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How an unpaid internship will get you ahead

Kori Ellis is an editor and writer based in San Antonio, TX, where she lives with her husband and four children. At SheKnows, she writes about parenting, fashion, beauty and other lifestyle topics. Additionally, Kori has been published i...

Should you work for free?

Though you won't be earning any cash with an unpaid internship, that doesn't mean you won't be gaining anything. Internships have numerous benefits that can help you get ahead. An unpaid internship can be seen as an investment in your own future.
Intern in office

Though it makes sense to look for a paid job first, the job market is tough — especially for a college student with no experience. You could take an entry-level position outside your career field or a fast food or retail job just to make some money, but it may make sense for you to take an unpaid internship instead.

You can improve your resume

Securing employment directly out of college without practical work experience can be difficult. To get a job in your career field, you'll need some experience. An unpaid internship is an easy way to get your foot in the door and start gaining the experience you need. When you graduate, your internship can be a highlight on your resume that shows you did a lot more with your summers than party at the beach.

You can learn about the work environment

By working in an unpaid internship, you can learn about everything from teamwork to office politics to humility and accepting authority. Though without compensation, you'll be able to reap the numerous benefits (and learn about the pitfalls) of being in an office environment.

You can make connections

With so much emphasis on online networking these days, sometimes we forget about the value of face-to-face connections. An internship allows you to make real-life connections with your boss, clients and co-workers that can benefit you in the future.

You can shop around

Though you might think you have an idea about your career direction, an internship can allow you to test the waters and find out for sure. Taking a few short-term internships lets you check out various careers before getting stuck in just one.

You can find a mentor

As an intern, you can make connections with people in your career field and even find a mentor. A mentor can prove invaluable when pursuing paid employment down the line. A good mentor can also teach you the tricks of the trade, share insight about the company and industry and introduce you to other people who can help you along the way.

Chasing the Dream: Why you need a mentor — and how to find one >>

You can earn academic credit

Many unpaid internships offer college students the opportunity to earn academic credit. Talk with your college or university to find out more about the educational standards necessary for an internship to receive credit. When looking for an internship, avoid companies that aren't offering college credit or don't allow interns to do anything more than fetch coffee and other menial tasks. Some companies use interns as cheap labor and nothing more. If you aren't going to get paid, you, at least, need to be doing something valuable — for yourself and your future.

Keep in Mind

Some companies do pay their interns. Check out this recent Huffington Post article about the 20 highest rated companies hiring interns and paying them big bucks.

More career tips

Top 10 career tips for recent grads
Booming career fields for 2012
How to find a job you really enjoy

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