DecemberMagazineOpinion

Point & Counter. Are unpaid internships worth it?

Hell no unpaid internships are not worth it.

The allure of an unpaid internship is the promise of learning new skills, gaining valuable insights into the workings of a professional environment, and a unique opportunity for you to get your foot in the door to jumpstart your career. But for struggling and cash-strapped students, such promises are a mere mirage in a desert.

Let’s start with the most obvious reason: opportunity cost. An unpaid internship requires the same amount of time as a full-time job. So the eight hours a day you’re spending at a desk doing entry-level work could be spent doing stuff that actually gets you paid.

Now you might be thinking, “Well, the experience will make it all worthwhile.” Stop right there so I can tell you that such hopes aren’t worth the risk, and I speak from experience. Don’t believe this fantasy that an internship will grant you secret insights into your career field, that’s like thinking that Trump University holds the secrets to becoming a hot real estate mogul. An internship is nothing more than a glossy titled volunteer position.

Now maybe your supervisors might trust you with more significant duties so that you can really show them what you’re capable of, but that really depends if you gel with the rest of the crew, which is no guarantee. It’s just as likely that you’ll hardly interact with the people in your environment, leaving you to count the days until your internship is finally over so that you can do something more meaningful, like seek paid employment to pay off that student debt. Considering the amount of time you’re spending on that when you could be working to pay the bills, or actually finding better (and paid) ways to start your career, the perceived value of an unpaid internship falls apart.

Don’t buy the hype about unpaid internships. The benefits they promise like experience and learning new skills depend on a plethora of ifs that make it a huge gamble for you to wisely invest your time into. Or to put it in shorter terms: no pay, no way.

— Nathan Fung


A paid internship is just too good to be true, so an unpaid one is worth it.

Here’s the thing: I get the whole “poor student” debacle, and the importance of making money, even if you’re only thinking short term because you want to eat more than KD all day every day and actually have a social life that consists of going out for drinks. So I get that unpaid internships don’t seem that great, but they’re worth it in the long run.

Internships give you “experience.” But learning how to manage time, organize, work in a team, be responsible, and practice specialized skills are not the be-all and end-all. It’s part of it, but there’s more to landing a stable career than simply having experience. And maybe experience to you isn’t just for resume-building purposes. Maybe you’re indecisive and need experience in a given field to convince yourself whether or not to pursue that career path. Think of it as a trial-and-error period in your life. In both cases, you’ll gain experience from an unpaid internship.

The unfortunate reality is that a university degree simply doesn’t cut it anymore. Sure, you may have a high GPA and have taken classes that function in abstractions to somehow teach you about the real world, but living in a university bubble where you cram for exams and write on cue cards to help step up your memorization game is not the real world. And earning practical experience — whether it be through volunteer or paid work — in order to slap together a resume that contains more than your name and address, which screams desperation, is extremely helpful, but even that might not cut it.

In order to get a job nowadays, it’s all about who you know. And unpaid internships can assist with that as long as you recognize the opportunity in front of you. They provide a networking opportunity — you can meet people in your desired field, and develop relationships with them so when it comes time to search for a job, you can just name-drop your new bff to get your foot in the door. It might not be wrapped in $50 bills and tied with a neat bow, but it’s something, and it’s more than you had before.

— Ashton Mucha

 

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