Is an Unpaid Internship Worth it?

In many professions, it is pretty much assumed that you will have completed at least one or two unpaid internship experiences before landing a job that actually comes with a steady income. It can be easy for students to just take whatever internship comes their way. But this may actually hurt you in the long run. The wrong internship, or one that is not a good match for you and your career goals, can do more harm than good, while the picking the right internship has the potential to reward you with a lot more than an extra entry on your resume. Spend a little extra effort now looking for the right place to invest your time so that you don’t end up wasting it on an unfulfilling work experience. Here are some of the important factors to consider when looking for an unpaid position, so don’t be afraid to do your research and ask your potential supervisor plenty of questions!

How much time are you really going to have to invest in the internship?

If you are not getting paid for your work, you probably shouldn’t be expected to work full-time hours. As students, we often have a million things going on at any given time, so if you plan on also taking classes, working at a part-time paying job or even spending time with friends and family, you should determine just how many hours you can contribute to the internship each week, and discuss that with your potential supervisor. Be honest about what you want, and fight for the schedule that is going to be best for you.

What will a typical day in the office look like for you?

This is an important question to ask during an interview, as it will help clarify what exactly your employer expects from you. Are you going to be getting coffee and making photocopies, or actually getting hands on experience with field-related work? If you can get your interviewer to be specific about the tasks, you can hold them accountable once you start working. And if they fumble and give some vague, empty response, maybe it’s time to look elsewhere.

What are the skills you hope to leave with?

It’s important to figure out what you really want to get out of your internship experience. If you are going to donate your time, you should be compensated with the opportunity to learn something new and to develop a set of skills that will help you in the future. Discuss your goals with your potential employer, and figure out if their environment is one that will support your growth.

What is the demographic of the company’s employees?

This may seem like an odd thing to consider in an internship, but researching and observing the employees that work at the company can give you a lot of insight into whether it will be a good fit for you. You want to be able to work with the other employees, and hopefully feel comfortable enough asking them lots of questions about their own career and experiences. For example, if a company you are considering hires few younger employees, you may not feel as welcome in the work environment, and will be less likely to interact with your co-workers.

In general, most of us have been told at one time or another that if we find a good job, we are very lucky, and should not think twice about taking it. In the real job market, that might be true, but an internship is a place where you can afford to be a little more choosey. Take your time finding the right fit for you and remember that your hard work is valuable! Don’t just give it away without some thought and consideration.

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