It is every college student’s dream to get a well-paying job when they are done with their studies. However, many companies are reluctant to hire graduates on a long-term basis unless they have some experience in the relevant field to add to their resumes.
It is for that reason that most colleges and universities emphasize internship programs whether as a requirement for graduation or straight after college. Some companies compensate interns with a stipend to cater for their daily expenses, but the majority do not.
Unpaid internships, as common as they are, have their pros and cons that every student should be aware of before looking for one.
Pros of Unpaid Internships
Yeah, yeah, unpaid internships won’t get you far financially, but as a young person, they can prove beneficial to your life and career in the following ways:
1. Gives You Valuable Experience
You might not be receiving a salary or other perks as an intern, but by working in an actual office and doing practical things, you gain precious on-the-job experience. You learn the different aspects of your chosen field, how to accomplish tasks, and how to live and work with others in an office environment. This complements what you learn in class and, in some cases, work experience can prove some theoretical knowledge false. Additionally, when you work with and under the supervision of experts in your field, you learn a lot from them and their experiences. You can, therefore, avoid making the mistakes they made.
2. Grows Your Personal Networks
Depending on the organization you intern at, you may get to meet lots of professionals and experts in your specialty by attending meetings, workshops, and seminars. You also get to interact with the employees in the organization and the senior staff, too. By the time you are done with your internship, you will have established new contacts or even made friends in the industry. Such links and connections can help you secure jobs by putting your name forward for opportunities that arise close to them. Additionally, having professional relationships with industry insiders will help you grow professionally as they are a source of advice and guidance.
3. Builds Your Resume
As mentioned above, unpaid internship give you valuable experience that boosts your chances of getting good jobs in future. As far as your resume goes, it shows prospective employers that you have some basic knowledge and practical skills required for your industry. As business is a factor of balancing costs and benefits, most employers are reluctant to start training new employees from scratch, particularly when it comes to young graduates as they are regarded as not very loyal. Hence, they are more likely to employ someone who at the very least knows their way around the job and so saves on training costs. Also, employees may be impressed by your unpaid internship as it is proof that you are hungry to learn and grow and are willing to sacrifice money to achieve that.
4. Opportunity to Test the Waters
Most students choose their courses of study based off peer pressure, societal perceptions, and their parents’ suggestions. There is no better way to test your passion for a certain career path than interning for several months without pay. It gives you a chance to experience first hand what it would be like to work in the industry and how mentally, emotionally, and physically ready you are for it.
Cons of Unpaid Internships
Of course, lending your time and services for free has its own disadvantages, chief among them:
1. It Makes You Look Cheap
When potential employers see that you worked for another company for free, they may get the impression that you can also do the same for them. So, they might try to convince you to work a few months “on probation” with little or no pay to prove yourself before getting hired. Still, some employers may hire you with very little pay using your lack of experience as an excuse. Thus, unless you are volunteering for a good cause, don’t agree to work for free and if you have to do it as part of your degree program, at least make sure to mention that during job interviews.
2. Not All Internships Are Beneficial
Some companies offer unpaid internship opportunities to students from colleges in their locality just for PR reasons or as a way of giving back. They probably don’t need extra hands but bring in interns anyway. As a result, you may end up doing tasks like filing, photocopying documents, and making deliveries. You don’t learn anything new or relevant doing such tasks, which essentially means that you are wasting your time. With paid internships, on the other hand, organizations will be more willing to give you relevant tasks and activities to justify your pay. As you know, doing such tasks adds to your knowledge bank and teaches you important lessons that will help you survive in today’s competitive job market.
3. Decreases Employment Opportunities
Some companies rely on the free labor provided by interns desperate to gain experience and choose to always have interns around rather than employ full-time staff. That may or may not be a consequence of the increasingly competitive business environment that forces companies to significantly cut operational costs to survive. Nonetheless, if college students accept unpaid internships, they risk not only being exploited by greedy companies, but also contributing to the lock out of thousands of unemployed people from jobs. And, of course, after you’re done with school, you might find that the entry-level job you wanted was given to some intern who had no problem working for free.
4. It Leaves You Financially Disadvantaged
The life of a student is hard enough with mounting student loans and unlimited expenses. To survive, most students have to get part-time jobs around college or on online freelancing sites. When you take up an unpaid internship opportunity, you sacrifice a lot of hours that you would have spent looking for additional income to supplement your student loan and allowance from your folks. After you’re through with the internship, your financial health might not be as robust as you’d like, and you may have to start a long way from your friends who were in paid employment or business all throughout.
Ultimately, the main aim of internship programs is to gain industry knowledge, experience, and exposure that will make the transition from college to the job market easy and seamless. This applies to both paid and unpaid internships. If you feel that you stand to gain a lot from an unpaid internship at a particular company, then, by all means, take the opportunity. If you are put off by the cons listed above, there are always paid internship opportunities available. Or, you can always look for work at an entry-level job that is related to your field. Really, it’s all down to you.
About Sophia Clark: Sophia is a creative writer currently working on several projects including www.custom-writings.net. In her free time, she enjoys writing fiction as well as reading it. Her big dream is to publish a book one day. Connect with her on G+.