An unpaid internship: You may be asking, Why would I do that? We asked one of our summer interns about her recent internship experience and what she took away from it.
Q: You were an unpaid intern this summer. How do you feel about doing work without getting a paycheck?
A: First of all, I want to say that my internship was an incredible experience. I interned with a local advocacy organization and had a wonderful mentor who taught me a lot. I viewed the internship as more of a learning experience. I had a set number of projects and tasks to complete, but even though I was able to contribute, I felt I was learning a lot. As far as being unpaid, the experience itself is more valuable than a paycheck.
Q: In what ways was being an unpaid intern worth more than working a part-time job during the summer?
A: Actually, I was able to do both! My InternWorks internship had flexible hours that allowed me to complete my required intern hours and also have a summer job.
Q: What made you decide to have an internship at this time in your life?
A: I’ll be a senior in high school this year. Midway through my junior year, I realized that I didn’t really have loads of time to figure out what I might someday want to do as a profession. I thought that if I had an opportunity to learn about a career in high school, I would be better prepared to choose a major in college. I am considering majoring in social work, so my internship with an advocacy organization was a good fit.
Q: What are some examples of how your internship prepared you for college or future employment?
A: Getting first-hand experience as an intern gave me a glimpse of what it might be like in this career area. There are many areas of advocacy, and I discovered employees with a variety of skills are needed. For example, communication skills are so important because engaging others is part of the job. So is being organized, detail-oriented, and working as part of a team. All of these are skills that will help me going forward.
Q: Your InternWorks internship program also required you to complete career-readiness assignments. Did you feel like you were in summer school?
A: No, not at all! I won’t lie, some of the assignments were very intense. I spent many hours on my interview preparation assignment. Some things in school just are not taught, so I felt the assignments were valuable–and they helped me during my internship.
Q: What do you mean?
A: One assignment was to update my LinkedIn profile. It turned out that I needed to use LinkedIn during my internship to make connections with people and organizations. As a result, I started building my own personal network, which was exciting. Another thing I learned was how to ask for a letter of recommendation–it’s not as easy as you might think. Writing my own elevator pitch was also tough. But I have it ready to go if I am ever at a career fair or other networking event.
Q: Why do you think it’s important to network now?
A: I’ve heard the saying, “It’s not what you know, but who you know.” I realize that education, skills, and a good work ethic are crucial, but making professional connections will give me an opportunity to communicate my background and goals to the right people. I have learned that you never know when you might meet a person who may have the perfect opportunity in my area of interest. I know now that adding contacts, making social connections, and leaving a lasting impression could open many doors–even now.
Q: What have you learned about yourself?
A: Three months ago, if someone asked me “What do you want as a career?” I don’t think I would have a clue about how to answer that. But during my internship, I found out what I enjoy (and don’t enjoy) doing. For example, I am a good writer–something that doesn’t really require interacting with others. But the internship forced me to go a little out of my comfort zone, and guess what? It turns out I have a knack for talking to people. I thought I was shy, but it turns out I am very comfortable reaching out to people I have never met.
Q: What are your plans for college and beyond?
A: I have been accepted to my number one college choice and have decided to be a business major. I will take as many sociology and policy electives as I can, but my internship taught me that a solid business background will be very helpful. If I change my mind about what I want to do someday, I think I will have more options. Who knows, I may get an internship next summer in marketing and decide that’s what I want to do. That is what is so great about internships. I can find out earlier, rather than later, what it is I want to succeed at.
At InternWorks, we believe self-discovery is paramount for students trying to figure out what they want to do–whether it’s choosing a college or major, an internship or future job, or a career path. An unpaid experience-based internship has its advantages: it gives students insight into a career along with providing experience, new skills, and career-readiness tools that will set students up for success. A paycheck is temporary; an experience is forever.