Unpaid internships seem to be a necessary evil.
Especially if you’re in a competitive industry like media or arts. The question that’s plagued mankind for centuries is the ‘chicken and the egg’ scenario. You need experience for a job, but you need a job to get experience.
Having been through the intern mill and spat out the other side a slightly more experienced but definitely more out-of-pocket graduate, there are a few things you should know if you’re in the market for some ~life experience~.
Look at what’s being advertised
A lot of companies will advertise for their internship positions, and if you’re somehow in with a one-in-a-bazillion chance of being paid for your hard work, don’t read any further. Congrats. There are a lot of great companies advertising for interns that promise a decent program of fast-tracked experience so you can dip your toe in the industry. These are the best ones to aim for.
You most likely won’t be paid
Yeah, sorry… That’s the nature of the beast, unfortunately. In the current job market, most uni students will need to have some kind of experience before they can be trusted to get paid for what they do. This, in my personal opinion, isn’t fair. Volunteering is a great thing to have on your resume, and I would encourage anyone to do this, but there is a difference between working the hard slog hours for no benefit, and volunteering for a good cause. Be mindful of what they are asking for before you agree to an internship. Some people can bend the rules. Read more about your rights as an intern here.
Make sure you’re working on projects that directly link to the job you want
I started an internship with a start-up fashion label with two employees. I realised after three weeks of work that I was teaching them. If you have to do an unpaid internship to further your career, make sure you’re picking one that will teach you something. It’s not worth your money and time if you can’t get something in return for your hard work.
Set yourself a time limit
No one can work for free forever. It’s just not realistic and you shouldn’t be made to work for free for a long time. A lot of internships will be an average of three months. Some companies fast track it into two weeks if you want to do it on full-time hours. Either way, set yourself a limit and stick to it. Fulfill what you have committed to and finish up with a good reference. That’s what the internship is for.
Don’t slack off once you start
It can be really hard to keep up motivation for an internship if you’re not getting paid. But there is nothing worse than not making an impact in a workplace – no matter who you are. An unpaid internship could turn into a paid role in the company, and that makes all the hard work and unpaid hours worth it. If you come in to the office and do the bare minimum required, you won’t look any different from the other interns, and that’s not why you’re there.
Don’t stress too much, most of the time internships are pretty fun and you’ll learn a lot in a short space of time. Just make sure you know exactly what you want on your resume before you start working for free. If you work hard and impress them you’ll get a good reference and be one step closer to your career