Unpaid Internships: Long-term Rewards May Outweigh Short-term Pay

All you have to do is look through the Twitter stream to see that unpaid internships can be valuable for many students.

But who wants to work for nothing, right? And how do you know if an unpaid internship is the right choice for you – and your career?

When deciding whether or not to apply for unpaid positions, consider the numerous non-financial benefits…

Real Life Benefits

It’s a bit cliché, but it’s true: there’s more to life than making money. You also need to know how to spend money…wisely.

Many use their time as an unpaid intern to learn real life financial skills like how to budget, cut costs and spend less than you earn. Taking an unpaid position might seem like a drastic way to learn these skills. But as a college student this is the best time to make financial sacrifices before you have too many financial responsibilities. Buy quality clothing from secondhand stores, purchase a used vehicle (or take public transportation) and make other financial sacrifices now, before you have the additional pressure of student loan repayment, a mortgage, and more.

Find affordable housing by sharing apartment rental expenses with other students, renting a room in a private house or asking friends who live in the area for affordable housing recommendations. If you have to borrow money to pay for living expenses, look for low interest loans, ask family members to loan you money or consider building a savings account before starting your internship.

Yes, money will be tight, but in addition to a roof over your head, you’ll also need to take care of yourself. Don’t overlook the value of personal health insurance. As you work long hours and live as inexpensively as possible, you won’t want the extra worry about how you’ll pay for medical care after an accident or illness.

Professional Benefits

Your college career should be spent learning and preparing yourself for your professional career. With relatively low living expenses, you might have more flexibility to try new interests. Gain experience working in an unusual career, intern for a variety of companies or in a new city, and expand your professional experience.

From my experience, unpaid internships look great on a resume. They show initiative and a willingness to work hard – despite the lack of financial incentive. Potential future employers value workers who show these characteristics, which may give you an edge in an increasingly competitive job market.

Focus on networking, and meet people who could be valuable in building your career; after all, in the job market it’s not always what you know, but who you know. During your internship, you might work for or with the person who will help you land a great job after college. Keep your eyes open and cultivate as many professional and personal relationships as possible.

Personal Benefits

While a traditional internship usually requires full-time work, an unpaid position may offer you a more flexible schedule. Free time during the day gives you time to earn money, pursue additional training, cultivate friendships or explore your surroundings. Make time to enjoy life during your internship experience – and learn more about you in the process.

To work toward a completely flexible schedule, consider taking a virtual internship that allows you to work around classes, other commitments – and even your social life. A virtual internship will also teach you valuable soft skills like independent learning, self-discipline and consistently meeting deadlines.

If you’re debating whether to take an unpaid summer internship in your desired field or perhaps a paid alternative such as working in retail or at restaurant to earn a few dollars, I suggest you strongly consider the internship.

The long term benefits could become more valuable than any dead end summer job you take – and perhaps be a better overall career move than even a paid internship. The professional and personal rewards you earn can outweigh the lack of pay, and you’ll be glad you participated in the opportunity; besides, there’s always the possibility that it may lead to paid opportunities down the line.



About the Author: Ashley Spade, in addition to being a social media ninja and alumna of several successful internships, is a law student in the Windy City. She lives, plays, and studies in Chicago with her ever-faithful sidekick, Sir Winston Pugsalot the First. Follow their adventures on Twitter or via ProfessionalIntern.com.



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