I remember the first internship I ever had. It was unpaid. I have read a lot of articles of late detailing the perils of unpaid internships, and how in the current economic slump, the significantly overqualified among us are snapping them up in a desperate attempt to stay “employed.” I also read a lot about how very difficult life as an unpaid intern is, and how people sometimes take chances with internships, assuming that they’ll be able to convert them into jobs or “get their foot in the door,” but then…nothing happens.
Couple things. First, not all unpaid internships are made equal. It’s not smart to get one just to get one. You want to find one that both matches your abilities and interests and has the potential to be a step in the path towards your next career move–even if nothing specifically comes from the internship itself.
Next, many internships are what you make of them. A lot of them require menial tasks or labor in some form or fashion. What can we say–you really have very little work experience, and not many employers are going to trust you with stuff that needs to get done.
So how do you make sure you can come away with something useful? Here are some ideas:
1) Specifically ask your manager for at least one project you would like to see on your resume. This may have to be self-designed. Design it well.
2) Internships are about connections. Be sure you go to any and all social functions available to you while you’re interning. Make friends and listen to the advice of those that have gone before. Regardless of whether or not you successfully maintain those connections, you’re building soft skills and gaining insights that will one day be the extra mile you need to get a job.
Finally, ignore people that say unpaid internships aren’t worth it. They totally are. As with anything else in life, however, it’s important to be strategic. Make sure you are, and I promise, you won’t regret it.