Unpaid Internships

Linnea Osterberg

At about this time last year I found myself in a fix. Not only were finals approaching with a frightening rapidity, but worse still, I had no summer job. Faced with an empty summer and an increasingly sparse resumé, I took action. I scoured local newspaper’s classifieds (via the internet), read up on tourist spots close to where I live, and nagged my family to keep their eyes peeled for any ‘Hiring’ signs.

The results were less than spectacular. Looking for a summer job so late in March, the classifieds offered me nothing. Family came up empty as well. I did however find a nearby museum that looked ripe for an internship or part-time position. I emailed them and hurrah! They would be delighted to interview me for a summer internship. I got the internship and also the disappointing news that it would be unpaid. That, however, was the only time I was ever disappointed during the entire experience. Because it was a small museum, I was able to try my hand at everything from exhibit design to working with the stored collections. The support from the other staff and the ability to be flexible about what I was doing made the summer a great learning experience and a lot of fun.

But why am I talking about this now? It was after all, last year. The reason is that I was recently offered another job, paid this time, and I owe much of that to my experience last summer. When applying for any job, experience is important but so are references. In the email offering me the job, my interviewer mentioned my glowing recommendations as one of the reasons she was excited to welcome me aboard.

So yes, I did spend a summer not working for pay. But the resulting connections and references have been more than worth it. I now not only have a paid job in a place I’ve always wanted to work, I also have a network of people who not only would be delighted to work with me again, but are more than happy to tell other people how great an employee I am. And that is something that can’t be beat.

Clearly, I’m very lucky. I have very supportive parents who, in exchange for a certain amount of housework, were very happy to help me so I could do the internship over the summer. I realize that not everyone can afford to spend a summer not getting paid. If, however, you find an internship (paid or not) in your area of study and you have the means to take it – do it. It can feel frustrating at times, knowing you are working so hard for something you may not even be getting paid for, but the pay-off in terms hands-on experience, connections, and potential references more than balances out.

So seek far and wide for that perfect summer job that will pay you amazingly and give you a great experience, but remember: an unpaid internship is not the end of the world, often it is just the beginning.

Be Sociable, Share!

Comments are closed.

Blog authors are solely responsible for the content of the blogs listed in the directory. Neither the content of these blogs, nor the links to other web sites, are screened, approved, reviewed or endorsed by McGill University. The text and other material on these blogs are the opinion of the specific author and are not statements of advice, opinion, or information of McGill.