Unpaid Internship? Three Questions to Help You Decide.


If I asked you… “How’d you like to spend your summer vacation, before your last semester of college, working 7-hour days and earning zero dollars?” would your first response be, “Where do I sign up?”


I didn’t think so.


Although there are struggles to working for no income, I believe there is also much to be gained. Previous to my interning experience, I would never have even considered many of the things I have learned this summer. Sitting in my economics class, I never thought of or was taught the myriad of back end details of running a business.


I was fortunate enough to work for a company that was fairly small but growing faster than they were capable of handling. This meant interns played a key role in helping the business run smoothly. We got to be a part of every aspect from helping implement a new inventory management program, to sharing input on new product development, to even the smallest details like writing the note that goes into every customer package.

I feel like I got hands-on experience in every single aspect of the company.


Before starting my internship, I thought it would be sort of a Devil Wear’s Prada kind of thing. I thought I’d be the coffee getter, the girl who no one knows the name of, or a simple errand runner. And though my experience was more fulfilling than that, I have classmates whose job descriptions were pretty close to that.


If you are considering an internship, here are some suggestions I believe will help you pick the right one for you.


  1. When picking a place where you’ll be spending so much of your time and effort, research it.

  2. Talk to the employees who already work there or previous interns if you can. Get familiar with the company and the type of environment they have for the employees.

  3. Get the details on what type(s) of internship positions they offer. During my interview, I asked what a typical day might look like for me.


If you’ve got any anxiety or uncertainty about your future career, I know how you feel. As a student graduating in a few months and still unsure of exactly what I want to be doing after, I knew I needed to get a lot out of an interning experience.


Since in many internships, you’re not being paid, there a few keys to getting the most out of it.


Ask tons of questions.


Even if you believe the people around you won’t think those questions are important, ask anyway. Even if you’re not sure they’ll have the answers, ask anyway. Even if you’re not sure it applies to the company you’re working with, but could apply to business in general, ask.


Asking questions about anything and everything gives you a deeper of understanding of not only what you are doing but the reasoning behind why it’s done that way. That information can be beneficial for future jobs.


Always make an effort to become close with the people around you.


That’s another thing I have learned in my few months of being an intern. On my first day, I wasn’t entirely fond of one of my fellow interns. Now, we will be lifelong friends. Besides the friendship, she has introduced me to multiple companies that I would potentially be interested in applying with that I otherwise never would have heard of.


Every person I have worked with has given me valuable tips, advice, and connections I would have never been able to make had it not have been for this unpaid internship.


Ask to work with people as high up in the company as possible, even if for only a portion of the time you’re there.


One of the best opportunities I was given was that on certain days I got to work closely with the founder of the company. She shared so much with me and the other interns. She shared with us the experiences she has had as well as her future plans for the company, which has been immensely helpful and inspiring.


The most interesting part of this internship was being able to watch the interactions that make a company run; the customers with the employees, the team members with each other, and the members of the company with other sources they use. It not only gave me a better understanding of how real life business operations work but also the sort of future environment I want to be a part of.


Overall, I would highly recommend taking an unpaid internship for a company that you truly believe would be a good fit. Even though I was financially broke all summer and had to go without a lot of the time, the knowledge and experience I gained from these few months were priceless. I would choose to do it over and over again.


Written by Lily Sutherland



Did you find this information helpful? I’d love to hear your own thoughts and experience. Plus, if you know anyone else who could benefit, please send them the link so they can check it out too.


photos by STIL and Crew



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