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05/04/2013

Should You Take an Unpaid Internship position?

Even though the number of college and university graduates has increased, the job opportunities have not increased to match the supply of graduates. Finding a full time job has become harder than ever before, which has seen many recent graduates resort to taking unpaid internship positions within companies. But before accepting any offers to labor away for free, here's what you should ask.

1. What are the expectations? On paper, the internship seems like a real deal, even if it's unpaid. Still, it's wise to have a solid grasp of what you'll do and the amount of work. "It's important to know exactly what you're going to be graded on. If you go into it and you're not sure what's going on, then you could be given a ton more than you signed on for."
You would do well to research the company, reaching out to its previous or current interns, and asking pointed questions about the position during the interview process. At the back of your mind, you should know that there is a very thin line between advancing your skills, and being misused as a source of cheap labor by a company.

2. Will you be overextended? Whether you're unemployed or have a part-time job, it's important not to let your unpaid internship consume all your time. "Set limits and within those limits, perform as capably as you can."
Balance your time with other employment pursuits by setting a cap on your availability, detailing what tasks
you're willing to perform, and restricting weekends. "You can't forget the fact that you're not getting paid. Nobody should be losing sight of that".

3. Does the internship have more promise than previous ones? This isn't your first go at an internship or attachment position. Rather, it may be your second or third, including the ones you performed as an undergraduate student.
If your internship doesn't bare employment fruit or add skills that increase the likelihood of landing a job at the organization or elsewhere, it may not be worth it. "A certain kind of burnout can set in under those circumstances".

4. Could it settle a career path? Maybe you have a series of internships under your belt, but none left you clamoring to enter a particular field. Going through with another may give you some clarity. "If you're not sure if a career is right for you, completing an internship is one of the best ways to find out."

5. Is it financially doable? Prior to becoming a full-fledged adult, you had bills that were nonexistent or sent to your parents to pay. But now, rent, food and transport expenses begin to crop up. While an unpaid internship may boost your CV and help you gain work experience, it may not be compatible with your expenses. Typically, one has more financial responsibilities after leaving university, something that an unpaid internship position may not provide enough expenses for.

6. Will your skill set sharpen or widen? An extended stay in the ranks of the unemployed may leave your skills, both hard and soft, rusty. Along with undergraduate and graduate students, the unemployed can use internship as an avenue to "get trained in the skills required to make a successful transition to the permanent labor force."
7. Can you leverage your degree? While the internship doesn't pay, your status as a university graduate could be a useful bargaining chip for collecting a salary a few months in. "You have a qualification under your belt. Many employers, for the most part, still do understand that people can't be permanently working in internship situations after graduating from university," a HR recruiter says.
While some employers will be reluctant to offer any form of payment, if you're doing a good job, there is that chance, but only if you initiate the conversation.

8. Does the company have a track record of hiring interns? To get a better sense of what employment doors will open as a result of the internship, ask about how previous interns fared in getting hired. "During the interview and offer process, interested interns could ask about the potential full-time employment at the end of an internship program, as well as the structure of the program and recent company data about past interns." Only then should you accept an unpaid internship position over the long term.

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