Are Unpaid Internships Worth It? — Questions to Ask Before You Decide to Take an Unpaid Internship
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Are Unpaid Internships Worth It? — Questions to Ask Before You Decide to Take an Unpaid Internship

Are unpaid internships worth it? This is
an ongoing topic of debate. And personally, I have no problem with the
unpaid internship. I actually chose to do four of them while I was in college.
However, there is a lot of chatter out there about unpaid internships and
whether they’re beneficial, or fair or even legal. I’m Jenna, and I put new
videos out here every Monday to help you take control of your future one
internship at a time. So, are unpaid internships really worth it? I’m going to
break down my thoughts for you in this video.
Stick around and find out. Hey there! I’m Jenna Rein from the,
and this is Initiative Muscle Monday. Helping you to start each week with an
intentional step toward a successful future. Let’s do this! Look – Ideally all
internships are paid, but that’s not reality. There are still a lot of unpaid
internships out there. And so to help you sort this out, I’m going to highlight some
questions that you can ask yourself as you’re considering unpaid internship
opportunities going forward. For starters – What is the experience of this
internship worth to you? An unpaid internship is a big consideration. In
your opinion, will the experience that you gain exponentially expand your skill
set, or become a resume builder for you? Or maybe it’s less about the skills and
more about the people you meet, the connections that you make, and the
professional network that you build. And does this unpaid internship even qualify
for college credits that you may be required to have in order to graduate? If
you’re getting paid in “experience” only then these are important questions
to ask yourself, and in the case of college credits your school, up front. And
on the thought of what is this experience worth to you,
I want to share some thoughtful insights on the topic of unpaid internships from
New York Times bestselling author Ryan Holiday. One of Ryan’s books that I love
is titled The Obstacle is the Way, and it’s actually one that I recommend
college students read, because in this book Ryan gives you the perspective that
you need to get out of your own way. I will link to that book in the
description below in case you’re interested in checking it out. Anyways, I
once watched an interview in which Ryan so sensibly articulated a couple points
about the value of gaining experience in an industry, or a line of work, regardless
the pay. Ryan spent some of his early years learning from one of his idols
best-selling author, Robert Greene. And in this interview Ryan explains that he
learned from Greene by doing what many would consider mundane tasks at
below-market pay. However, he saw his time in this position as a great opportunity.
Ryan said he believes it’s short-sighted to think that the value of working for
someone as their intern is only worth $15 an hour (or whatever the pay may be…
maybe it’s nothing in this case). Instead, you should think of what is an hour of
this person’s time worth? Because as an intern you get to be around these people.
You have access to them and, whether directly or indirectly, you’re learning
from people whose time is very valuable. These are people who’ve worked hard in
their careers to get to where they’re currently at, and it’s really hard to put
an hourly pay rate on what you can learn from them. And yes, Ryan did disclose in
his interview that he was earning a wage, but it was pretty minimal. So again, it’s
not about how much or how little you’re making, it’s about the value of what
you’re able to get out of this experience, and in this case if you’re
working with someone pretty high-profile who’s worked hard to get to this point
in their career what can you learn from them. And is that experience worth it to
you? And beyond his own experience, Ryan’s perspective held true when he was
discussing unpaid internships that have made the news as of late. Again, I
mentioned it earlier in this video, unpaid internships cause quite the
debate. Just Google the topic and you will see what I’m talking about. But to
further strengthen his position on internships, paid or unpaid, Ryan talked
about the difference between being around people who are just aspiring to
do what you want to do versus being around people who are actually doing
what you want to do. And this may mean taking on jobs that other people won’t
in order to get to where you want to be. Maybe that’s an unpaid internship or
maybe it’s an entry-level role as an executive assistant. I’ve done both of
these, personally, and they have led to great coveted opportunities for me, and
I’ve gained tons of experience. But Ryan’s point was that just completing
coursework and saying that you hope to do something someday, is very different
than actually putting yourself in a position to learn from someone who’s
already doing it. Because talking about what you hope to do is not going to open
up any more doors for you then the next person. You have to seek experience, and
learn what it takes to do the job firsthand, and
then just demystify all the rest. You have to make connections and expand your
network. And sometimes, an unpaid internship is the best way to accomplish
all of this. I think that the value of an internship comes down to the demand for
it in a lot of cases. So if it’s a company or an industry that’s pretty
competitive, then it really comes down to how bad do you want it. It may come down
to how bad you want it, because a lot of people might want it. And that’s what I
like to call a “sexy internship”. Right? An internship that gives you some street
cred when people see it on your resume. As I mentioned at the beginning of this
video, I had four unpaid internships in college. And two of those are what I like
to call “sexy internships” because they were very hard to secure (they were
competitive to get my foot in the door at), and they were pretty big resume
builders for me. They were high profile, in-demand, resume builders in a
competitive industry. In my case this was in the professional sports industry. A
lot of people would love to work in professional sports…
hence the “sexy internships”. One of my internships was with the Chicago Bulls
and the other was with a sports agency called Priority Sports who has offices
in both Chicago and LA. And I went into these internships willing to sacrifice
pay, and willing to find a way to make them work, because they were worth it to
me. I knew that the experience that I would gain, and the people that I would
meet, would far outweigh the fact that these were unpaid internships. And as it
turns out, I gained a lot more than just experience and connections. Some of my
internship perks included things like… Okay, the obvious – being mentored by some
of the greatest coaches and front office staff and sports agents in the NBA and
the NFL. That’s pretty cool in and of itself. But I also had really cool access
to one of the top NBA training facilities. And as an Exercise Science
major, getting to work out at an NBA training facility (for free!) was pretty
cool. I also didn’t have to worry about my meals when I was interning with the
Chicago Bulls (at least lunch and dinner). Because the team chef cooked for the
players every day, so I got to benefit from team meals. One less expense I had
to worry about. I won cool big sister points by getting to take my brother
to NBA games (for free), and we got to sit in the players’
friends-and-family section. That’s not a bad perk. I met people through each
internship that I had, that actually opened up the door to
introductions for what would become my future internships. So it just became
this kind of snowball effect of internship, one after the next.
I also made lifelong friends. There are people that I talk to from my
internships for professional reasons, sure, but there are also people that I
just established really true friendships with. And the final thing that made me
realize my unpaid internship experience was truly worth it — I was offered a
full-time job, all the way out in California, in a dream
role for me (that combined all of my previous internship experience into one
dream role), and I was offered this role before I even graduated college. I made
my unpaid internships work for me and not against me. So think about that first
question — What is the experience worth to you? And the next question you’re going to
ask yourself is — Will I be overextending myself at all if I take this unpaid
internship experience? Examples of factors to consider here, are time
finances, logistics. So do you have the time to pull this off, or is it too busy
a semester for you at school where your grades are going to start suffering and it
might start pushing back your graduation timeline? That’s an important thing to
consider. What other commitments have you already made? You need to do an
opportunity cost on your time and see if it actually makes sense or if you’re
going to be overextending yourself in this category. And are you unable to support
yourself financially through this unpaid internship, or do you have others like
family members who might be able to help support you during this time? And this
may mean that you need to work a part-time job in addition to your
internship in order to cover some of your expenses. I actually did this. I
would work early-morning shifts at a part-time job before going into a full
day at my internship. And I was also lucky to have some support from my
parents. But I realize that not everyone’s going to have family support. So
you need to take the time to determine your financial situation and make a
smart decision for you. And if finances are tight, and that’s a deal-breaker for
you in accepting an unpaid internship, there’s actually some resources out
there that might be able to help. So something to look into with your school…
they call them Funded Internship Programs, or in some cases Sponsored
Internships. And this is a way that the school can offer students assistance for
what might otherwise be an unpaid internship. So you could get some financial
assistance and you could still take on this unpaid internship. These are in the
form of grants or stipends. And again, you need to check with your school to see if
it’s something that they offer, and if you’re eligible to apply, but it could be
a great opportunity for you to still pursue an unpaid internship and make
sure that financially you’re in a good place as well. And finally, logistics are
an important consideration. Things like… where is the internship located? and are
you going to have to commute to get there? Obviously, the more local the
internship to where you currently are, the less additional expenses that you’re
going to have to take on. Because you don’t have to worry about finding housing or
all the gas money that it may take to commute if you’re already residing in
the community where your internship is located. And this just might make taking
an unpaid internship a little bit more feasible for you if you don’t have
housing expenses or big commuting expenses. Then it’s less money that you
have to worry about covering while you’re at an unpaid internship. And
nowadays more companies are offering remote internships that are allowing you
to work from home. In my opinion, you lose some of the benefits of an internship
when you do it remotely because you’re not building those in-person connections
and really establishing that professional network. But if it’s more
the experience you’re going after, or specifically learning and building a new
skill set, and you know that this remote internship can offer you that then it
might be more financially compatible for you. If it’s an unpaid opportunity, and
it’s remote and you’re not having to worry about any of the logistics, then
remote might be a good way to go. Just remember to evaluate if you’re
going to be overextending yourself at all in a big way before you take on this
unpaid internship opportunity. Moving on — Will this internship give you more
career clarity? Now I love this question, because one of the things that I think
is the biggest benefit of doing internships is learning more about what you DON’T
like. And this is exactly what happened in my case. I went into one of my
internships with a career path in mind, only to find out that I wasn’t that
interested in it after all. Learning this earlier in my college years allowed me
to pivot a bit, add a business minor and pursue future internship opportunities
that were better aligned to my new career goals. So I started with thinking
I wanted to train professional athletes, and I got to do that at the highest
level when I was interning with the Chicago Bulls, but I learned that I
actually liked the business side of sports better and
that allowed me to pursue an opportunity with Priority Sports and intern at a
sports agency where I got to learn all the business things. Learning more about
my interests while I was in college was worth its weight in gold to me. It meant
less time tinkering around after I graduated, trying to navigate my career
path. Instead, I had an attractive job offer, before I even graduated, that was
the ideal role for me. And because I started in the right role, and I wasn’t
underemployed like a lot of college graduates find themselves to be, I earned
more, faster than most of my peers did. So eight weeks of an unpaid internship to
find out what I really wanted to do and carve a path for myself — I’d say that was
worth it. So again, are you going to get career clarity out of taking on this
unpaid internship? Because if you do, it might be a really good opportunity for
you. Another good question to ask yourself as you’re evaluating this
unpaid internship opportunity, is to ask — What is a typical outcome for interns at
this company? If knowing that this unpaid internship opportunity has a high
likelihood of converting to a full-time position after it’s over, would you be
more inclined to take it? This is something that you can look into before
you accept an unpaid internship. It’s a fair question to pose during the
interview process or even once they offer you the internship. You can bring
this up as… “Assuming all goes well, and this is a positive experience for both
sides, what is the potential for a full-time employment offer as this
internship concludes?” or “What is this company’s track record with interns – do
many of them convert to full-time employment offers?” You can also do some
research of your own and look up former interns from the company. So go on
LinkedIn and search for them and send them a message and ask them about their
first-hand experience working with this company as an intern. Getting perspective
from someone who’s done it before might change your perspective, for better or
worse. But at least you’ll have a better idea if this is an opportunity that you
want to pursue or not. Finally, a question that a lot of people
are starting to ask — Is this unpaid internship even legal? You may have heard
that unpaid internships are illegal. Well are they? And is yours? Not necessarily.
There are cases where unpaid internships are legal according to the US Department
of Labor, but there is specific criteria that an internship must
meet in order to be unpaid AND legal. To find out how your internship stacks up
against this criteria just go ahead and Google US Department of Labor internship
guidelines. There you go. Those are some questions that you can ask yourself the
next time you’re considering and evaluating an unpaid internship
opportunity. My video, my opinion… In order to gain some good internship experience,
you’re likely going to have to make some sacrifices along the way. Especially if
you’re trying to break into a competitive industry or company.
Sacrifice may mean working for little to no pay at your internship, having to work a
part-time job during your internship, or maybe just having a little less time for
your social life while you’re trying to juggle all the things during your
internship. Again, I juggled for a while during my internships but it was only
ever for eight weeks at a time. And for me, the experience and all the benefits
gained far outweighed that upfront sacrifice. I chose to hustle for eight
weeks… I mean this is The Intern Hustle. And you can choose to do the same. Unpaid
internships are not the enemy here. They can be an amazing opportunity if
you’re willing to put in the work and keep a positive attitude and see the
potential that they can offer you. But bottom line, you get to choose if unpaid
internships are worth it for you. If a company is only offering an unpaid
internship, you don’t have to say yes. If unpaid doesn’t work for you, go find a
paid internship — there are plenty of opportunities out there both for paid
and unpaid. But all of them require work on your part. Hear me when I say, nothing
worthwhile comes easy. You have to put in the time to search for opportunities, and
present yourself professionally, and actually secure the internship. If you’re
looking for some guidance on how you can do all of this, then sign up for the
waitlist to my online program called The Course. I will link to it in the description
below this video so that you can check it out in more detail. But The Course is
all of my best and most actionable internship advice wrapped up into one step
by step program for students. So you can waste all this time and energy trying to
figure it out for yourself, or you can let me show you the ropes with a proven
action plan that worked for me time and time again. If you want to learn more
about The Course, and get on board with this program so you can take control of
your future through internships and learning from me directly,
then again I’m putting the link in the description below this video.
Go check it out and add yourself to the waitlist. Thanks for watching today! If
this video gave you some new insights, please give it a like and share it with
a friend or two. Hit that red subscribe button below so that you don’t miss out
on future videos. In support of your hustle, I’ll see you next Monday. (Beep)
This train outside, don’t know if you can hear it, but it’s really killing my vibe. Can’t
really record when it’s screeching in the background. Really ruining my video
flow here.


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