Blog Barista: Eman Hubbard | Aug 20, 2018 | Workplace | Brew time: 6 min

It’s that time again. Summer is fast-approaching, and undergraduates are plotting their next move. Part-time job? Maybe. Travel? If I had the funds. Internship? Depends, is it paid? These were some of the thoughts that ran through my mind in the course of my final college years. I get it, college tuition isn’t cheap and bills still need to be paid.

Depending on the industry, paid internships can be few and far between. In the fields of technology and engineering, it’s likely an intern’s efforts will be compensated. However, that has not been the standard with other professions. The idea behind unpaid internships begins with a company needing assistance and a student (typically) needing experience. Corporations and companies alike believe it’s easier and cost effective to hire an unpaid intern than it is a paid one. However, not all is lost if paid internships are unavailable. Despite the stigma, unpaid internships have benefits that are constantly overlooked.

From Breakroom Barista Bloggers shelfs

While enrolled, I juggled the idea working part-time because I couldn’t afford to take unpaid jobs. “Volunteer” positions are commonly associated with working long hours with no reward. They’re looked at as free labor that takes advantage of a student’s inexperience.

During undergrad I was one of the many students scanning job boards attempting to lockdown a job opportunity for the winter and summer months. Grimacing with disinterest, I quickly dismissed unpaid positions because I thought I was better than that. “I know my worth,” I would chant, clicking delete every time “unpaid” flashed across my screen.

Days quickly flew into weeks without hearing from potential employers. With uncertainty clouding my thoughts, those unpaid positions started to look appealing. Any experience is better than none, right?

Throughout my undergraduate career I completed four internships. While each held their benefits, I found the unpaid positions not only helped me land full-time employment within 3 months of graduating, but it shaped me into the professional I aspired to be.

People often proclaim that paid internships are the key to future work. It is not the paid characteristic that increases a students’ chances. The key to employment is experience, regardless of where it is obtained. Over the course of my internships, I have learned that even though there can be some bad cases, most unpaid internships have their advantages. Since then, I discovered 5 reasons why my unpaid experience was beneficial to my pursuit as a professional.

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1.  Networking

Networking is not talked about often during one’s college career. Finishing up my last year at Michigan State University, I had very little connections outside my graduating class. While working as an unpaid intern I was able to chime in on B2B meetings, franchise development, and brokers conferences. All of which created opportunities to network and therefore spiked my appeal to recruiters and employers.

Though a company may not give monetary reimbursement, having the ability to connect with seasoned veterans in the field will promote self-development. As I connected with the professionals I met through LinkedIn, I realized that my name was getting out there. The phrase, “It’s all about who you know,” has truth to it because in turn, these professional were the ones giving me references that I could use during interviews. Let’s face it, every employer can read a resume, but those who have leaders backing their experience will be placed to the top of their hiring list.

Networking is an important skill during any student’s college career. By completing an unpaid internship, undergraduates will still have the chance to meet people who are breaking barriers in the industry. The opportunity to network isn’t reserved for only paid internships.

2.  Experience

Although the unemployment rate has decreased in recent years, it does not entitle recent graduates with a job. With more and more people receiving degrees and high value credentials, the playing field has become as competitive as ever.

So, what sets a person above the rest? Experience.

Everyone’s resume is going to say they graduated from so-and-so college, but previous experience illustrates why a person should be hired. Unpaid internships—if chosen correctly—will give you hands-on experience. A student has the ability to use theory learned in the classroom on real projects. During unpaid internships, employers often give their interns time to test parts of the industry they are interested in and add more valuable experience to their resume.

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3.  Refine Skills

When I started working at one of my unpaid internship, I had very little knowledge about analytics. So, my supervisor included me in budget meetings and during development of an ad campaign. After passing the required certifications, I was given a seat at the table to discuss strategy for boosting conversions for the following quarter. This skill not only grew throughout the four months I was there but became an asset when I started my career in digital marketing.

Refining and developing skills are important because it takes one of the theories I learned from MKT 310 (International and Comparative Dimensions of Business) into practice. Organizations that offer unpaid internships are likely to include interns in projects to either observe or participate. To miss out on an internship just because it isn’t paid is to lose out on becoming a better professional.

4.  Full-employment opportunity

Many students go into internships with the hopes they are offered a full-time position. According to NACE, research has shown that interns with experience from their current employer had over 70% of a retention rate, which is over a 20% increase compared to those without internship experience.

Internship opportunities typically arise because employers are looking to test the pool of applicant that could potentially fill a full-time position. If a person takes a position and works hard at it, they have a good chance of transitioning the internship into a full-time, salaried offer.

5.  Portfolio

Are you familiar with the expression, “proof is in the pudding?”

It not only hits home when it comes to cooking, but future employment as well. When applying for full-time positions, a person can say practically anything under the sun about their accomplishments. However, nothing beats having concrete proof. That is when a portfolio shines.

Many believe portfolios are valuable among the entertainment industry, but portfolios can provide an upper-hand against competing applicants in any field. By volunteering, students get to display the accomplishments they achieved. Taking an unpaid internship with the intent of creating a polished portfolio will land upcoming alumni job offers before crossing the graduation stage.

So, even though it sounds grueling taking an unpaid internship, the long-term rewards are worth it. When scrolling through the job postings, do not glance over a position that lacks an hourly wage. Research and if it looks like it is a good opportunity, take advantage of it.

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