What is an Unpaid Internship?
Internships commonly come attached to some kind of payment, but unpaid internships are also offered and although having a paycheck might be nice, these positions have benefits as well. Depending on your industry, unpaid internships may be more readily available than paid opportunities. Let's take a look at what you need to know about these options.
Job Responsibilities as an Unpaid Intern
If you take a position as an unpaid intern, your job responsibilities will be slightly different than if you work as a paid intern. By law, unpaid interns cannot replace paid employees, so the work you do is limited more to training than to actual tasks that can benefit the company. Lots of companies break the rules, but the best opportunities for you are with companies that comply.
Quick Fact: There are exceptions to the rule. For example, unpaid interns working as volunteers for non-profits are allowed to take on increased responsibilities.
Unpaid interns take more of an educational role with companies, similar to what you'd find with a vocational training program. This is especially helpful if you want to work in an extremely technical field where classroom learning may not necessarily prepare you to work in your industry.
Benefits of an Unpaid Internship
Most students like the paycheck that comes with a paid internship, but even if you aren't paid you can still enjoy some of benefits of paid internships.
Namely, whether an internship is paid or not, it will still give your resume a boost, making you a more attractive to employers in the future. With an internship, even if it is unpaid, you'll get more experience in the field, which employers find favorable.
Like paid internship, unpaid internships can help you secure references as well. When you apply for a job in the future, the potential employer will want to call references to learn about your experience, work ethic, and abilities. Your internship manager can be this reference - and because he or she actually worked with you in your industry of choice, this is a better reference than a college professor.
As an unpaid intern, you also get the added benefit of more education and training while working as an unpaid intern. Paid interns can complete any number of tasks, but due to federal laws that regulate what an unpaid intern can do, the focus will be more on your training.
Choosing an Unpaid Internship
Not all unpaid internships are created equally. Before you apply for a position advertised as an unpaid internship, make sure that the job will actually benefit you, rather than just being a way for the company to (often illegally) get people to work for them for free. Here are a few things to ask:
- Is there a stringent application process or are they willing to take anyone who applies?
- Has the company successfully offered an internship in the past?
- Does the company have a plan for your education while you're participating in the internship?
- Will the job be beneficial on your resume?
- How much will your time be spent learning about your industry versus doing work for the company?
- Does your college approve of the internship?
- Can you get a paid internship with a comparable company instead?
- How much college credit will you receive for the internship?
That last point is important - college credit. While you may not get paid in a traditional sense, most internships allow you to earn college credit, helping you get your degree while also gaining work experience. On the next page, we'll talk about earning this credit and working with your college to make sure you internship counts.
- In most cases, the law limits what tasks you can do as an unpaid intern. The concentration of the internship has to be your education, not benefiting the company.
- Like paid internships, unpaid internships still allow you to build your resume with industry experience. If you do a good job, you'll also gain a reference that you can use when applying to jobs in the future.
- Some unpaid internships are better than others. Make sure the position is a good fit for you before you take it.