3 Ways Unpaid Internships Pay

Like many college students, I didn't understand how vital internships are until late in my academic career. I had that natural student mindset, "everything would be okay" and, "I'll land a job somehow after graduation." If I hadn't attended a professional development workshop supported by my fraternity's alumni association, I would have learned the hard way I'm not entitled to anything. I was on the phone with my mother when I received an e-mail announcing a career workshop being arranged via my fraternity. I asked her, "Should I go to this?" She laughed and simply responded, "Why wouldn't you go? What's more important than your future?" So, I went. Lo and behold, it changed my life. Thank you, Mom.

Ways Unpaid Internships Pay

The career seminar entailed one eye-opening lesson after another. Everything I learned immediately caused me to say to myself, "Jeez, I wish I knew that when I was a Freshman." While the workshop taught me a number of things related to personal and professional development, the one thing that stuck out for me was the noticeable fact how unprepared I was for life after graduation. I was lacking a critical variable: experience. I had prior workplace experience, but none of it was relevant to any of the industries I was curious about getting involved in. I knew I had to make-up for lost time so I went wild my last semester of college and got three separate internships. One was in radio, the other in marketing, and ironically, the third was with CAREEREALISM. I was worried though, because none of them were paid internships. I was in college and didn't have much money. Wow, was I wrong. The internships may not have contributed to my life in a monetary way, but they sure paid-off in other ways. The following explains how a single internship experience compares financially against the benefits of a full-time position at a business.

1. Paycheck = Exposure to Acceptable Workplace Conduct

In a full-time job, you're compensated for the work you do by virtue of money. In an unpaid internship, your compensation is witnessing the realities of the workplace environment first-hand. For many of us, proper etiquette in an office setting comes natural. For others, it doesn't. By working in an office, you'll be exposed to some or all of the following:
  • Appropriate dress code
  • Co-worker team work
  • Acceptance of authority
  • Humility or understanding your role
  • Development of office-phone behavior

2. Benefit Packages = Permanent Branding Opportunities

Owning a good benefits package is extremely comforting for any employee. It's something you know will remain static as long as you stay employed, and you can rely on it when necessary. Obviously, no intern is going to be offered medical or life insurance. So, what sort of comparison can we make? Well, what about references? Any person you establish a positive relationship with during an internship, can be used as a reference for further employment opportunities. Having those connections is the same as owning professional benefits, they'll always be there when you need them. And, let's not forget the benefit of having something to actually put on your resume. These internships showcased me as a young professional, not as a hourly part-timer. All three of them supported my efforts to properly brand myself. The benefit of looking good on paper (and on-line) made me more confident and secure in my abilities to succeed.

3. Job Perks = Industry Comparison

It must be nice to have a company car and parking space close to the building. Or, to be able to write off your car mileage. What about putting things on the company card? That's probably cool, too. I've never experienced such utilities but I bet it emits a feeling of ease. Well, the same can be said for an internship. One profit of an internship is the fact there is no long-term commitment. Participating in an internship offers the convenience of tolerating a number of career industries before getting stuck in one. Wouldn't you agree that supports a feeling of ease? Actually, you know what would be best? If we engaged in internships prior to declaring a college major so we could pick a major affiliated with our industrial interests. Darn, I wish someone told me that in high school. Photo credit: Shutterstock

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