Should You Take an Unpaid Internship?

Unpaid internships are the norm in many industries. Students fetch coffee and make copies hoping to gain a little valuable experience or make connections. But how do you decide which unpaid internships are worth the effort? A few tips to keep in mind when assessing an unpaid internship:


Company Reputation

More reputable companies often offer better internship opportunities, because they have more resources to devote to formal internship programs that provide quality training. Another huge advantage: having a well-know company listed on your resume.

Job Duties

A good internship program will have clear responsibilities and goals outlined for interns in advance. Will your responsibilities include working with experienced professionals in your field? What skills can you gain, based on the job duties described? What will a typical day be like at work during your internship? These questions should be asked before deciding to take on an unpaid internship.

Success of Former Interns

What happens to former interns? Do many get hired on with the same company? For some companies, entry level positions are filled mostly with former interns. Other companies take advantage of free labor with no intention of hiring interns. Talk to former interns with the company or look for online employer reviews.

Hours/Length of Internship

A small (lucky) percentage of students can work indefinitely at an unpaid internship. However, most students and recent graduates have bills and loans to pay. A full-time internship lasting a year should provide some compensation, while an unpaid part-time internship lasting only a few months isn’t unreasonable. Determine how long you can afford to work without payment, and when choosing an internship, make sure any unpaid work will be beneficial to your future career.

Class Credit/Perks

Although a company might not pay cash to interns, it may offer other forms of compensation such as class credit, meal or travel stipends, or free housing. An internship abroad could offer travel and cultural opportunities that you’ll never have again.

Industry Norms

Paid internships are almost unheard-of in some fields.  If jobs in your industry require internship experience, an unpaid internship may be worth it. Few companies are willing to train new graduates without some experience. Usually, employers count internships as work experience.

Employers have come to expect internship experience from recent graduates.  This puts pressure on students to take an internship-any internship-just to have it on their resumes. Some organizations take advantage of the increasing popularity of internships by offering unpaid positions. Before working without pay, weight the current costs and potential benefits to your career.

Want more internship advice? Read

The Intern Files: How to Get, Keep, and Make the Most of Your Internship