Is the Unpaid Internship worth it?
In times of recession and tight labour markets, young job seekers and university graduates are often advised to apply for internships- even if they are unpaid- to help start their career. Internships can be a great way to learn new skills, gain practical experiences and expand your network. But there are things to consider.
Learning Skills vs Devaluing your Work
An internship should always be an opportunity to learn and gain practical experiences. This is especially true for unpaid internships. When there is no other form of compensation, you want to make sure that the benefits to be gained balance out the time and effort you invest.
Before you decide on accepting an unpaid position, consider whether you will get out what you put in. This is important for your self-worth as well as your career prospects. You should always be able to clearly show how the unpaid internship was a valuable part of your career entry strategy. Otherwise you may end up not only putting in a lot of hard work for nothing, you also risk signalling to prospective employers that your skills are worth exactly that- nothing!
Gaining Experience vs Exploiting your Labour
Wherever there is power, there is someone willing to exploit it. In tense labour markets, some employers will take advantage of the situation and use unpaid internships as a way to gain free labour.
Before entering into any unpaid position, do your research on the company. Talk to former interns if you can. If you feel you are being pressured in a manipulative way or you begin noticing that you might be used as a free worker rather than given a valuable internship experience, trust your own judgment! Do not be afraid to end such a situation because you are concerned about negative effects on your CV or future job prospects. Staying in such a situation will be harmful to you personally as well as to the labour market over all. The practice decreases employment opportunities for everyone.
Time well Invested vs Money Lost
Time spent on an internship is time not spent on other things. This includes studying of course but also working a part-time job or time invested in searching for paid employment.
Consider any loss of income and what it will mean for your longer-term financial situation. Do the networking opportunities outweigh the effects on your student loan payments? Will this internship build up your resume enough to justify entering the working world less financially independent than you might be otherwise?