Whether you have just graduated or you’re trying to get ahead in those final college years, an unpaid internship is going to be a part of the journey. It may be for course credit or experience, but it is a learning experience no matter what. There are also a few things anyone who had an unpaid internship can relate to:
1. Volunteer vs. Intern
As soon as your internship starts, you’ll feel inclined to make the distinction between volunteer and intern to everyone around you. For whatever reason, the term intern seems to draw more professional connotations even though a lot of the benefits you receive are similar to volunteering. I’ve yet to meet someone who refers to themselves as an “unpaid intern” so leaving it as simply intern leaves a sense of mystery.
2. Additional Job(s)
Unless you are in an incredibly fortunate situation where you can have an unpaid internship and don’t have to work, you are going to have to have some sort of paid employment. Getting through college is not cheap and if you just graduated, you must have a way to sustain your life in addition to the internship. This struggle is something many of us can relate to and it requires a lot of adjusting. This also forces you to decide if having this unpaid internship is worth it because if it is not going to get you ahead, it’s not worth the headache!
3. You Get All The Extra Work
If you’ve had an unpaid internship, over time you noticed that you were getting all the extra work. Since you weren’t getting paid there was no set limit on your tasks which resulted in a lot of late nights. A lot of time you also got the “grunt work” no one else wanted to do and since you were relatively new to the workforce it became your responsibility. Sometimes this aspect teaches you time management but other times it causes you to find any paying position to get away from this unpaid whirlpool.
4. Always Asking Questions
In the beginning of an unpaid internship you probably made sure to ask as many questions as possible because you wanted to learn about the industry. Often the questioning turns into a need for clarification because interns are often left out of the conversation. Not considered actual employees you are left with sending inquiring emails because you’re given assignments based on a meeting that you were not invited into. This disconnect is a definite pitfall of having an unpaid internship but the lesson you carry is that you will make sure everyone is included if you are ever in an upper management position.
5. Odd Hours
At times those in charge of your unpaid internship seem to forget that there are other aspects to your life. When you attempt to hold down an internship while still in school, you have to give constant reminders of your school schedule. On the other hand, when you land an internship once you’ve graduated, your boss seems to think that you have all the time in the world. Finding a balance or speaking up to get rid of uncertain hours is something anyone with an unpaid internship can relate to.
6. Crossing Fingers It Turns Into A Paid Position
This is the primary goal for anyone who takes on an internship. You hope that all the hours you put in without getting paid turns into a dream job. Although this is definitely not guaranteed, the drive is always present as an unpaid intern. We all want to be able to say we climbed the ranks and to reach a place where we can look back on intern struggles fondly.
Being in an unpaid internship is a struggle, but you can do it! Have you ever been in an unpaid internship? Tell us about it in the comments!
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Rebecca was born in Hayward, CA and still resides there today. She received her BA in English Creative Writing from San Francisco State University and is the first in her family to graduate from university. She is a Poetry student in the MFA program at Saint Mary’s College of California and is furthering her involvement in the literary community. In her spare time, she likes to lose her voice at Giants games, read Young Adult novels, make lists, and aims to cross become a writer off it.