It's a new spin on the paid internship: one where you pay for the opportunity to work. One website offers bidders the opportunity to outbid each other to win internships at big-name employers such as 20th Century Fox and InStyle magazine.
Charitybuzz.com auctions off a wide variety of merchandise and experiences on its site: Fine art and tickets to sporting events are just two examples of what the service offers. Internships are a part of that mix. Currently, the website lists 10 internships and one "apprenticeship" on its site. A one-week internship at both InStyle UK and Halpern Limited, a London PR firm, is up for auction with an estimated value of $2,000. The Weinstein Company, a Los Angeles-based film studio, is offering a three-month internship valued at $50,000.
Time journalist Joel Stein is offering a one-day internship, and will make that intern the subject of one of his columns. The money from each auction goes to a charity partner, as well as to Charitybuzz, which takes a 20 percent cut of all auction proceeds.
"An internship where you can provide access to corporations, whether it's publishing, fashion, increasingly whether it's business, it's a great opportunity to raise money for charity," says Charitybuzz CEO Coppy Holzman.
Currently, labor market competition is tight for work experience of any kind, paid or unpaid. However, one company auctioning an internship says it's more about charity than finding a new worker.
"I think the experience is all kind of in the name of creating the experience that does something for a cause that we as an organization believe in," says Zach Weisberg, publisher and editor-in-chief of The Inertia, an online surfing publication currently auctioning off an unpaid, two-week internship for the fall. Proceeds from that auction will go to Waves for Water, a nonprofit that works to boost access to clean water around the world.
However, he acknowledges that top dollar does not equal top talent. When asked about whether he's concerned about getting a subpar candidate, Weisberg says, "I think that there clearly are some concerns to consider."
The Inertia's internship is only open to college students and recent graduates, though many of the internships on the site do not specify an age range or any experience requirements.
Charitybuzz is not the only forum to auction off work experiences; the nonprofit Aspen Education Foundation, for example, has auctioned internships. However, Charitybuzz is perhaps the organization best known for the practice. Charitybuzz was founded in 2005, and Holzman says that internships have always been a part of the company's offerings.
And some of those internships have brought in big money. One posting billed as the "ultimate intern experience" gave one bidder a 12-week-long internship, with six weeks each spent with DefJam Records Co-founder Russell Simmons and Virgin Group Founder and Chairman Sir Richard Branson. That internship sold for $85,000, making it the most expensive internship ever sold on the site and tying it for the 36th most expensive lot in Charitybuzz's history.
Holzman says that to his knowledge, no business has put up an internship for auction that takes the place of its other, standard internships. Weisberg, for his part, says that The Inertia's fall internship will be in addition to its regular internship program.
And indeed, many of the internships are shorter than a typical internship. Seven of the 10 internships currently on the site are listed as being for two weeks or less. Only one, at electronics company Monster Products, is listed as a paid internship (though Stein says he will buy his intern a "mid-priced lunch"). In part because they are shorter than a standard internship stint, a Charitybuzz spokesman said that some of the listings under "internships" might be considered "business experiences."
The intern who gets to work at Halpern, for example, will have more of a job-shadow experience, as the company's managing director, Jennifer Burner, describes it. "We are set up in five divisions here at Halpern, and this intern would spend a day with each to understand what they do and how they do it," she writes in an email to U.S. News.
Regardless of length, Charitybuzz says the internships provide access and perhaps a foot in the door for a young wannabe worker.
Yet while new résumé content is a precious commodity, demand for auctioned internships isn't keeping up with supply. Of the 11 internships and apprenticeships on the site now, six have zero bids. Potential bidders have a limited time to show their interest in the opportunities; bidding on all of the internships currently listed closes before the end of June.