In theory, the benefits of an unpaid internship sound pretty good, especially as an undergrad.
Interns are given an opportunity to get their feet wet in an industry of their choosing. Their days are generally busy as they tackle new tasks and challenges, gaining invaluable experience. Sometimes they get to brush shoulders with celebrities, or even get promotional freebies as a token of gratitude from supervisors. And of course, there’s always the possibility of landing a full-time job at the company or through contacts made while interning.
However, finding yourself with an unpaid internship after college may not be quite as exciting.
The unfortunate reality is that sometimes it’s hard to get even an entry-level position — let alone your dream job — right out of college. For many recent grads this often means accepting an unpaid internship. And while this may leave you feeling like your back at square one, before you start cursing time spent on a high education, take heart from these tips. They’ll not only help you survive your unpaid internship, but may even have you feeling excited about it.
Keep a Positive Attitude
A positive attitude and a sense of pride can help shine some light on an unpaid internship. Honestly, it’s not the end of the world (even if it sometimes feels like it). Remind yourself of this daily by writing down on a Post-it and sticking it on the first thing you see when you wake up. Sometimes the reminder makes it a little easier to get going in the morning.
Also, be sure to give yourself frequent reminders of the work you’re doing — whether it’s writing, designing or simply assisting someone — to keep yourself grounded. Just because you’re not receiving a paycheck doesn’t mean you’re not doing the work, and you should be proud of yourself for your efforts and the tasks your accomplishing on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis.
Learn to Live on an Unpaid Internship Budget
One of the most difficult aspects of an unpaid internship is that not only are you not being paid for your work, but sometimes the internship can actually cost you. The price of commuting to and from work adds up quick, not to mention that some companies are unable to reimburse you for out-of-office errands that may require cross-town cab fare.
A very important step to take is figuring out how to manage student loans (if you have them) while you’re holding an unpaid internship. Talk to your loan provider before your grace period ends. You don’t want to have your loans wind up in collections while you’re already dealing with an unpaid internship!
Scrimp and save the best you can by creating a monthly budget — and sticking to it! Utilize the coin counter at your bank; all of your spare change could buy a week’s worth of dinner. Take extra time to clip coupons before you go grocery shopping, and always pack your own lunches. Keep an ear to the ground for free food in the office — this way you can save whatever you packed for today until tomorrow.
If you live close enough, walking or biking is an excellent alternative to shelling out money for gas or taking public transportation… save that luxury for a rainy day!
Seek Out Alternative Sources of Income
The Internet is a great place to find all sorts of ways to make money while you gain experience as an unpaid intern. It’s important to be wary of scams when checking sites like Craigslist for odd jobs, so be sure to keep your guard up. Taking a babysitting or dog-walking gig could fit in with your internship hours, however, and you’ll find yourself making money to carry you along week by week.
Sites like Ebay, Etsy and Fiverr offer you a way to have others seek out your services. You can tap into your crafty side and sell handmade goods, or just list old video games and let others name their price. Be careful though — the cost of materials and shipping can get pricey, especially for an unpaid intern, so be sure to price your goods accordingly. Just because it’s handmade doesn’t mean it’s a discount item!
Godspeed You, Unpaid Intern!
Now you have the tips and tools to help you through the next couple of months. Take a deep breath and remember: other people had unpaid internships before you, and they survived. You will too.