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Your Take: Ever Take an Unpaid Internship?

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When I was in college, I had internships nearly every summer of the year. In each of those internships, I was paid a decent salary and never once had to decide whether or not to take an unpaid internship. I remember what I was like back then and if the right opportunity opened up, chances are I’d have worked for free if I could convince my parents to stake me for the summer.

I was fortunate in that I was in college during much of the dot com boom so all my internships were paid. It also helps that the idea of an unpaid internship, for “experience,” isn’t popular in technology. It happens a lot more in other industries where the need for experience trumps all.

In most instances, unpaid internships are illegal. The Department of Labor has really tight criteria for what internships can be unpaid and very few internships apply. There was no chance of my internships would’ve been legitimately unpaid, though there are plenty of illegal unpaid internships!

Have you ever taken an unpaid internship?

{ 6 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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6 Responses to “Your Take: Ever Take an Unpaid Internship?”

  1. I would not take an unpaid internship unless that was my last possible option.

    I think companies should pay folks a reasonable wage for the work and expertise they bring to the table. Certainly, what folks are doing at internships requires more skill than someone working at McDonalds making minimum wage?

  2. Brandon says:

    I would (and have) taken an unpaid internship.

    I wanted to work in the media/entertainment biz and experience trumps all, so I took an unpaid internship in my final semester of grad school and got valuable experience and contacts (not to mention college credit). It def helped.

    As a kid fresh out of college in a crowded industry, you have zero leverage, and companies know this and so they take advantage. I’m glad it’s becoming more of a hot-button issue.

  3. dmosinee says:

    I would only consider it if it were part of a very clearly defined route to a real job. If the companies official policy was that any intern who makes it 6 months without screwing up gets a paid position, for instance.

    I’m fortunate that as an engineer I didn’t have to deal with any of that nonsense — I was able to get a solid entry level job immediately out of college and build from there.

    In the general case though, I believe that the current problems with unpaid internships are just an extension of our bigger job market problems. If there were jobs available for all the people who wanted to work, employers wouldn’t have so much leverage to jerk people around.

  4. Ann says:

    I have taken an unpaid internship and it ultimately led me to my job that I have now. I moved to a new city after I got married, and knew no one in my field. I only worked two days a week and the work was actually interesting to me. I was still able to job hunt & interview on the side since I didn’t know if the internship would lead to anything.

    The experience kept me busy, and I was able to put something active on my resume. I met a slew of new people, and skills. After my internship ended, they hired me on full-time so yes –I would totally recommend it.

  5. freeby50 says:

    No, like Dmosinee above, I’m an engineer and didn’t have to deal with this nonsesne. I think my internship paid like $15/hr over 15 years ago. It seems like exploitation to not pay interns unless its TRUELY just a learning experience solely for the benefit of the intern, which seems never the case.

  6. Unpaid internships are very common for law students. I would say the vast majority of first year law students work an unpaid position during their first summer of law school.

    I think it really seems to vary by profession.

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