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Career Corner
The Value of the Unpaid Internship

William Mitchell -- Why was your peer applicant picked for the job instead of you? Was is because, while you were soaking up the sun and surf, your competition was gaining valuable on-the-job experience, volunteering their time through an unpaid internship?

After a grueling initial interview, you have reached the second interview stage and you find out the position is going to come down between you and two other applicants.

Each of you possesses similar credentials from credible academic institutions, held office in a couple of academic clubs, and sport impressive GPAs. The Department Manager reviews the résumés one more time and decides on one of your competitors.

Why did they pick him/her? Because last summer, while you were soaking up the sun and surf in San Diego, your competition was gaining valuable on-the-job experience, volunteering their time through an unpaid internship. Even though all of the paid internships through the Placement Office were taken, there was another little-used option...the unpaid internship.

If you are still looking for a strategy that can help your career in the long run, consider these factors about an unpaid internship:

Real-World Experience

Training costs are a major factor considered by business entities when making hiring decisions. Department Managers want to be sure that (1) you can be brought up to speed on the job duties quickly, (2) you can successfully function in the corporate culture. An internship targeting your career path can provide you valuable real-world experience that you can put on your résumé to give you the edge over the competition.

Additionally, the employer has only to check your references to learn that you take directions well and respond to Supervisor input...factors many employers wish they had known about recent college graduates before the hiring decision was made.

Networking Opportunities

We've all heard the phrase "It's not what you's WHOM you know." Being ejected from a bachelor degree program without any connections puts you behind the proverbial eight ball right away. Working an internship gives you the opportunity to build your network within the industry even before you are available for permanent hire.

While your internship employer may not be in a hiring mode at the time, they may be able to point you in the right direction...and even put in a good word for you. Imagine the weight this can carry in a close competition with another graduate.

Show Your Dedication

Want to "WOW"an interviewer? Tell him how you volunteered your time in the summer to learn the industry and position specifics...and that you did it for nothing! have immediately communicated your dedication and seriousness to your career in the eyes of your interviewer.

Now, when you convey to them that you are looking to be a serious player in the company and the profession, it is backed by your willingness to sacrifice your free time to do so.

Career Compatibility

Let's not forget you in this equation. How do you know if this career path is for you? Does the profession have inherent characteristics you wouldn't find out about in a classrooms setting? Your internship just might show you that this path isn't for you...before it is too late.

There are many employers who would love the luxury of bringing someone in to perform ground-level duties for a couple of months and not have to pay the associated employee costs, so a little leg work will surely find you a position that can give you the experience and professional insight you can use to get you over the top.

Just remember, next summer's beach trip will be much more enjoyable with a paycheck to fund it.

William Mitchell is a certified professional resume writer and Owner/General Manager of the Resume Clinic (, serving clients in the United States and Canada with highly targeted and effective resume and cover letter packages since 1995. You can email William at for more information.

© 2006 William Mitchell

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The views and opinions expressed in these articles do not necessarily reflect those of College Central Network, Inc. or its affiliates. Reference to any company, organization, product, or service does not constitute endorsement by College Central Network, Inc., its affiliates or associated companies. The information provided is not intended to replace the advice or guidance of your legal, financial, or medical professional.