Chances are, you have recently pondered over a hiring post in social media where the company was looking for 'unpaid interns' and you thought to yourself, 'this sounds like a good opportunity, but should I really work for free?' But then you took a good look at your resume and decided to 'gain some experience', applied and congrats(!), you are hired on your first job (!). And from then on, you can only hope that your time to be worthwhile while staring down at the barrel of a corporate gun.
So, this is me, staring right back up at you, who has already travelled through the funnel and hopes to guide you into choosing the right internship for your career.
'Gaining Experience' is overrated
First of all, you need to understand the hook of an unpaid internship. Everyone tells you that it is good because, "Hey, it is better than just sitting at your home doing nothing, right?
You get to 'gain some experience''' So, you do it, you spend months and months of your life, elevating a company that is probably not even on Google Maps to fill the spaces of your CV. Just so you can say at your entry-level job interview, " I worked for a company you do not really know about, and they did not deem me good enough to pay me. Will you hire me now?" In fact, statistically speaking, unpaid interns end up with a much worse starting salary at their full-time job than interns/ part-timers who indeed were on the payroll.
How To Sell Your Unpaid Internship
So if you are accepting an unpaid internship because you will get added benefits later, forget it. I understand you must be thinking right now, "Of course paid interns start at a much better salary, but I do not even get accepted into unpaid internships, I must be good for nothing!" Well, I cannot change your mind with one article, but hopefully, you will trust Tyler Durden when he says
"You're the all singing all dancing you-know-what of the world."
And that is where our second point lies.
Stop Selling Yourself Short
I cannot begin to emphasise how important this point is. I recently founded my own company, Offset Interactive, and one day, my partner received a text on his phone from this amazing guy who wanted to be a part of our company and did not want any payment to start with. Now, I loved the proposition of working with someone who also wanted to work with me but why would this individual not want any cash in return for his services? Then I realised, the only reason corporations get to exploit these amazing young people is that these hard-working people do not know how to measure the value they can provide to the company. Needless to say, we offered the guy an internship (of course a paid one) and he has truly been an inspiration even for me through his work ethic and deliverables.
So, yes, even if you think that you cannot do something, you are wrong. If you are good at English, congrats, there are a lot of companies seeking good client communicators, you can provide value there. You are only familiarising yourself with Adobe Illustrator? No worries, a lot of companies need a basic level design that can even be done with Canva! You just have to look out for the right opportunities and decline any offer that does not pay.
Do you still think you are good for nothing? Well, then the next lines are meant for you.
Focus on Personal Development
Your undergrad years are far too precious to be giving away to someone else free of cost. This is the only time where you get to explore the horizon and spend hours learning stuff without feeling exasperated after a day's work or guilty for not giving enough time to the family during the weekend (breaking news, continuing to learn is tough when you are an adult with different responsibilities).
So, if you feel you are good for nothing, then you can also learn things for free on Youtube, become skilled without being burnt out or listen to your boss's whining about how you never do anything right, and land yourself a job that you are good that will pay for itself in the long run!
If you do not know where to start, start from absolute zero. If you are a BBA student, learn the basics of PowerPoint, I have only so many clients yet I need to make slides every day! If you are into coding, open a git and work your way into showcasing a product. If you are an architect, make a box! How hard could it be, right?
If none of these applies to you, you can still outline your goals and work your way up into becoming a better version of yourself that people will gladly pay for.
See, Facebook does not have unpaid interns. Google, Amazon, Microsoft pays thrice the amount to their interns in comparison to what we pay our experienced executives with years of experience.
Bangladesh is an overwhelmingly underpaying country in general, and the only reason the company where you are applying does not want to pay you is that either the company does not have the money to pay you, or the organisation does not value your work enough to pay you.
So, speaking from personal experience, even after a gruelling unpaid internship, if you find yourself in an extremely underpaying offer letter, I hope you realise it was not worth it all along. And 5 years down the line, while editing out the unpaid internship from your resume because there is just not enough space, your mind will wander about the things you could have in those wasted 6 months instead.
So, should you never consider an unpaid internship? Well, actually, no! There is are special circumstances where unpaid work can prove to be valuable too.
The Right Kind of Free Work
Lately, I have become interested in data science and was looking for opportunities to learn more from a veteran or build a better portfolio. Now, if you are looking to explore a certain horizon you know nothing about, and your previous resume does not compliment you, an unpaid internship can help you understand if this career switch is going to be worthwhile for you. You just have to make sure,
a) you are moving into a more learning-based program, and
b) the company is not substituting a real-life employee with your work.
So, yes, if an unpaid internship is offering the scopes to learn (and only learn), not utilising you in vacant spots of employees (that they are not willing to pay for) and generating revenue off of you, then yes, you should consider the learning curve and enjoy the process.
For example, if your manager is giving you a task to create a presentation so that you understand how to curate your presentation better, it is perfectly fine. But, if your manager is telling you to create a presentation to send to a client, and creating chances to make money without paying you, well, you just got exploited.
And if you do not know it yet, please, do not let yourself get exploited.
Want to prepare yourself better for the job market? Leave a note at firstname.lastname@example.org