Should I accept an unpaid internship?

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You’ve been searching for an internship for months. After countless applications, the day finally arrives when you’re offered an internship. However, you discover that this opportunity is unpaid. Your heart sinks. You question, should I accept the offer?

Why companies don’t pay interns

At first, an unpaid internship sounds like you’re being taken advantage of. Well, that’s because you are! Companies can be very short sighted. Those who don’t pay their interns view them as disposable minions who will add little value to the company. They’re only offering internships so they can score some free labor while appearing to care about empowering the next generation of employees. No matter how they spin it, saying you’re not being paid because of the “amazing opportunity” is pure bologna!

Hard work should be rewarded with pay. It’s as simple as that. When companies don’t pay their interns, they may score some free labor, but they alienate those interns from ever wanting to return (which is the complete OPPOSITE goal of why companies offer internships in the first place!)

So, should I accept it or not?

This is an extremely difficult question and one that shouldn’t be taken lightly. We’ll offer our opinion but realize that it’s purely general advice and doesn’t apply to everyone:

  • If you have no other opportunities available to you, you should accept the internship. An internship, even if it’s unpaid, is better than no internship. You’ll probably resent the company, but at least you can strengthen your resume. It’s not ideal, but it may be the only option.
  • If you have two opportunities, one paid and the other unpaid, and both are in your field of interest, we’d recommend taking the paid internship. By paying their interns, the company is signaling that they care about your development and you as a human. This will lead to a more productive internship. You don’t want to go to a place that is only going to give you minion work that adds nothing to your resume.

Try to get some money from these stingy b@*#rds

First off, if an unpaid internship is having you work more than 15 hours a week, they should pay you something. If it’s full-time, tell them you’d love to intern there, but considering it’s unpaid AND full-time, you need some type of compensation. Try to negotiate a living stipend, transportation reimbursement, meal reimbursement, or something.

If they still say that you won’t be paid but they expect you to work full-time, you should say, “I accept” (basically keeping them as a backup plan). You should then immediately try and find an internship somewhere else, even if that internship is at a small company. Just make sure it’s related to your field.

Try asking everyone you know, knocking on companies’ doors, and begging to have an internship. As soon as you find a better opportunity, ditch that unpaid, full-time gig and go somewhere that will appreciate you. Check out “Does it matter where I do my internship“, for more information on this topic.

Concluding thoughts

It is important to believe that hard work should be paid for. However, some companies believe that the experience they’re giving you is pay for your time. We call BS.

We all understand how big a bummer unpaid internships can be, but since an unpaid internship is temporary and it may be the only option at the time, you will still gain valuable experience from the opportunity.

This topic is not as clear cut as others. Try to take a step back, look at the long-term, and ask yourself, “Will this experience, even if it is unpaid, give me a better internship or full-time opportunity in the future?” If the answer is yes, then take the internship. If it is no, then move on.

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Nate is a co-founder and the leads course and curriculum development. He also happens to be the beautiful, energetic voice behind many videos.

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