Are Unpaid Internships Worth It After Graduating?

Although the position offers no monetary rewards, the experience may prove invaluable.
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It's a rite of passage, after graduating, to look at internships as a way to gain real-world experience and lengthen your resume. In light of a bad economy though, many graduates are hesitating to accumulate more debt by taking on an unpaid internship for three to six months. Like most, you might be keen to start tackling those student loans and the credit card debt you racked up during your college years. Whether to take a paid or unpaid internship is an important question, as is whether you'll be better off foregoing this particular college tradition altogether.

Why Intern?

    Some lucky graduates get hired immediately into their dream job. These graduates are few and far between. A more likely scenario is that a graduate will take a job outside of their field of study in order to make ends meet and then eventually, after a few years work, find their way into a job that requires the skills they learned in college. One way to speed this process along is to secure an internship. An internship provides a graduate a starting place in a company or career. This experience looks great on a resume and can help secure future employment. On another level, an internship is an introduction into the work environment, providing the graduate with insight into their chosen career without a deep commitment.

Paid Versus Unpaid Internships

    Companies offer paid internships in addition to unpaid internships. The pay is usually not enough to live off of and is more of a token. But, to a graduate with no job prospects, something is better than nothing. A paid internship often comes with more responsibilities and less flexibility in work hours than an unpaid one. Interestingly, a survey from the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) shows that paid internships offer a greater chance of a job offer than unpaid internships. In the same NACE survey, 37 percent of unpaid interns received job offers -- but compare that to the 60 percent of paid interns who landed a job afterwards.

Benefits of an Unpaid Internship

    Unpaid internships sometimes offer more experience since the intern is supposed to be gaining work skills and knowledge and not fetching coffee like paid interns. Since the placement is unpaid, the intern places more value on learning as much as they can about the business and gaining transferable skills. Although a resume does not need to show that an internship was unpaid, highlighting this fact may show that a potential applicant cares more about the job than just earning money. Another outcome of unpaid internships is the amount of networking that an intern can do within the company. Networking is quickly becoming the most popular way to secure employment so this is a valuable consequence of interning.

Selecting an Internship

    Graduates opting to do an unpaid internship need to be careful in their location choice. Although cities like New York, Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles, seem exciting and offer many choices, the cost of living is exorbitant. Many find that they need to work a second job in order to support themselves during the internship. Living at home with parents and selecting an internship close by is one cost-cutting option. Seeking an internship in cost-friendly cities such as Atlanta or Dallas could help save money. Graduates need to be prepared to tough it out for a few months while they are interning, unless they can depend on parents or savings during this time. At the end of their internship, the experience gained may be just the catalyst needed to push their resumes to the front of the stack.

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