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INTERNSHIP SWAPPING: Is It Unethical to Trade Internships?

Thursday, May. 30, 2013

Small business owners and corporate executives have long faced the problem of whether to hire their children for summer internships and entry-level positions. On one hand, executives know the importance of gaining “real-world” experience at an early age, but on the other, hiring direct family raises many concerns of favoritism and conflict of interest. In response, a recent trend has emerged: “internship swapping.” The quid pro quo arrangement works something like this; “I’ll hire your daughter for the summer at my law firm, if you give my son an internship at your accounting agency.” Taken at face value, it appears to be an elegant solution as neither firm has a familial connection to the new hire. Still, some argue that this is just another way of protecting the special opportunities for the well-connected. Should top executives be engaging in internship swapping?

  Patrick: Internship swapping is unethical as it involves manipulating company resources for personal gain. The company misses out on hiring the best available candidate, or worse, the position is created solely for the sake of “the swap” adding to bloat and inefficiency at the company. Hiring based on reputation and personal endorsements will always have a place in business, but internship swapping crosses the line.

  Kirk: Every company with a limited number of internships should develop a way of allocating those spots without favoritism. There is little difference between a top executive telling the head of internships to "hire my son" and "hire my friend's son." Either grants special treatment to the sons and daughters of the wealthy and well-connected. This is but a fig leaf to disguise the exercise of privilege.

The Great Internship Swap

A Framework for Thinking Ethically



Comments Comments

Joe Schmid said on Jun 2, 2013
Internships are degree specific. Separate from the discussion generic summer employment and co-operative education. These are entirely different topics/programs. There are paid and unpaid internships (defined in the US by the DOL Wage and Hour Division). And there are internships required to complete a program of study; and internships that are not. A Career Center is an integral part of a University's Value Proposition to prospective students, "Why choose U of XYZ" (Case in point SCU). When thinking about "internship swapping" in this narrowed field of seeking an internship experience for a son or daughter that is not a curriculum requisite; or whose child does not attend a University with a Career Center; or whose child has not achieved academic standing to compete for intern positions, then what are you left with? A parent acting on the ethical obligations to their children. There are ethical and unethical scenarios of approaching this and a quid pro quo is close to the line (unrelated enterprises versus connected as a supplier, contractor, consultant, customer, or competitor). But the intrinsic question you raise is at what point does it become unethical, based on the criteria of a parent's compensation/title/position for a parent to help their children? - Like - 1 person likes this.
Patrick said on Jun 5, 2013

Joe, great points. I did not consider the concern that not all students have equal representation (i.e. career centers or otherwise), and parents may be able, perhaps obligated, to fill in the gaps. I'd agree that there are ethical/unethical ways for parents to go about this, though I'd think that career centers are more so above board because they place students in jobs via the traditional pipeline allowing for fair access and opportunity. Despite this, I'd agree that the current job placement system is full of unearned privileges and unfair advantages.

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Mary Ann said on Feb 26, 2015
I completely agree, Joe! I personally think internship swapping is unethical. ;) - Like - 2 people like this.
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