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Are There Benefits to Doing an Unpaid Internship?

Why All Internships Do Not Have to Be Paid

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Internship paying peanuts
Peter Dazeley / Photographer's Choice / Getty Images
What are the incentives for doing a good job in an unpaid internship?

Many incentives exist for employees to do a good job in the workplace. One major incentive is money. Other incentives may include health insurance, retirement benefits, gym membership, child-care services, professional development opportunities, etc. Even though all of these reasons exist for employees to work hard and do a good job, there are also more intrinsic rewards other than the obvious. Doing a good job also gives an employee a sense of pride by providing a product or service that’s meaningful and offers something to help others which comes with its own set of benefits and rewards.

In contrast, the incentives for doing a good job at your place of employment is quite obvious but what are the rewards that a student receives for doing a good job when doing an unpaid internship? Truthfully there are many benefits for students who complete an unpaid internship and there are also ways to try to receive funding when an internship is unpaid. In comparison, it’s very similar to getting good grades in college. Whether it be in a college classroom or interning for an employer, doing a good job results in increased opportunities for the future especially when being evaluated directly against other students or employees. Whether they are paid or not, interns will get a first-hand look at what’s entailed in actually working for an employer in the real world.

How unpaid internships may benefit students, such as:

  • How to be successful working for a boss.
  • The importance of adhering to a company dress code.
  • The importance of time management as well as getting to work on time and following company policy for breaks and lunch.
  • How to compromise and state opinions objectively.
  • How to work in a team environment.
  • How to handle conflicts and pressure in the workplace.
  • Developing a network of professionals for the future.
  • Creating a great addition to your resume.
  • How to get along with a diverse group of people.
  • Development of strong people skills whether it be in person, on the phone, or through emails and social networking sites.

Don’t get me wrong when I talk about the benefits of unpaid internships. As most people, I do advocate for finding paid internships whenever possible; but I am also a realist and work with students every day who just are not able to find a paid internship in their field of interest. Over time I think the practice of not paying interns will decrease as more employers may be forced to pay for the work completed by their interns. Although there is much ambiguity in Department of Labor’s Internship Guidelines, three employers recently had class action suits filed against them by their interns.

The above benefits can be invaluable to interns and may be considered just as valuable as health insurance is to any employee of a company. Learning the knowledge and skills required to be successful in the workplace is something that can’t be taught in any college or university. The personal connections you make and the mentoring you receive is also something unique to the workplace and can’t be gotten when sitting in a college classroom. Also, remember that networking is considered the #1 job search strategy when looking for a job. The value of having an internship on your resume can not be overlooked as well as the confidence you will gain by knowing you can transfer your college success to being successful in the real world.

Internships are also temporary which means there is always an end in sight. People often get burned out working for a long period of time in an industry but with an internship you know that in a couple of months you will be moving on to something else. If the internship proves to be an amazing experience, then hopefully the temporary internship will move into a full-time job. You will have already had the chance to try it out and see if it is a good fit for both you and the employer. The fact is that students don’t usually go into an internship with the same feeling as employees who have just accepted a full-time job.

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