Gaining experience working as an unpaid intern can be a golden opportunity. If you deport yourself with enthusiasm and sincerity and are willing to work hard at any task, you will gain the respect of your mentors and perhaps smooth your transition into a salaried position in the same field. But the day is going to come when you have to quit because you've either found a paying job or decided on a different path for your life. How you quit your unpaid internship will determine whether you walk away with glowing recommendations or glares. Resolve to quit with kindness and class.
Plan on when you're going to quit. Don't wake up one morning and decide to phone in. Bear in mind that just because you're not being paid doesn't mean your presence won't be missed. Chances are, even if your mentors only have you filing, someone will have to take up that task once you're gone. Remember, if your mentors have placed you in a more active role and you've been contributing to projects, then it's even more imperative that you plan the date of your departure well in advance. It's not only kind, but professional.
Tell your mentor in person that you're quitting -- it's better than letting her find out from anyone else you may have entrusted with your plans. Be prepared to answer any and all questions, as she'll ask you why you're quitting, especially if she's been supportive during your internship. Show appreciation for the opportunity you were given and thank her personally for her help. Recognize that although an unpaid internship is just a blip on your eventual career path, it could be an important blip. Appreciate that fostering and keeping good relationships with your mentors and your peers could be the difference between getting the job of your dreams one day or being shunned because you were less than professional when you quit your unpaid internship.
Be present until the day you quit. Show up on time and complete any and all tasks with enthusiasm and professionalism. Be kind in your conversations. Don't brag about how you're going to take some time off before you look for a “real” job. Keep it to yourself; most of the people you've been working beside don't have the option to leave, so it's better to have their goodwill. Say goodbye politely to everyone -- your attitude will be the last thing your mentors and peers will see when you walk out the door for the last time, so ensure it's one they'll remember -- in a good way.
- Keep in touch with the people for whom you worked as an unpaid intern. Networking doesn't just involve schmoozing with new people who might lead you to shiny opportunities; it means nurturing the relationships you've built with co-workers in the past.
Linda Kaban is a certified yoga teacher and professional life coach who specializes in helping people achieve their fitness goals. With a bachelor's degree in the humanities, Kaban has been writing since 1998 and has been published in YOGALife magazine along with other healthy living publications.