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 passed off onto them as a token of gratitude from supervisors.
Of course, there’s always that hope of landing a job either at the place they’re currently interning, or finding one via one of the many contacts they’ve made. After all, with so many jobs requiring several years of experience for even entry-level positions — where else to start but with an unpaid internship?
However, finding yourself with an unpaid internship after college may not be quite as exciting. Most undergrads juggle unpaid internships in between classes (not to mention activities like paid jobs and extracurriculars) in the hopes of landing a full-time job as soon as they throw that cap into the air.
The unfortunate reality is that sometimes it’s hard to land even an entry-level position — let alone your dream job — right out of college. This may leave you feeling like you’re right back at square one. It can get depressing, but don’t go cursing the time you spent getting an education just yet — we’ve got your back!
Facing the Facts: So, You’re an Unpaid Intern…
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 feels like it is. Write that on a Post-it and stick it on the first thing you see when you wake up, because 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.
Living on an Unpaid Intern 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 even 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 — you’re probably already familiar with this concept! 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 for gas or paying to be allowed to jam yourself into a sardine can of a bus… save that luxury for a rainy day!
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.