Warning: Unpaid Internships May Mean You’re Missing the Top Talent



As the lawsuits against unpaid internships pile up, it’s becoming even more necessary to innovate the way we look for talent. It’s almost impossible to compete with the Googles and Facebooks of the world when you’re a startup. Often the best you can offer is pizza and some equity.

But there are some companies out there getting creative with how they find new employees.

Hacking Your Way to a Job

A couple of weeks ago, we reported on GlobalHack, the quarterly hackathon held in St. Louis.

At GlobalHack 1, teams competed to develop an algorithm for TopOPPS, a new startup by Jim Eberlin. The winning team was awarded $50,000 in exchange for the work they did, and Eberlin was so impressed with the second place team, he threw in an extra $10,000 for them.

rsz_incontentad2But, he didn’t stop there.

After the event, Eberlin invited 18 of the engineers who competed to a private dinner, at which he held impromptu formal interviews. Five of those engineers now work full time for TopOPPS, and more hires are in the works.

“I call it Interviewing 3.0,” Eberlin said. “I spoke to each of them for about 10 minutes and narrowed our talent search down to the people who would make the best fit for TopOPPS.”

Beside the engineers Eberlin discovered at the hackathon, the press from the event has brought TopOPPS attention from developers all over the country, and many have applied separately to work for the company.

“Recruits” Provide Cheap Labor in Exchange for Job Opps

Another take on the recruitment front comes from Gawker media, the parent company of the infamous Valleywag.

It’s well known that paying writers a full time wage with the current economics of digital media is difficult. If The Atlantic can’t afford it, newer media outlets certainly can’t.

Gawker’s solution comes in the form of their new Recruits program. In the program, a writer is granted a short term contract, a small stipend, and their own blog. Each writer is judged on their amount of traffic they bring in, with the potential for a full time gig at Gawker.

I’m no fan of Gawker, and of course the Recruits program undoubtedly has something to do with a lawsuit from several unpaid interns. But considering the economics of online media, it isn’t a bad idea. It’s essentially a more formalized system of freelancing, which is what keeps most media sites in content.

The Future of Hiring

Of course, hiring isn’t the only reason to have unpaid internships, but it is common to bring interns into a full time job if they do great work.

However, shift is happening in the way we identify and recruit top talent. Much like the need for a college degree, unpaid internships are slowly losing popularity.

Companies–especially startups–would do well to look to TopOPPS and Gawker for inspiration on ways to innovate the talent search.


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