Unpaid and Undeterred
They may not buy you dinner, but working for free has a long, long list of benefits.
By Timothy K. DesJarlais, University of Arizona
Much like a wave that crashes down on you before receding to expose the beach, finals too have crashed down upon you and receded, leaving you to wonder, what is next?
For those who already have their entire summer planned out, kudos to you. But, what about those who are still wondering what to do? I am sure you’ve seen the ads on campus, or received the emails from your campus coordinators, regarding summer internship positions. Quite often, though, if an internship is unpaid, many students pass it over. But, I am here to tell you to take a second longer to consider an internship, even if it is unpaid.
Here are the top five reasons to do unpaid internships, and while I have nothing against paid internships, you have to face the reality that there will always be more unpaid than paid gigs out there. After all, you can’t beat free labor.
1. Easier to Get
When you apply for a paid internship, it’s much like applying for a job. And rightly so, because your prospective employer is about to invest actual money in you. Not every internship will fit this model, but quite often, you’ll find that it’s much easier to get into an unpaid internship than a paid one.
Sure, employers will always have standards, since they will be investing their time and energy in you, if not their money, but by the end of the day, they can still be more flexible. And because there is such a high demand for free interns, there will always be opportunities for you.
2. Great for Networking
Meeting someone for coffee is always a great way to network with key people in your career field, but working with them is even better.
Quite often, unpaid internships provide you with direct access to people who, in the future, may be sources for stellar letters of recommendation, career advice or potential jobs. An unpaid internship allows you to display your skills to others without first becoming a salaried employee.
3. Grow Your Resume
If you want to get a job as a journalist after you graduate, what do you think looks better on your resume? A list of all the odd jobs you did over the summer, like working at Starbucks, McDonald’s and Men’s Warehouse, or a list of internships with local newspapers and such?
The answer would probably be the second choice, not that I have anything against the first list of jobs, but if you want to get into a specific career field, employers sure love it if you have previous experience.
College is the prime time to grow your resume, and it never hurts to have more experiences than you can list out in a page. Unpaid internships can go a long way in helping you boost your resume.
4. Flexible Learning
The biggest advantage of unpaid internships is that you can be flexible in what you learn. Often times, good employers will ask you if there’s anything specific that you want to learn while working for their organization.
If you are paid, you are often given specific tasks, and you’re expected to complete them in exchange for compensation. But, in an unpaid internship, think of it like a sampler platter that allows you to experiment with different roles and work in different branches. Experimentation is good, especially if you aren’t 100 percent certain what you want to do when you graduate.
5. Stay Busy
Certainly, summer is a great time to unwind after a busy semester. But, too much time on one’s hands isn’t always a good thing. So, rather than lying around at your parents’ home or getting burnt to a crisp on the beach, maybe you could use this couple of months to better your chances of a successful future career.
After all, unpaid internships allow you to set flexible hours for yourself, so you can still enjoy your summer, or even work another part-time job with compensation, so you can pay those pesky bills.
Full disclosure: I consider myself a success story in this field. After working on a campaign for a member of Congress, I applied for a position as a staffer in her local district office when she was elected, but I was turned down, since I lacked experience.
I then took an unpaid internship at her office, and after working there for less than six months, they hired me as a full-time staffer for the summer, and part-time during the fall and spring semesters. Unpaid internships may not seem sexy, but oftentimes, they can be the springboard to better careers and jobs, so keep an open mind when browsing for ways to keep busy this summer.