internship developmental value
measure had a coecient α=.79 for unpaid internships and a coecient α=.85 for paid internships.
Explanatory variables – internship content
Internship compensation was based on a self-report measure of whether the internship was paid or
unpaid. Perceived super visor support was measured using a four-item shortened version of the Shanock
and Eisenberger (2006) PSS scale (eg ‘My supervisor at this internship really cared about my well-be-
ing’). The perceived supervisor support measure had a coecient α=.81 for unpaid internships and a
coecient α=.69 for paid internships. Supervisor mentoring was assessed using a six-item shortened
version of the Noe (1988) mentoring functions scale (eg To what extent did your supervisor suggest
specic strategies for achieving career goals’). This scale used a ve-point Likert scale ranging from
‘always’ (5) to ‘never’ (1) and had a coecient α=.82 for unpaid internships and a coecient α=.84 for
paid internships. Task goal clarity was determined using a two-item shortened version of the Beenen and
Rousseau (2010) goal clarity scale (eg ‘I was given clear objectives about what I needed to accomplish’).
The task goal clarity scale had a coecient α=.84 for unpaid internships and a coecient α=.79 for
paid internships. Autonomy was measured using a two-item shortened version of an autonomy scale
used by Beenen and Rousseau (2010) based on the work of Hackman and Oldham (1975) (eg ‘In this
internship, I had a lot of exibility in how I completed my work’). The autonomy measure had a coe-
cient α=.76 for unpaid internships and a coecient α=.53 for paid internships.
Control variables
Several variables are included as controls and were based on self-reports. Gender (female=1, male=0)
is a common control variable in internship research, with recent studies nding mixed gender eects
associated with the academic benets of internships (Binder et al., 2014; Manseld 2011). Sixty-four
per cent of the participants in the study were female. Required internship, whether or not a student’s
degree programme requires an internship, was another control variable (required internship=1, not
required=0). While requiring a student to participate in an internship as part of a degree programme
may be thought of as good career medicine, it may compel a student to accept an undesirable or
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8 P. P. MCHUGH
ill-tting internship. On the other hand, degree programmes that require internships may screen intern-
ship quality. Sixteen per cent of the respondents indicated that participation in an internship was
part of their degree programme requirement. Family income was used as a control variable. Students
reporting lower family income may view an unpaid internship as requiring more sacrice which may
inuence their perception of the outcomes associated with unpaid internships. Family income was
measured by asking respondents to identify whether their family income was ‘high income’, ‘upper
middle-income’, ‘middle income’, ‘lower-middle income’ or ‘lower income’. Sixty-eight per cent of the
participants indicated that their family income was upper-middle income or higher. Academic status
was the nal control variable. Students who are further along in their degree programme may have
matured, become more focused in their career plans, and had additional opportunities to gain work
experience. Academic status was measured by asking respondents what their academic standing was
in terms of years (1=rst year to 5=fth year). Eighty-four per cent of the survey participants were in
their third and fourth years of university studies.
Results
Table 1 reports the results comparing student paid and unpaid internship experiences in terms of
the explanatory and dependent variables. Column A provides the means and standard deviations for
respondents whose internship was paid, or unpaid or had both paid and unpaid internship experi-
ences. Thus, it is possible for a subject to be in Column A(1) if they only had a paid internship, as well
as if they had both a paid and unpaid internship. In terms of internship content, the comparison of
Columns A(1) and A(2) show that subjects who had a paid internship indicated higher levels of perceived
supervisor support, supervisor mentoring and task goal clarity than those subjects reporting on their
unpaid internship. Autonomy was higher for those reporting on their unpaid internship experience. In
terms of internship outcomes, subjects reporting on their paid internship indicated higher internship
satisfaction, higher internship developmental value and greater intent to pursue employment with the
host organisation than those reporting on their unpaid internship experience.
Also in Table 1, Column B provides the means and standard deviations for respondents that
obtained both paid and unpaid internships. As shown in Columns B(1) and B(2), a similar pattern to
that found in Column A emerges. Using a paired-samples t-test, there was a statistically signicant
Table 1.Comparing paid and unpaid internship on content and outcome variables.
M=Mean; SD=Standard deviation; **p<.01; *p<.05.
Column A Column B
Subject experienced Subject experienced
Paid and/or unpaid internships Both paid and unpaid internships
A(1) A(2) B(1) B(2) 
Perception of
paid internship
(N=55)
Perception of
unpaid intern-
ship (N=71)
Perception of
paid internship
(N=37)
Perception of
unpaid intern-
ship (N=37)
MSD MSD MSD MSD t-value
Internship content
Perceived supervisor support 4.27 .566 4.20 .693 4.27 .682 4.18 .682 .639
Supervisor mentoring 3.43 .826 3.21 .792 3.62 .710 3.21 .918 2.35*
Task goal clarity 3.99 .804 3.79 .891 4.06 .905 3.84 .784 1.26
Autonomy 3.84 .726 3.91 .822 3.81 .768 3.93 .796 .619
Internship outcomes
Internship satisfaction 4.24 .799 3.91 1.00 4.20 .933 4.08 .742 .612
Internship developmental value 4.06 .759 3.70 .739 4.12 .816 3.78 .556 2.15*
Job pursuit intentions 3.52 .946 2.93 .986 3.67 .997 2.88 .993 3.99**
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JOURNAL OF EDUCATION AND WORK 9
dierence in the level of supervisor mentoring (paid internships M=3.62, SD=.710; unpaid intern-
ships M=3.21, SD=.918; t(36)=2.35, p=.026), internship developmental value (paid internships
M= 4.12, SD =.816; unpaid internships M=3.78, SD = .556; t(36) =2.15, p=.039), as well as job
pursuit intentions (paid internships M= 3.67, SD=.997; unpaid internships M=2.88, SD = .993;
t(36)= 3.99, p=.00). While intern satisfaction was higher for paid interns (M=4.20) than unpaid
interns (M=4.08), the dierence was not statistically signicant. In sum, these results provide fairly
robust support for Hypothesis I.
As noted earlier, the internship content and outcome variables were measured based on whether
or not the respondent was reporting on their paid or unpaid internship experience. Therefore, separate
regression models (unpaid with 69 observations and paid with 53 observations) were run for each of the
dependent variables. A hierarchical regression analysis was conducted with control variables entered
in the rst block, and internship content variables added in the second block. In Table 2, the results
based on those subjects reporting on their unpaid internship experience are shown. In Model 1, the
coecient for required internship is negative and signicant (−.234; p<.05), indicating that students
who are required to participate in an internship because of their degree programme are less satised
with their unpaid internship experience. The coecient for family income is positive and signicant
(.238; p < .05), suggesting that unpaid interns with lower family income are less satised with their
unpaid internship experience. When adding the internship outcome variables, as shown in Model 2,
the coecient for family income is still positive and signicant (.202; p<.05). Among the internship
content variables, only the coecient of supervisor support is positive and signicant (.381; p<.05).
This result is consistent with hypothesis 3.
With internship developmental value as the dependent variable, Model 3 shows that none of the
control variables are statistically signicant. However, the coecients for supervisor support (.521;
p<.01) and supervisor mentoring (.275; p<.05) are positive and signicant. This is consistent with the
hypotheses regarding the important role that supervisors play in the developmental value of intern-
ships. In Model 5, the control variables are not signicant predictors of job pursuit intentions. In terms
of the internship content variables added in Model 6, the coecients for task goal clarity (.205; p<.10),
supervisor support (.268; p<.10) and supervisor mentoring (.239; p<.10) are all positive and signicant.
In Table 3, the results based on subjects reporting on their paid internship experience are presented.
In Model 7, none of the control variables are signicant predictors of internship satisfaction – including
the coecient for family income. When adding the internship outcome variables, as shown in Model
8, only the coecient of supervisor support (.389; p<.05) and supervisor mentoring (.277; p<.10) are
Table 2.Coefficients from regression of internship outcomes on internship content – Unpaid internship sample (N=69).
***p<.01; **p<.05; *p<.10.
Variable
Dependent variable
Internship satisfaction
Internship developmental
value Job pursuit intentions
Model 1 Model 2 Model 3 Model 4 Model 5 Model 6
Control variables
Gender .098 −.069 .094 −.122 .143 −.026
Academic status .084 .076 .075 .071 .110 .110
Required internship −.234** −.165 −.105 −.057 −.147 −.089
Family income .238** .202** .035 −.024 .091 .050
Internship content
 Autonomy .077 −.104 .025
Task goal clarity .100 .038 .205*
Supervisor support .381**  .521***  .268*
Supervisor mentoring .155 .275**  .239*
F 2.94** 6.40*** .498 6.81*** 1.24 4.72***
R2 .153 .456 .030 .472 .071 .382
Change in R2– .303*** – .442*** – .311***
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10 P. P. MCHUGH
signicant and positive. For internship developmental value, Model 9 demonstrates that none of the
control variables are signicant. However, after adding the internship content variables, Model 10 shows
that the coecient for required internship is negative and signicant (−.205; p<.10). Consistent with
the hypotheses, supervisor support (.503; p<.01) and supervisor mentoring (.370; p<.01) are shown to
have a signicant positive impact on internship developmental value. However, counter to hypothesis
4, the coecient for task goal clarity (−.300; p<.05) is negative and signicant. Finally, examining job
pursuit intentions among paid interns, Model 11, indicates that the coecient for required internship
is negative and signicant (−.246; p< .10). In Model 12, required internship remains signicant and
negative (−.245; p<.10), while only supervisor support (.317; p<.10) is signicant among the intern-
ship content variables.
Discussion
Internships are becoming an essential element of an entry-level job applicant’s portfolio. Yet, we are
just beginning to understand the ways that internships dier in design and content, and how these
dierences can alter the ecacy of the internship experience. This paper adds to our understanding
by exploring the relationship that compensation, supervisor actions (mentoring and support), and job
characteristics (task goal clarity and autonomy) have on intern outcomes.
First, internship content tends to dier between paid and unpaid internships. Supervisor mentoring
tends to be higher in paid internships. Mentors who provide direction and feedback regarding personal
and career development are critical to a benecial internship experience (Russell and Adams 1997).
Though the dierences are not statistically signicant, the means for supervisor support and task goal
clarity are higher in paid internships, while autonomy is lower.
In terms of internship outcomes, hypothesis 1 proposed that intern compensation will be positively
related to internship developmental value, job pursuit intentions and internship satisfaction. Consistent
with hypothesis 1, developmental value is perceived to be higher in paid vs. unpaid internships. An
internship with higher developmental value increases the likelihood that the intern learned new skills,
experienced more challenge and gained clarity surrounding career and employment goals. This nding
challenges common assumptions about the developmental value of unpaid internships. Also consistent
with hypothesis 1, job pursuit intentions with the intern’s host employer were greater for those describ-
ing their paid internship. In other words, respondents were more likely to consider future employment
with their internship employer if the internship itself provided payment. This is noteworthy for both
Table 3.Coefficients from regression of internship outcomes on internship content – paid internship sample (N=53).
***p<.01; **p<.05; *p<.10.
Variable Dependent variable
Internship satisfaction Internship developmental value Job pursuit intentions
Model 7 Model 8 Model 9 Model 10 Model 11 Model 12
Control variables
 Gender −.113 −.085 −.033 .000 −.085 −.063
Academic status .026 .120 .087 .132 .194 .252*
Required internship −.121 −.114 −.187 −.205*−.246*−.245*
Family income −.033 −.076 .097 .076 .025 .004
Internship content
 Autonomy .067 −.199 .000
Task goal clarity −.022 −.300**  .012
Super visor support .389**  .503***  .317*
Super visor mentoring .277* .370***  .063
F .368 3.29*** .634 4.13*** 1.18 1.52
R2 .029 .369 .049 .424 .088 .213
Change in R2– .340*** – .375*** – .125
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JOURNAL OF EDUCATION AND WORK 11
employers and prospective interns because of the espoused role that internships play in job matching.
Employers hosting unpaid interns may unwittingly forgo potential talent.
However, there was no statistically signicant dierence in internship satisfaction between those
reporting on their paid and unpaid internships. One explanation it that prospective interns under-
stand the compensation arrangement prior to accepting an internship position so there are no unmet
expectations regarding remuneration (D’Abate, Youndt, and Wenzel 2009). Thus, pay was not deemed a
relevant factor in the assessment of internship satisfaction. Understanding the role that compensation
plays in applicant attraction to internship opportunities would be an important area for future research.
In order to increase condence that the results can be attributed to compensation, a separate anal-
ysis was conducted to assess dierences by employment sector. In the current sample, 65% of the
unpaid internships took place in the not-for-prot/government sector while 74% of the paid internships
occurred in the for-prot sector. A comparison of for-prot internships and not-for-prot/government
internships showed no signicant dierence in internship content or outcomes based on compensation.
In other words, the employment sector that hosted the internship did not matter, what mattered was
whether the internship itself was paid or unpaid.
The next two hypotheses stated that supervisor mentoring (Hypothesis 2) and supervisor support
(Hypothesis 3) would be associated with higher internship developmental value, greater job pursuit
intentions and higher internship satisfaction. The results show that supervisor support, consistent with
hypothesis 3, was signicantly and positively related to all the outcome variables across both paid
and unpaid internship experiences. For unpaid internships, supervisor mentoring was strongly related
to internship developmental value and mildly related to job pursuit intentions. Meanwhile, for paid
internships, supervisor mentoring was also strongly related to internship developmental value and
mildly related to internship satisfaction. Overall, the results point to the extremely important role that
an internship supervisor plays in the internship experience. Organisations and the supervisors who
accept internship placements need to be cognizant that interns require, and likely expect, a higher
level of supervisory engagement. These results caution organisations who view and treat interns as
they would other part-time or casual employees. The motivation of interns is mainly developmental
with a long-term view of nancial gains, whereas for other part-time employees the motivation is likely
more on short-term nancial benets and/or needs for exibility. When organisations place interns,
they should assign interns to supervisors who have mentoring capabilities and have a reputation of
being supportive of subordinates. For education institutions that encourage and/or require internships,
screening internship providers in terms of their supervisory commitment is warranted. In addition to
screening, career counsellors could oer coaching to intern employers in terms of best ways to meet
the supervisory needs of interns.
It was hypothesised that task goal clarity (hypothesis 4) would be associated with higher internship
developmental value, greater job pursuit intentions and higher internship satisfaction. The results of
this study provided little support for the hypothesis. For unpaid internships, task goal clarity was moder-
ately related to job pursuit intentions. Surprisingly, for paid internships, task goal clarity was negatively
related to internship developmental value. Perhaps paid internship hosts reconcile the payment they
provide to interns by imposing greater demand for the completion of work products by the end of the
relatively short internship engagement. Thus, the emphasis on task goals in this context may deter from
the developmental value of the internship experience. This is consistent with research showing that
paid employees are held to higher performance standards and more likely to be given more formal
performance reviews than volunteers (Farmer and Fedor 1999).
Finally, it was hypothesised that autonomy would be associated with higher internship developmen-
tal value, greater job pursuit intentions, and higher internship satisfaction for paid internships, while
autonomy would have a negative relationship with the same three outcomes for unpaid internships
(hypothesis 5). However, no support was found for hypothesis 5. Perhaps in the context of internships,
the relationship between autonomy and internship-related outcomes is more complex than initially
proposed. For example, interns expect closely guided nurturing, while autonomy presupposes a desire
for a certain degree of latitude. The proper balance between these two may be particularly dicult
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12 P. P. MCHUGH
to ascertain in the shortened time frame of internships. In a study focused on MBA interns, Beenen
and Rousseau (2010) found that interns with less work experience and lower autonomy reported
greater developmental value in their internship, which in turn resulted in higher job pursuit intentions.
Unfortunately, information about the respondent’s work experience is not available in the current
study. Future research should examine the impact that prior work experience, in terms of both type
and quantity, has on internship outcomes.
The only control variables showing a relationship with the dependent variables were family income
and whether the student’s degree programme required an internship. For respondents in unpaid intern-
ships, family income is positively related to internship satisfaction. This suggests that interns with lower
family income are particularly impacted by the lack of internship compensation, which is reected in
lower internship satisfaction. The unfairness of unpaid internships for individuals from lower socio-eco-
nomic status has been a concern of scholars and policy-makers, particularly focusing on the obstacles to
career opportunities due to unpaid internships (Curiale 2010). The results displayed in this study extend
these concerns beyond the issue of limited socio-economic mobility. It appears that individuals from
lower income levels that accept unpaid positions are less satised with their internship experience.
Additional research is needed to determine the source of this dissatisfaction. Perhaps low-income stu-
dents bear a higher opportunity cost if choosing an unpaid internship over a paid, but perceived as less
career relevant, employment opportunity – lost income is more conspicuous for lower socio-economic
individuals. Are low income students more likely to engage in paid employment while simultaneously
participating in an unpaid internship – which leads to lower internship satisfaction?
For respondents in paid internships, if their degree programme required an internship, they reported
lower internship developmental value, as well as lower job pursuit intentions with their host employer.
While the relationship was weak, it still raises questions regarding the proper role of educational insti-
tutions when requiring internships. To what extent is the university, if granting credit for an internship,
responsible for the quality of the internship opportunity? What mechanisms should be in place to
monitor and assess internship placements by educational institutions? Unfortunately, we cannot be
certain in this study whether the internship the respondent is referring to is fullling a degree require-
ment – we only know that an internship is required for their degree programme. Still, this result does
raise the need for further examination of internships that full degree requirements and the role of
educational institutions in ensuring that these internships oer developmental value.
While the results of this study are interesting, there are several notable limitations that must be
acknowledged. First, this study did not account for the respondent’s other work experience beyond
their internship. Work experiences can inuence expectations and perceptions of the internship con-
tent and outcome variables that were the focus of this research. Second, the study failed to account
for the ‘quality’ of the student respondents. Perhaps students with higher academic performance can
be more selective and are better able to secure paid internships. Higher quality students may gar-
ner more developmental value from their internship because they may be more proactive in shaping
their internship experience. Third, while the snowball sampling technique increased the institutional
diversity of the subject pool with the goal of attaining a more heterogeneous sample (Feldman and
Weitz 1990), the subjects were not randomly selected and this limits claims to the representativeness
of the sample (Biernacki and Waldorf 1981). Fourth, since respondents dened their own experiences
as ‘internships’, there may be dierences in how each of the subjects conceptualised their own experi-
ences. Indeed, even researchers dene ‘internships’ in dierent ways making comparisons across studies
dicult. However, researcher denitions and conceptualisation may not be consistent with the current
reality of internships. Narrow conceptualisations of internship may not allow informed examination of
the actual experiences of students engaged in internship activities – especially activities that students
self-report on their resume as an ‘internship’ and that are likewise recognised as an ‘internship experience’
by prospective employers. Finally, since all of the data came from a retrospective self-reported survey,
recall and common method bias could be impacting the results (Miller, Cardinal, and Glick 1997; Cox
and Hassard 2007).
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JOURNAL OF EDUCATION AND WORK 13
Mindful of these limitations, there are implications suggested by this analysis that are worthy of
further exploration. Internship compensation has been a particularly controversial issue, yet overlooked
by many organisational and educational researchers. The ndings in this paper suggest there is less
mentoring, less developmental value and lower job pursuit intentions associated with unpaid intern-
ships. Combine this with some evidence suggestive of low task goal clarity and high autonomy among
unpaid internships and one begins to paint a portrait of unpaid internships as having a higher potential
for intern neglect. These ndings rearm concerns noted by Perlin (2011) regarding the lack of sub-
stantive benets associated with unpaid internships. This is an essential consideration for prospective
interns and career counsellors as they explore alternative internship options. While some organisations
may lack the resources to compensate interns, even when unpaid, it is imperative that the intern host
provide supervisor mentoring and support so that the unpaid intern can secure developmental value
from the experience. However, can an organisation that lacks the nancial resources to compensate
interns, at the same time, devote sucient resources to provide a high level of supervisor mentoring
and support that are apparently so vital to a successful internship experience?
In addition, career counsellors should consider directing students toward paid internship options,
while reviewing unpaid internship possibilities with students to clarify the content of the internship
experience and the commitment of internship hosts. Likewise, academic institutions may want to review
and reconsider policies that facilitate internship options which lack developmental promise. Moreover,
career counsellors and school placement services should, based on the relationships built with the
employer community, encourage and counsel employers to re-examine their internship compensation
practices, as well as the other characteristics of their internship programme – in particular, the respon-
sibilities and expectations of intern supervisors.
There are three major lessons for employers. First, adopting a paid internship programme will
enhance an employer’s ability to retain interns to ll full-time positions. Second, paid internships may
have reputational benets because interns that conclude their experience with a favourable impres-
sion of the organisation may add to organisation’s status by sharing their impressions with family and
friends, thus, improving the organisation’s reputation among potential job applicants in the broader
job market. Third, whether paid or unpaid, an internship host should assign interns to supervisors who
have strong mentoring capabilities and have shown to be supportive of subordinates. A future, more
focused study, should examine the process used by organisations to match supervisors with interns in
order to identify best practices.
Acknowledgements
Special thanks to research assistant Rachel Stanley.
Disclosure statement
No potential conict of interest was reported by the author.
Funding
This work was supported by the George Washington University School of Business Research Experience for Undergraduates
Program.
Notes on contributor
Patrick P. McHugh is an associate professor of management at the George Washington University, specialising in employ-
ment relations. His research interests focus on quality of work-life, non-standard work, labour-management relations
and mechanisms that impact employee voice and participation at work. He has published in a wide variety of outlets
including Journal of Management Education, Industrial Relations, Industrial & Labor Relations Review, Human Relations,
and Journal of Labor Research.
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14 P. P. MCHUGH
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