Press Releases

With “Unpaid Is Unfair,” NACE Seeks to Broaden Its Call for All Internships to Be Paid

BETHLEHEM, PA—Earlier this year, the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) released a position statement that calls for all internships to be paid.

Now, the association is seeking to broaden that message to the general public through the “Unpaid Is Unfair” campaign, in partnership with creative agency Zulu Alpha Kilo (ZAK).

The impetus to call for an end to unpaid internships grew out of NACE’s research findings, according to Shawn VanDerziel, NACE executive director.

“We’ve found that paid internships provide college students with an important avenue to their first job. In our most recent study, we found that paid interns averaged 1.4 job offers while unpaid interns averaged less than one,” he explained. “We’ve also found that paid interns get higher starting salaries than unpaid interns in their initial jobs.”

In addition, VanDerziel noted that “students who engage in unpaid internships must forgo an income—that’s a hardship for many students.”

Finally, “unpaid work is still work,” says VanDerziel. “All work deserves to be paid.”

NACE’s current research shows that approximately 41% of internships are unpaid.

At the same time, says VanDerziel, paid internships benefit employers, too. “Paid internship programs serve as an effective pipeline for entry-level talent for full-time positions. The data also show that employees who have been paid interns have higher retention rates than unpaid interns or those who have never participated in an internship.”

The “Unpaid Is Unfair” campaign features a series of videos and digital posters that use humor to illustrate the unpaid intern’s plight.

In the videos, the unpaid intern attempts to use non-monetary items she “earned”—a company-branded coffee mug, leftover bagels from the boardroom, a reference letter, and “valuable job experience”—in place of money at different establishments, including a clothing store and a supermarket. The videos highlight the absurdity of unpaid, hard-working student interns trying to afford life’s necessities, such as groceries and rent.

“Many industries, not just advertising, have normalized unpaid internships, and it’s not good for employers or future employees,” says Zak Mroueh, founder and creative chair of the agency. “We hope this helps spread the word that if you are running a business or in a hiring position, you should advocate for and help ensure all internship positions are paid.”

The “Unpaid Is Unfair” campaign was initially developed by ZAK’s paid interns in 2019 but shelved during the pandemic. The campaign launches September 19 on NACE’s and ZAK’s social media platforms.

The campaign is designed to raise awareness among the public at large, but VanDerziel hopes it resonates with students and employers in particular.

“Fall is when many college students will begin thinking about internships and many employers will begin planning for them,” says VanDerziel. “We hope this makes employers and students stop and think.”


About the National Association of Colleges and Employers: Established in 1956, the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) is the only professional association in the United States that connects more than 16,000 college career services professionals, university relations and recruiting professionals, and business solution providers that serve this community.

NACE is the premier source of market research on career readiness, the employment of recent college graduates, and the college-to-career transition. NACE forecasts hiring and trends in the job market; tracks salaries, recruiting and hiring practices, and student attitudes and outcomes; and identifies best practices and benchmarks.

NACE offers its members unparalleled research, networking and professional development opportunities, guidance on standards and ethics, and advocacy on key issues. For more information, visit NACE maintains a virtual press room for the media.

About Zulu Alpha Kilo: Zulu Alpha Kilo (ZAK) is a full-service agency with offices in New York, Toronto, and Vancouver. Launched in 2008, the agency has built a reputation as an industry outlier and is one of the most respected independent agencies in the world. In 2022, Ad Age awarded ZAK International Small Agency of the Year for the third time. The agency was also named one of Forbes Best Small Companies in 2018, The Drum’s Agency of the Year in 2021, and Campaign US 2021 Independent Agency of the Year.