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Unpaid Internships: Do They Pay Off?

Internships are a necessary prerequisite for most jobs, yet they are helluva hard to get (you can’t get a job without having had an internship, and it’s hard to land an internship unless you’ve had a previous internship… wait, what?).

Add to this the small matter that they don’t pay the rent, and what’s a girl to do?

Unpaid internships are often seen as exploitative, with little to no benefits for the volunteer – besides the pride of being able to say that you’re not technically unemployed. Many large companies slam unpaid internships, saying that it is unfair treatment for recent graduates who should be desired by businesses regardless. And yet, these are the very companies who will not look at your CV unless you have relevant experience. Um, hello?

If you are searching for your first job but keep facing the ‘not enough experience’ conundrum, should you bother taking on an internship?

Yes, it’s worth it

For many, internships are the only way to gain the experience necessary for landing that first graduate job. Not only do they equip you with skills and experiences in your field, but also they provide you with something to discuss during interviews. This is particularly beneficial for those who struggle at this stage, as it allows you to discuss your experiences with ease and answer more confidently and fluently.

Having a range of relevant experiences increases your chances of being contacted about possible permanent roles, too. Internships show your passion and determination to break into your chosen industry – not to mention equip you with a reputable reference – and in addition to gaining transferable skills, you will also be building contacts, increasing your confidence, and proving to yourself and others that you have the ability and determination to successfully take on the role.

Research also shows that students who undertake internships are likely to shave time off their job hunt. As The Wall Street Journal reported, nearly every student who graduated from the Chicago College of Engineering at the University of Illinois with two or more internships found a job within six months of graduating. In short, when push comes to shove, working for free for a period may result in more job offers down the line.

But I just can’t afford it!

Rent, bills, life expenses: we hear you, sister. For many, the thought of working for free is incomprehensible – and if this is you, don’t panic. If you can’t afford to take on an internship, you can still use the time to make yourself a more attractive job candidate. Enrol yourself on a free course. Set up your own website or blog. Attend career fairs and network like crazy. Schedule an informational interview with someone in your target sector. And don’t be afraid to bag yourself a holiday job, either; the lessons you learn can extend far beyond a little bit of money and a few new friends.

Internships are a great way of testing the water and gaining real career experience – but they aren’t an option for everyone. If you can’t undertake an internship – and even if you can – remember that hiring managers are ultimately looking for candidates who are energetic yet humble, resourceful yet ready to learn. Work on being the best possible version of yourself to reap the greatest rewards.

Written by:

Alysia-Marie is a University of Nottingham English and Creative Writing graduate with a passion for writing anything and everything. Her life's ambition is to find and taste the best doughnut in the UK (and become a travel writer/publisher/Louis Theroux's PA).

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