Whether you are graduating or still a student, everyone wants to know what you are doing for the summer, where are you working? The excitement over securing a job or internship is often preceded by anxiety and a fear of not landing a position.
For undergrads, internships have become a resume necessity and securing them can sometimes seem nearly impossible. The search should start early, and so the race begins. I applied to a few places, and landed my internship at Wells Fargo through a connection, another seeming necessity. Three of the five internships I applied for were unpaid. I got an interview at a large fashion company in NYC, and after realizing it was unpaid I decided I couldn’t justify the $400 plane ticket to fly to the interview. Who would have ever thought they would be working 40 hours a week for free? Not me, but I guess the desperation kicks in and an unpaid internship sounds better than no internship at all. This thought—shared by many college undergrads—taints the eventual job pool, because many students will be unable to afford having an unpaid internship. It’s an unfortunate reality that many students step into a job interview and say I am sorry I don’t have prior experience; I couldn’t afford to donate all of my time for zero compensation.
Though an unpaid internship sounds like an unfair deal, many college students will testify to the fact that it is truly is a worthwhile experience. Realize that many companies who offer unpaid internships do so because they recognize the experience is invaluable. It can also be viewed as yet another classroom, but where tuition is free. Working in an environment where the company recognizes your work as being worthwhile may end up being the most rewarding experience. Obviously there is the complete other side, where unpaid interns are viewed as just lucky to be there and there to complete the “busy work” that a current employee does not feel like doing. It can be a coin toss, so look to negotiate with the employer to find ways to be better able to “afford the experience.”
Negotiate: Evaluate the expenses it will cost you to work; many employers will readily supply a transportation and food stipend for an unpaid internship. If they don’t offer it upfront, make sure to ask. Also look to negotiate your hours; you are there for the experience, so communicate with your employer to see if they feel working 20 hours a week would be valuable. Working part-time unpaid will leave room to find a paid part-time job to cover some expenses. Build the resume, but also earn some money for the school year.
If you can’t cut your hours, look for weekend jobs babysitting or waiting tables. See if you can save some living costs by taking an internship close to a free or low-cost place to stay, like a friend’s or relative’s place. Make sure you look at all costs before accepting an unpaid internship, including whether the internship will require you to get school credit. Personally, this was another fact that deterred me from the option, knowing that my school bills students for a typical full-credit class if they elect to receive school credit for their internship.
The process of finding an internship will raise your awareness of what it’s going to take to get that real job and often helps you to better understand if the type of career you envisioned is going to suit you going forward. Be persistent, keep looking and don’t settle for just anything because your time is invaluable.