Unpaid internships can pay off in the long term

Do not brush off unpaid internships. They can pay off in the long term.

Many college students and recent college graduates often dismiss the value of unpaid internships. They ask themselves, "why bother?"

When we compare the sentiments of interns placed in a paid compared with those placed in an unpaid internship position,

  • 95% of the paid internship respondents deemed their experience 'highly beneficial,' whereas
  • 85% of the unpaid internship respondents felt their experience was 'highly beneficial."

This ten percent difference was disconcerting to researchers. Those in the recruitment and human resources field believe this may be the wrong attitude to take. Early experience, whether paid or not holds tremendous value.

Plus the negative attitude is not success oriented. If you have a success mindset, you will know that unpaid internships can pay off, big time, in the long term.

In this regard, the National Association for Career Development (NACE) presented research to show the true value of a non-paid internship. The study analyzed several factors such as: ultimate full time employment, overall job satisfaction, training and professional development, goal setting, mentoring and networking, academic performance and implications for job search success.  What was interesting is that the researchers determined there were several factors related to unpaid versus paid internship opportunities. Often, the availability of paid internship opportunities differed greatly by career fields and professions. For instance, here are their findings:

  • The pursuit of unpaid versus paid internships varied by gender. Male students were significantly more likely to seek and apply for paid internship opportunities.
  • Students majoring in business or agriculture were more likely to search for paid internships,
  • Students majoring in journalism, consumer economics, financial planning, nutrition, human development and fashion were more likely to seek unpaid internships,
  • Students majoring in government, economics and international affairs were also more likely to seek out unpaid internships.

The research data uncovered some of the challenges experienced by interns completing unpaid internship programs that were not experienced by their peers who participated in paid internship placements. For instance:

  • Upon graduation, students were less likely to accept a job offer of a non-paying internship sponsor,
  • After matriculation, students participating in unpaid research and study abroad programs took longer time to secure permanent jobs,
  • Non-related part-timer students, upon graduation also took longer to obtain permanent positions, on the flip side
  • Students who participated in extracurricular activities like intramural sports teams took less time to receive job offers of permanent employment.

There was one area found lacking when comparing the unpaid internship experience with the paid internship opportunity:

  • Paid internships were viewed as offering significant opportunities for improving one's professional skills.

The good news and the valued added by participating in unpaid internships that were much more signiificant than paid internships, were:

  • helping students validate or reject their earlier career interest,
  • helping current college students better understand their college coursework,
  • assisting student set and attain their career goals,
  • supporting their early career development through high quality job supervision,
  • hleping students to adapt and socialize in a professional setting, and
  • assisting students with growing and building their professional network.








Steve Mark

9 Blog posts