Unpaid Internships: Give Up the Cash for Big Rewards Later
Very few people want to work for free. It’s understandable, really – if you’re going to sink your time and energy into something day in and day out, you’d like to at least walk away with a paycheck. Fortunately, working for no pay generally doesn’t happen to adults.
But when you’re young, the opportunity to work for nothing presents itself again and again in the form of unpaid internships.
I’ll admit that, at first, the entire idea seemed ridiculous (and perhaps even a little insulting) to me. Why would I waste my time on something if it wasn’t going to bulk up my wallet? What was the point?
However, when I reached my college years, I quickly realized the real value of an unpaid opportunity. In fact, I worked two different unpaid internships while I was in college – one of which I stuck with for three semesters in a row. Since then, I’ve become somewhat of an evangelist for unpaid internships.
Of course, if you can land yourself some hands-on experience that will also send you home with some extra cash, that’s great. But if you find a great opportunity that offers you tons of benefits, but not a paycheck, then I don’t think you should be so quick to run screaming in the other direction. Here are a few of the many reasons why:
- You’ll Gain Great Experience
This is perhaps the greatest advantage internships offer, whether paid or unpaid. The job market is tough, and it’s become increasingly difficult to score yourself a great gig with no experience – even the positions that classify themselves as “entry level” prefer if you have one to three years of experience under your belt.
This means that you’ll find yourself in that infamous catch-22 of job searches – you need experience to get a job, but you need a job to get experience. This is where internships come into play.
They’re an awesome way to dip your toes in, pick up some new skills, and gain some actual, relevant, hands-on experience without needing to convince an employer to take a chance and invest a large sum of money in you. Trust me, you’ll end your internship with a resume that’s much improved from the one you started with.
- You’ll Expand Your Network
We’ve all heard that classic saying, “It’s not always what you know, but who you know.” And, when you make your entry into the working world, you’ll quickly realize that this sentiment holds a lot of water.
Unfortunately, it can be somewhat tough to meet a large number of beneficial connections while you’re still in school.
Sure, there are your professors, your friends, and the random acquaintances you meet at campus events. But an internship presents the chance to shake hands and develop relationships with tons of different people who work in the industry that you’re interested in – and who will likely be able to help you as you move along through your career.
- You’ll Have Clearer Career Goals
It can definitely be intimidating to feel like you have to know exactly what you want to do with the rest of your life, before you’ve even had the opportunity to actually try anything. At times, it can feel downright impossible.
This is another reason why an internship can be so worthwhile. You’ll get to try your hand at different roles and responsibilities and find out what suits you best.
You can then use that valuable information to zero in on a career path that you’ll be happy with for a long while.
Plus, if you can manage to feel passionate about something even when you’re not getting paid for it, then you know that you’ve found something you truly enjoy.
- You Can Get College Credit
While you may not be earning a paycheck for the time you spend at your internship, that doesn’t mean that you’re walking away totally empty-handed. Many organizations work with colleges to offer academic credits in exchange for internships.
I was able to rack up nine total college credits through my different internship opportunities. It saved me some money on college courses, and I felt like I learned more working hands-on than I ever did sitting in a classroom.
- You Could Walk Away With a Job
Fair warning: this doesn’t work out for everybody, and I’d never advise you to accept an internship under the assumption that it’ll lead to permanent employment. However, there are plenty of companies out there who end up taking on their college interns on a full-time basis. And, that’s exactly what happened to me.
I worked my college marketing internship for three semesters in a row, and was already pleased with the amount of college credit I was able to gain through that experience. But not long after I walked across that graduation stage and wrapped my hand around that diploma, I was offered a full-time gig with the company that I had spent the past year and a half interning with.
It was an unexpected, but welcome surprise. For all of the reasons mentioned above, my internship was already a positive experience. But, sealing the deal with a full-time job was definitely the icing on the cake.
I can understand why anybody would be hesitant to work for free. But – despite the lack of pay – internships can be a great opportunity to gain experience, expand your web of contacts, and maybe even (as in my case) land your first full-time job offer.
So, go ahead – give one a try and see where it takes you. I’m willing to bet you won’t regret it.