Unpaid Internships: Not Necessarily Un-Awesome

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You arise with the sun, get to work by nine, stay at the office until six or later, but come Friday when paychecks go out, you’re left empty handed. Sound familiar? You must be living the depressing life of an unpaid intern.

For most students and recent graduates, unpaid internship jobs are a lot like death and taxes something that just sort of happens.

"For those considering an unpaid internship, they should look beyond the next few months," says Steve Johnson, Associate Director of Career Services at Northeastern University. "[They should] consider how taking such a position will translate into more money and/or a more desirable position upon graduation due to the experience gained at that internship. So even unpaid internships can pay off in the future."

In many industries, an unpaid internship is like a rite of passage. "In the film industry there is a general attitude that you shouldn’t do the job if you wouldn’t do it for free." says Mia, a former Hampshire College student and now a documentary film producer. "Working as an unpaid intern proves to the people you are working for that you are so dedicated you are willing to do the job for free." Roxanna, a graduate Psychology student at Claremont University, agrees with Mia’s assessment. "It shows dedication," she says. "While many internships require that you are someone's 'bitch,' you can learn a good work ethic and, if you end up turning the internship into a career, you can learn a lot about what to do on a daily basis, practice it and, in theory, become better at it."

When you’re just starting out, there are things worth far more than a paycheck. Mia knew that when working internships in college: "I did two unpaid internships and they did not have a job opening when I was ready to be paid, but they knew they owed me, so when I called to ask for a favor, they were more than willing to help me out."

A good employer is going to appreciate that you’re working for free and try to pay you back in other ways. Mia’s employers helped her out even though they couldn’t give her a paid job. Post college, she has kept the cycle going, "I look really highly upon my unpaid interns because I know what they are giving up and what they are doing for me," she says. "Even if I cannot offer them a job when the internship ends, I can offer them advice and I can guarantee I’ll always return their phone calls."

"It really is all about networking."

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