One of our Twitter followers, @BrokeMillennial , wrote this article on unpaid internships and "working for free" and asked for my thoughts on the subject. This prompted me to share a few thoughts on unpaid internships:
1. I did 15 unpaid internships in college. Did they pay off? Absolutely. In fact, they are still paying off today. If I had to go back in time and do it all over again, would I? Absolutely. I loved the hustle. I interned at two different companies (sometimes three at a time!) and managed a part-time job to pay my expenses. I wanted to start at the bottom and work my way up like so many successful people before me.
2. If you are going into an internship (paid or unpaid) it has to be a structured, safe environment. If you are getting paid a small hourly fee to sit in the corner and do nothing -- I'm not interested in that opportunity. The same thing goes for an unpaid internship. If you are sitting in the corner doing nothing, it's a waste of everyone's time. Focus on the structure of the program. Ask yourself, does this company go out of their way for the internship program? Ask your employer, can you describe a typical day as an intern at your company?
3. Are you directly generating revenue for the company? Are you acting a sales person? If the answer is yes, you should not be an unpaid intern. Have a conversation with someone about this ASAP.
4. Do you feel uncomfortable at your internship? Uncomfortable is a key word. If you feel uncomfortable, you need to have a conversation with someone ASAP. This is a big red flag. Bring someone else into the conversation -- HR rep, internship coordinator, career center or parent.
5. Many Fortune 500 companies that offer top internship programs share their stats online regarding how many interns get entry-level job offers. Those statistics are very high. Remember, those are companies with a ton of positions open. When you intern at a smaller company (paid or unpaid) there isn't always going to be a position open for you right away. You don't intern at the company to get a job offer at that specific company -- the FLSA (Fair Labor Standards Act) states that an internship does that guarantee a job. You intern at a company to get an amazing experience under your belt so that you are more qualified to land an entry-level job (anywhere). Think about it. If you were an employer, who would you hire? The student WITH internship experience or the student without it?
6. Just to clarify, I think that recent grads should be looking for PAID work -- not internships. If you graduated with no internships under your belt, this could be an exception. Another exception would be a well-known company that has a prestigious internship program/training program that they put potential hires through before bringing them on board full-time.
7. To reiterate, it's not about the PAY, it's about the experience.
8. I can't speak to every student on the planet but we had over 40 of our Intern Queen Campus Ambassadors graduate in 2013 with internships under their belt (some had paid internships and some had unpaid internships) and because of these experiences 90% of them have been able to land great jobs and top companies all over the country.