How Internships Work

Chandler Bing (Matthew Perry) from NBC's hit show "Friends" was famous for working as an unpaid intern in his adult years. NBC/Getty Images

Once upon a time (2003), a group of fictional friends gathered in Central Perk to hear Chandler Bing's exciting announcement.

"I got a job in advertising," he says.

"Oh hey, that's incredible!" exclaims Monica.

"Gosh, what's the pay like?" Phoebe inquires.

"Actually, it pays nothing. It's an internship," Chandler responds.

Because we as a society have mutually agreed to herald television as the all-knowing source of education and comfort, this particular "Friends" scenario teaches us a thing or two about employment in America. Internships are common, but typically not for adults; internships are important, but often they're unpaid; internships are critical, but often demeaning ("There's gonna be some grunt work which will stink. A grown man getting people coffee is humiliating," Chandler says).

In the fictional "Friends" scenario, Chandler successfully spun his internship into a full-time role. And the data shows that this isn't entirely out of the question in the real world — in fact, a 2016 survey from the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) study revealed that more than 72 percent of paid internships led to job offers — the highest rate since the market hit a pre-recession peak. But for unpaid interns like Chandler, the prospect of employment wasn't so likely: Less than 44 percent got job offers from internships, which was just a bit better than graduates who scored job offers with no internship experience to speak of (36.5 percent). [source: NACE].

So the data says one thing, and our beloved TV spirit guides say another, but what's the real deal with internships? Are the facts really facts, or just assumptions rooted in popular culture representations and widespread misinformation? Time to find out...