Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Unpaid Internships: Why Should I Bother?

It is a universal truth that internships are a great stepping stone for young graduates seeking to get a foothold into the working world.  Internship positions provide basic, entry level positions with plenty of supervision, a variety of tasks, and consistent training to help shape your classroom education into something useful.  Internships provide work experience and no resume is complete without work experience no matter what private school you went to.  However, the sad fact of the matter is that many internship positions today don’t pay.  Of course, that depends greatly upon what industry you are going into and the type of company you are working for but the truth remains that you are participating in an internship because you need work experience and are often at the mercy of the employer.  Choosing to participate in an internship therefore often conflicts with the need to meet certain financial obligations that many young students are faced with such as bills and school loan payments.  For some, not earning money in exchange for work is not an option they can live with and that is completely understandable.  However, if this is your case, I urge you not to write off the unpaid internship just yet.

Why should you bother with an unpaid internship position?

You need the work experience.  Currently, you have no experience that relates to your industry no matter how carefully you word your stint flipping burgers at the local fast food joint.  Even entry level positions these days require previous work experience and so not stepping up to the plate means your resume is going to be left in a scrap paper bin.  You might not be able to afford to go three months without an income.  But if no one will hire you based on lack of work experience, can you really afford long term not to?

Unpaid internship positions mean less competition for the spot.  Paid positions are few and far between and when they do come along, you can bet that they will be swamped with applications numbering in the hundreds.  Even with a stellar education, it can be hard to stand out.  You might not get called, you might not get selected and then you will be stuck waiting around for the next paid internship to become available.  Unpaid positions, while still competitive to get, are great in number and more diverse meaning instead of competing against hundreds for the primo spot, you might only have to stand-out among a handful.

Employers are often more flexible.  If you land a paid internship position, be prepared to treat it as a 40 plus hour per week job that includes the occasional evening and weekend.  After all, they are paying you and therefore expect you to be available.  With an unpaid internship, employers understand that you need to have some sort of an income to pay your bills.  They will often allow you to customize your schedule to accommodate a part-time job.  Maybe you only come in three days a week, or maybe you just work mornings.  This flexibility will allow you to gain the workplace experience and networking opportunities you need and hold down a second job that will pay the bills. 

You are getting paid.  You may not be receiving any financial compensation in the traditional sense of a paycheck, but you are getting paid.  You are being paid for your work with experience, the chance to network, the opportunity to learn from industry professionals, the long term financial gain of landing a high paying entry level position, etc.  As long as you are willing to embrace the definition of “payment” that extends beyond money, it is easy to see how even with an unpaid internship, there are significant gains and a return on your invested time.

There are many great internship positions available out there.  Don’t be turned off of the idea just because you see it as a financial black hole.  If you are interested in participating in an internship, consider contacting International Career Studies to see if they have an internship that suits your interests.

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