The Truth About Unpaid Internships
In today's job market working for free to gain exposure may be a good idea for new graduates being told they need work experience to earn an entry-level position. If you are just starting out you may consider taking an unpaid internship for the chance to make connections or receive additional training. This can be a gamble that pays off handsomely or leaves you right where you started, unemployed and inexperienced.
Before you decide to take an unpaid internship, consider what you are expecting in return. Although you are technically working for free, it shouldn’t be working for nothing. Everything has value, and it doesn’t always come in the form of money.
When you work for nothing, you receive nothing in return. No experience. No training. No exposure. If you are interning with a company and only do unskilled office work or provide support for an understaffed team, you are working for nothing. In this scenario there is no opportunity to learn and quite frankly you are being exploited.
The purpose of an unpaid internship is to allow you to gain valuable training and exposure in a particular department or position. This is not an ideal, its the law. According to the U.S. Labor Department’s Fair Labor Standards Act, an unpaid internship shouldn’t be for the direct advantage of the employer. The internship should benefit the intern and be educational not a means to displace current employees.
So how can you tell if an unpaid internship is the right choice? Below are some key elements to consider when deciding if an unpaid internship is valuable or not.
The company is an accomplished entity in your industry.
The organization does work that you love and respect.
You’ll get a chance to get hands on experience, exposure and training that will help further your skill set.
The internship will may eventually lead to a paid position but makes no promises.
The business has a particular employee you need to rub elbows with and that contact could lead to future work.
The company is NOT an accomplished entity in your industry.
The organization does NOT do work that you love and respect.
You will NOT get a chance to get hands on experience, exposure or training that will help further your skill set.
The internship will NEVER lead to a paid position or you’re internship is considered a trial period with the promise that is may lead to a job.
The company is comprised of a tiny staff and tons of unpaid interns.
Seek out companies that can add to your career and only take on an unpaid internship if you are positive the experience holds value. If you know what you want to get out of your internship, it will be easier to identify a situation that isn’t going to work for you. Many students will gain great experience via unpaid internships and some may even land their first job because of it. The truth is if you’re smart about your choices and make decisions with your best interest in mind, you could also benefit from a valuable unpaid internship.