7 Tips for Unpaid Interns

June 21, 2013

Last week, unpaid interns everywhere opened their e-mail to find their parents, friends, and fellow interns had sent the same news: Two unpaid interns had sued Fox Searchlight Pictures for violating minimum wage laws — and the interns had won.

While this case is a big deal for interns and human resources professionals alike, it is especially relevant to women, who are 77 percent more likely to hold an unpaid internship. This statistic comes on top of other ugly numbers for unpaid interns. The Atlantic reports

This year, [the National Association of Colleges and Employers] queried more than 9,200 [college] seniors from February through the end of April. They found that 63.1 percent of students with a paid internship under their belt had received at least one job offer. But only 37 percent of former unpaid interns could say the same — a negligible 1.8 percentage points more than students who had never interned.

So not only are three out of four unpaid interns likely to be women, but these women have a poorer chance of getting a job than an intern who is paid. And once they get in that job, women are likely to face the wage gap, which hits the average women one year out of college with a paycheck that is 7 percent smaller than her male peers.

So what’s a wannabe professional to do? Here are some tips from current and former women interns on how to make sure you’re getting the most value — monetary or otherwise — out of your internship.

    1. Keep your résumé in mind. If you have to take an unpaid or for-credit internship, make sure you’re able to back it up with actual gained skills. Or skip the internship and work a part-time job that will translate well on your résumé. Many people hiring students or recent graduates are looking for how you took initiative. They want to know that an internship wasn’t just fluff.
    2. Get college credit. If you’re still in school, try to get an unpaid internship to count for college credit. This can help open up your class schedule for classes that interest you but don’t fit into your major.
    3. Don’t work full time. Try working three or four days a week so you have time to work a part-time job.
    4. Advocate for yourself. Many internships end up being what you make of them, so if you’re in one that’s unpaid, do everything you can to make it worthwhile. Ask your supervisor for networking or professional development opportunities. Look for someone at your internship who can mentor you. Ask around for information about job Listservs that are specific to the industry.
    5. AAUW interns and staff outside of the national office in Washington, D.C.

      AAUW interns and staff outside of the national office in Washington, D.C. Photo from Instagram.

    6. Don’t be afraid to quit. If you start your unpaid internship and realize that you don’t like it, leave. Don’t waste your unpaid time. Do something else, even if it’s a part-time job that isn’t in the industry you’d like to work in. You’re not doing yourself any favors by staying at a place you don’t like.
    7. Know how to negotiate your salary. Not only is this a life skill, but knowing how to negotiate a salary can also teach you how to negotiate for other things when money isn’t on the table: college credit, travel fees, a flexible schedule, an official mentor. Get started by bringing a salary negotiation training to your campus.
    8. Take advantage of brown-bag lunches and networking series. These are great opportunities to learn about departments across the organization and to make contacts with professionals in your field.

    And if you’re looking for internships, consider applying at AAUW. (We pay our interns.)

    Rachel Wallace By:   |   June 21, 2013


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