May 2nd, 2010
How does working for free sound? Not so good, especially if you could be potentially earning money for your efforts? While it is undoubtedly more desirable to earn payment for your hard work, in the case of internships, an unpaid internship may actually trump a paid internship in terms of benefits. After all, there are more benefits to be reaped at an internship than just the monetary ones.
Internships have long provided students and graduates with opportunities to earn valuable experience in the field. Many college students and recent graduates do not have professional experience in their intended career field, making the chances of being hired right off the bat by a company very slim. Most employers seek not only education credentials, but also previous experience that proves that the applicant is capable of handling the responsibilities of the job. Internships provide students with the experience they need and many internship programs are geared towards those who have never worked in the field before, making it easy for students to learn the ropes. For example, journalism students may get their first assignments in fact checking or verifying sources before they work up to pounding the pavement for stories. Likewise, hospitality students may first work in answering the phone or making appointments before moving up to work alongside managers in management positions.
A vast majority of internships are unpaid, with a few highly coveted paid internship positions. However, it should be noted that while a paid internship sounds better, they still typically do not pay much. Paid positions are also usually more demanding, while unpaid positions are more flexible, allowing for interns to hold a part-time job while they work as a means to earn income. In some cases, if you hold a part-time job while interning, you may actually earn you more money than you would get from a paid internship alone.
When considering whether or not to choose a paid or unpaid internship, you should consider which internship you will most benefit from. If the unpaid position is with a smaller company that will allow you to be more hands-on in your work, you will gain lots of great experience as well as intimate networking opportunities. If the paid position is with a larger company that will have you sorting files all day, you may gain little more than a recommendation letter and a few paychecks. In this case, the unpaid internship will actually be more beneficial.