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COLUMN: If you’re good at something, never do it for free

It’s a vicious cycle juniors and seniors have been dealing with for years.

You need experience to get a job out of college. In order to get the experience, you need an internship. We are so desperate for this experience that we’d do just about anything to snag one – we’d even work for free.

Unpaid internships are all too common within recent years, and they’re unfair to students.

You work at a job for no money, without any promise of an actual career to follow. The experience you receive from an internship can only provide an introductory level of experience, and it’s not worth signing up for free labor.

I know first hand the difficulty of unpaid internships.

I wrote for a website that covered a Major League Baseball team, where my job, for the most part, was to cover their minor league affiliate about 40 miles away.

From April to September, I drove 80-plus miles three times a week. I worked late nights, watched games, wrote the articles, edited them and sent them before driving back home – only to do it all over the next day, for free.

Between another job and a full class schedule, my compensation, paired with my expenses, was never worth my time.

Don’t do what I did – don’t settle for any internship that is thrown your way. There are many internships out there and a lot of them pay for your work, offer college credit or a combination of both.

My advice is to look for internships that offer both money and college credit first. If that doesn’t pan out, find one that only pays, followed by one that only gives college credit. Don’t even consider one that offers neither.

It’s insulting.

You shouldn’t have to go through so much work to get basic experience. You should be getting what you need from your classes, from professors who have either worked in the field or are experts in the field you are pursuing.

Unpaid internships are outdated. Follow the words that I was once told by an old mentor of mine – if you’re good at something, never do it for free.

4 Comments

  1. Florence Schneider says:

    This is a pretty ignorant editorial. The real benefit of internships is not the “experience,” and not the “money,” it is the networking connections!

    When you graduate, your prospective employer will want to speak with people who you have worked for in your chosen field. These references – which often address your character and work ethic – are more valuable for the long-term than any small salary you may gain.

    Also, if you are well-liked and demonstrate good work-ethic, the people you interned for and with will become your “eyes and ears” for a potential full-time, well-paying, job.

    Sure, money is nice, but it is not everything. Take the internship that will provide you the most opportunity to know people in your profession, even if it is unpaid. Even if it is clerical. The connections and the references will be worth much more in the long-term.

    • Not all internships are for connections, so no reason to call this editorial ignorant.
      His whole point is you shouldn’t settle. And in most cases, if your mind is set high enough, there won’t be a reason for you to settle.

      No reason to spend that much on an “education” to just go and do something for free. There are way too many opportunities out there than just sitting at a desk and answering phones for free…while..eh hem..”making connections.” I’m SURE you’ll make connections at a free internship. Maybe in NYC or something. Not in Michigan.

      • florence schneider says:

        Well, Junior, you do.

        If you can get a good internship that provides networking opportunities, experience, and pay, TAKE IT! However, don’t accept a lesser position with fewer long-range opportunities just because pays a few bucks.

        • I didn’t say anything about accepting a “lesser” position with “fewer long-range opportunities” just because it pays a few bucks. I didn’t say that at all, actually.

          That was defensive for no reason. It’s almost as if you believe paid internships are automatically a lesser position with fewer long-range opportunities.

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