Unpaid Internships: Are they worth it?

Ah, unpaid internships, as much as I wish they would just go away I do believe they have given me things a pay check couldn't have.

Being a marketing major, I had a few different experiences with unpaid internship. Some good, some bad, both valuable. Do I believe I could have gotten some of the same experiences while being paid? Absolutely,  let me explain why.

Junior Year:  I had an internship at a science museum working as an event coordinator, specifically weddings.

Senior Year: I had an internship at a medical marketing company as a marketing coordinator.

Which was more valuable? The science museum.

The reason I say this is because I got a lot out of it besides just the work place and it was a better fit for me at that time.  I was exploring all different aspects of marketing since I had switched from engineering and I wasn't quite sure what I wanted.  Internships are very important for this very reason, to dabble in what you like and without a long term commitment.  Every single job will teach you skills, and give you experiences no matter the position or industry.  I understood that this internship was not paid because of the nonprofit nature. From this internship, I met a mentor who later helped me get acquainted with marketing agencies all throughout the city, some of which I would not have found without her help. She offered me "in's" and a letter of recommendation.  She also gave me advice on job searching and just what to expect after graduating. The science museum was well recognized throughout the Columbus area making it more recognizable for companies looking at me for future positions. This internship was also really valuable because it was only weekends, allowing me to get a job during the week. Which my bank account and I greatly appreciated. 

My second internship I would say was less valuable because it was a small company of 5 people.  A small company can lead to really great opportunities if you have the flexibility within the position to learn a lot and try new things.  It allows you to shine in your position, instead of getting lost in the shuffle of other interns.  With a small company though, I found it extremely hard to find a job after graduation.  No one had heard of the company, losing a lot of credibility for my hard work.  If I was lucky enough to have a company interview me, I could talk about my experiences until my face turned blue, but I found it really difficult to even get that door to open. I believed this would have been a good position even though it was unpaid because of the size, but I believe that was actually the downfall.  There was also no realistic reason this internship should have been unpaid, the company just wanted cheap labor.

Unpaid internships do offer value in the way of learning and growing in your career, but I also believe a paid internship will do the same, along with a pay check.  It is however, worth the opportunity if it is a really good company that you may not get in other wise, or a non-profit.  I would write down the pro's and con's of the company, position, and experience you are looking for and see if those outweigh a pay check.

Have you had any experiences with internships? What are your thoughts?