There’s been a lot of furore over the last couple of years about the phenomenon of unpaid internships. Many people believe that they’re the only way cash-strapped businesses can offer valuable work experience to younger people – but there’s an active number of naysayers that believe unpaid internships favour those who can already financially support themselves.

So the question we’re asking today is – are unpaid internships worth it?

The benefits

Let’s first take a look at the benefits of accepting an unpaid internship.

  • The most obvious one seems to be that it’s great experience – and that’s something that employers really look for in today’s competitive job markets. It’s hard for businesses to take a leap of faith on an unproven candidate, but if they see they already have some form of working experience (paid or not), they’ll certainly look like a more appealing prospect.
  • Accepting one of these positions can also give you a great opportunity to network. Everyone you meet during your internship is someone to add to your professional network – who knows, they might be able to repay you with a job opportunity further down the line?
  • Lastly, you’ll get to spend some really valuable time in a functioning business, seeing how things work, learning from senior management figures and usually being mentored by someone at the firm. This type of education is totally different from what you’d learn in a classroom at university – but it’s no less important.

The downsides

  • Now for the bad news. A recent study in America by the National Association of Colleges and Employers found that graduates that settled for unpaid internships were only very slightly more successful than peers who hadn’t interned at all. The students that had managed to find paid internships enjoyed a huge advantage in terms of finding full employment.
  • To top it all off, graduates in the study that took an unpaid internship often ended up with jobs that had lower starting salaries than those who didn’t intern at all! Could unpaid internships actually damage your future earnings?!
  • Some companies offer internships to make themselves look like a socially responsible, community-oriented business – but some unpaid interns can find themselves doing menial work like making tea, filing documents and running errands for senior staff. This type of internship is obviously beneficial to no one but the business – and anyone that finds themselves on a scheme like this should look to bow out as soon as possible.

 

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