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I have a social media internship for $11/hr at a new startup company. This was fine when there was another intern to help me out with duties and projects. The other intern had to quit due to school issues, so it's just me now. Recently, the founder of the company asked for my input on how to further their brand outreach. I provided a ton of ideas, as I'm a recent graduate with a PR/AD degree and I wanted to be helpful.

Now the founder wants me to implement all of the ideas I suggested to him. These are ideas that an actual PR consultant and social media manager would implement at a cost of $50k-60k a year. Being instructed to take on the job of a full-time professional at my low pay rate was my fear in the first place. They are limiting my work hours to 11 hours this week, because they want to estimate how long it will take for me to complete the work, as it is a virtual internship. Now I feel I'm being misled, because they said it would be 15 hours every week, and I was really counting on the paycheck. On top of that, adding all of the extra work handling actual public relations duties, plus creating content for their social media pages, it is going to take me way longer than their time limit.

Besides smaller issues at this startup that I am experiencing... what do I do or say to the founder and product manager to not feel like I'm being taken advantage of? I am basically replacing an actual employee at this point, and the responsibilities they have given me are much more than a normal internship as I've had in the past. I'm more than willing to help take on more, but I'll need to be given more hours or compensated more.

  • It's a 3 month internship until December – Tiena Oct 12 '15 at 19:29
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    "I suggested to him that basically an actual pr consultant and social media manager would do for $50k-60k a year, which was my fear in the first place" - What do you mean by this? What was your "fear"? – Brandin Oct 13 '15 at 8:44
  • My fear was that they would ask me to implement everything I suggested which are very extensive PR and Marketing campaigns and when I suggested those things it because I genuinely wanted to help the company but I cannot handle doing everything by myself. – Tiena Oct 14 '15 at 2:49
  • You should have included in your presentation the extensive work needed and time estimates to complete certain tasks. I would ask for a 1-on-1 meeting to explain that you will not be able to accomplish your current goals given the hours/week AND to give them time estimates of what it would take. Since your internship ends in December, now would be a good time to bring up potential full-time employment with the company. "My current projects take 'xx' hours. I only have 'x' hours.. I want to complete my goals, are you considering making a position for this type of work? " – Christopher Oct 14 '15 at 14:12
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    Sure, an actual PR consultant and social media manager would get $50k, but you aren't getting that. So perhaps you haven't obtained the skills, experience and track record to become one of those yet. Hmmmm....if only I could think of someplace that you could gain actual work experience that demonstrates your skills as a PR consultant and social media manager so you can get $50k to 60k. Darn it, I am drawing a blank, I can't think of who would give you the opportunity. Oh well, because having something like that on your resume would sure help get that larger salary. Too bad you have no options – Dunk Oct 15 '15 at 19:11
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Taken advantage of? Yes. Their expectations sound absurd. The company seems to be massively underfunded. You are doing professional work for near-minimum wage. You should look for a full-time position at another company. Do not do any unpaid work. If they say they will pay for 11 hours, do not work 12.

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I assume you appreciate the content of the 'new' work and the responsibilities, but it is just a time and money issue (and maybe broken agreements).

You go to your boss and tell him that, although you appreciate the new tasks, you will be unable to finish everything during your intership.

Then you suggest two things:

  • "You originally said the work would be 15 hours a week, but now it's 10. I am happy/available to increase to 15 hours, so that I can get more of this big list of things done on the time I'm working here". Same hourly salary of course.
  • "We should sit together and make a list of priorities, because as you know, it is too much to finish in my internship." One priority should be instructing others to take over when you are gone.

You do not do promises about tasks you will finish in your internship. You both are new to this and making an estimate is hard for both of you.

After that, you are only obliged to do you best and work the hours agreed on. You are only an intern.

So suggest ways to make the best possible outcomes, and be firm in your promises (let that be a mirror to him). Take it from there, depending on his response.


Note that I have not addressed your question "How can I ask for a raise?"
I have the idea that more money will not solve the issues that you are having right now.
That does not mean you cannot ask, but he may then ask more of you 'in return'. Prepare what your answer to such a question is going to be - again, the pitfall is too many promises.

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    And remember: you are obliged to work the hours agreed on. You don't work any more. If you can't do in 11 hours what they expect to be done in one week, they can pay you for more hours or they won't get it. Period. – Josef Oct 13 '15 at 12:23
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IF it is a startup company leaning on an intern so hard, the first disclaimer is that pushing for a full time perm position or a raise may not work out. They might just not be able to afford you.

That said, is there are term to your internship? Generally, the timeframes of internships are established, and at the end of, say, the 6 months, they can say "we are extending your internship!" and you can say "erm... no thank you, id be interested in joining your company, but am not interested in an internship extension."

In the end, in this type of circumstance, you have to less ask for a raise, and more inform them that you either need to be brought on full time or move on with your career.

Always best to get applications out and have some stuff lined up first.

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I do not think they are taking advantage of you, as much as taking you for granted. Maybe that's the same thing, I guess the former seems more malicious.

Internships are primarily for the intern, so if you aren't learning anymore you should move on. If you consider that your internship is a learning experience, then approach this project more logically. Choose one idea you came up with that you would like to work on, and come back with a proposal of how you would like to do it and how long you think it would take. For instance, implementing the first part of X project will take 60 hours - the better you can break your project down, the better. You can still work 11 hours at a time, if they cannot have you working your max of 15 hours, but it will take longer than if you were working 15 hours, or 20 hours, etc. The key is reminding them that the internship is for you, not for them.

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If the founder of the company is asking for input, it's because your input is CHEAP and you don't understand how this employment game works.

A favorable response would have been, "I'd like to assist you, but we need to talk about my pay here first." The founder knows you're being paid peanuts, but the real question that is floating in the founder's head is when you are going to start acting like what you're worth. If you want to continue working for next to nothing, and want to continue to NOT set limits for your own good, nobody's going to balk. None of this situation will change until you decide to put your foot down.

Whatever you do, remember that everybody needs to "save face" at the end so you don't burn any bridges.

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