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Working as an unpaid intern exposes you to real workplace life
While it might seem counterintuitive to work as an unpaid intern, there are a lot of potential upsides to be gained from participating in this type of on-the-job training program. In addition to giving you an inside look at how a particular business or industry operates, working as an unpaid intern also allows you to meet professionals currently working in the field who may be able to provide career advice and direction.
Real-World Learning Environment
An unpaid internship gives you an opportunity to get a type of professional experience that isn’t always easy to come by in other traditional workplace environments. Interns typically have the chance to learn a little bit about different aspects of a company as a whole, which can help provide an in-depth overview about a particular business or industry.
Working as an unpaid intern creates an opportunity to make valuable contacts in your business or industry. You’ll get to know different people in different positions and learn about their backgrounds, credentials and specific job duties. Stay in touch with these people after your internship ends. It may open the door to job leads or employment opportunities down the road.
Learning New Skills
If you’re changing career paths and moving in an entirely new direction professionally, working as an unpaid intern offers two distinct advantages: you get to learn new skills in real time, and you get the opportunity to assess whether the career switch is right for you.
Gaining Answers to Questions
When you go into a job as a paid employee, there's an expectation that you’ll have certain skills and traits that allow you to quickly jump on board and do your job effectively in relatively short order. It’s understood that interns are in a learning phase, which means you’ll be encouraged to ask questions, try your hand at various tasks and learn about a wide range of business functions that you might not necessarily be exposed to as a regular employee.
Securing Full-Time Employment
Many companies end up hiring interns for entry-level positions following the completion of their unpaid rotation. In other words, you can consider your internship as an audition or trial run that allows you to showcase your skills, impress the boss and essentially gain an inside track to becoming an employee. In this sense, even though you aren't being paid initially, the experience eventually can pay off.
Building Your Resume
If you're fresh out of college or new to the workforce, you may feel like your resume is a little lean on work experience. Working as an unpaid intern gives you something to put in your bio that demonstrates to a potential future employer that you have applicable skills and experience. In crafting this resume, highlight what you learned and the skills you acquired, and, if possible, ask your intern manager for a letter of recommendation.
Earning College Credit
Some colleges recommend or even mandate internships as a requirement for graduation, which essentially allows you to double dip—meeting a class requirement while gaining valuable experience. Certain restrictions and requirements might be in place regarding what kind of internship counts, so check with your college counseling office prior to starting an internship.
How to Find Internships
If you’re a student, your college career counseling or job placement department likely has leads with companies willing to take on interns. If you aren’t associated with an educational institution, contact the human resources office of the company you’re interested in working with. Ask about internships, job shadowing or workplace training opportunities you might be qualified for.
Lisa McQuerrey has been a business writer since 1987. In 1994, she launched a full-service marketing and communications firm. McQuerrey's work has garnered awards from the U.S. Small Business Administration, the International Association of Business Communicators and the Associated Press. She is also the author of several nonfiction trade publications, and, in 2012, had her first young-adult novel published by Glass Page Books.