Ah. The internship. An integral part of any college experience. It’s a concrete way of showing potential employers that you’re adept at grabbing coffee and a pro at making copies. Kidding! It’s where you go to prove that you’re worth hiring. And depending on your industry, it might even be more important than grades or on-campus extracurricular activities.
There’s just one problem: many internships are unpaid.
A few years ago, at a paid internship, one of my fellow interns declared that the experience should be compensation enough.
And while it was easy to make such claims (especially since we were making money) that reasoning just doesn’t cut it for all the students who don’t have the luxury of relying on income from family and just volunteering their time. After all, there are tuitions, rent, groceries and bills that don’t take “priceless on-the-job experience” as payment.
So what do you do if you’re faced with the decision to take an unpaid experience? Be strategic. Ask yourself a few questions like:
Can I afford an unpaid internship?
If I can’t afford it, can I work while interning or before I start? Does my school have any scholarships or grants in place to subsidize the experience?
Do I have any paid opportunities that will give me comparable experience?
Is the experience really worth it? (Is it more than the famous coffee running?)
What are future opportunities?
When I decided to pursue journalism, I didn’t have much experience that would get me noticed by the big news organizations that pay their interns. (Trust me, I wasn’t too happy about it!)
I made a decision to reach out to a very small, local media organization in Miami and ask for an internship. They decided to take a chance on me and disclosed up front that they couldn’t afford to pay me. I accepted it because a) I reached out to them and b) I was living at home and didn’t have to pay for anything.
I worked on finding a paid internship for the next semester and ultimately landed at NBC News, where I am now! Sharing my story of contributing to a local, niche media company showed my interviewer that I was willing to work hard and create my own opportunities.
In a perfect world, all internships should be paid. Labor is labor.
So what’s the verdict? I think it’s best to focus on paid openings because you’re killing two birds with one stone: affording groceries and improving your chances of gainful employment. Besides! If you don’t get paid, you can’t look forward to this: