Can an Unpaid Internship Harm You?

Nancy Anderson
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People generally frown on the idea of working for free, which is why unpaid internships have a bad rep. Deciding whether or not to work without pay is especially difficult for recent graduates, who usually have very little money and student loans to repay. Thankfully, paid internships offer greater advantages than unpaid internships, according to the Wall Street Journal. A paid internship with a reputable company can begin your path to a truly rewarding career.

Earn More Money

Based on data provided by the Wall Street Journal, paid interns at private for-profit organizations earn a median starting salary that's approximately $19,000 per year higher than unpaid intern salaries. Paid interns who work for non-profit, local, state and government agencies also tend to receive higher salaries once they begin working full-time. This is a huge advantage for paid interns, and those who put their best foot forward stand a greater chance of earning a high starting salary within their industry.

Enhance Your Resume and Cover Letter

As a recent graduate, you probably have very little or no work experience to list on your resume. A paid internship provides a great opportunity for you to fill in those empty gaps while earning a paycheck. Internship opportunities are typically available in a variety of fields, so you can easily choose a job in a field that's closely related to your degree. Begin updating your resume as soon as you begin your internship, and continue to update your resume and cover letter as your skills and experiences expand.

Discover Networking Opportunities

Relationships matter in the work world, and paid internships give you the opportunity to build relationships with other paid employees who can help you achieve your professional goals. Something as simple as a letter of recommendation and salary history from your manager can give you a huge advantage over your competition. Interning also gives you a chance to learn more about your industry. Industry veterans and newly hired employees can give you tips to help you advance during the early stages of your career.

Lead to a Full-time Position

One of the greatest advantages of a paid internship is that it gives you a higher likelihood of landing a full-time paid position within the organization. Further data from the Wall Street Journal shows that paid interns in private organizations have a 72 percent chance of receiving a full-time job offer, compared to just 44 percent of unpaid interns. Before accepting an internship, find out if the company has a history of hiring interns. If so, accepting the paid internship is definitely a great idea, especially if it's with your dream company.

The competition for great jobs is fierce, and you must be a strong candidate if you want to compete. Paid internships give you the opportunity to make connections within your industry, which can give you a huge advantage. They also offer the opportunity to earn money while gaining hands-on work experience and increasing your chance of earning a high starting salary once you begin working full time.

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  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Steven thanks for your comment. So sorry that your school kept you from getting an internship. But really, not everyone gets an internship but they still find work. Are you submitting applications but never hearing back? If so, try going through a temp agency so that you can get your foot in the door. At least it would be a paid position. Make sure that you are networking, too. Check your local area for networking professionals activities. Many larger cities will have these - just an after work get together with professionals in your field as well as many others. What about local job fairs? I know you are upset about the internship but don't let that anger carry forward or it will come out during interviews, etc. Sadly, you need to let it go and move on.


    The real scandal that is never reported is how older adults who are fully capable of making their own decisions are forced out of unpaid internships by over protective college administrators. Most of the internships I applied to in college would only allow if you got college credit, not something the on line Indiana University program I was enrolled in would allow. Now I have a Comm degree and no job in that field because of no internships, even though I wanted to do the work, but was not allowed to. What a total disgrace that the system is setup to snuff dreams and aspirations of those who are completely qualified and have very real talent.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Sheila thanks for your question. Most people find an internship through their college. If that is not in the cards for you, try to narrow it down to a company or several companies that might be a good fit and then check them out. Check on their website. Contact their HR and find out if they do offer internships. If you know someone who works at one of these companies, see if they won't carry your resume and request to a hiring manager or to HR. Getting internships can be difficult but not impossible.

  • Sheila Skinner-Martens
    Sheila Skinner-Martens

    Where do you begin to find a paying internship in your dream field?

  • Crysti Blacklock
    Crysti Blacklock

    If I could find a full time internship which pays me it would make my life extremely better it would make my dreams come true.

  • John  A.
    John A.

    if i could find a an internship that gives me pay or allowance and employ me to make my life smooth i will be much grateful.

  • Jeff K.
    Jeff K.

    If I could find a part time internship that would land me a dream job I maybe interested.

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