Benefits of Unpaid Internship

CDNET NG wrote

By Anwuli Ojogwu

Sola has just graduated from the university, and is searching for a job in the book publishing industry. Her main interests are reading and writing, and she has a good degree in English & Literature. She applies for a job as an editorial assistant in a big firm, but she is informed by the human resource manager that candidates with experience are considered over those without, regardless of a degree in humanities. Sola has no experience. She decides to take another route, and applies for an unpaid internship programme at a smaller firm with a handful of staff. During her six months internship, Sola works on a variety of important projects, some of which she is allowed to spear-head. Of her own freewill, she volunteers to work in all three departments—editorial, marketing and accounting—to expand her knowledge. After the programme, Sola developed the pre-requisite skills as an editor, and more, to work in another publishing firm; built a network of professionals; learned about work culture and team work; and increased her chances of being retained by the company for employment as well as future employment in another firm.

According to Alexis Herman, former US Secretary of Labour, “There is no substitute really for learning about the world of work and being in the world of work. You can do that through internships… Strive early to get some kind of practical work experience.” In other words, an internship can be a pipeline for discovering one’s talent, developing skills and gaining practical experience. Although people usually seek paid internships, unfortunately they are few and far between. The challenge is that many companies do not have room or a budget to hire a paid intern. However, an unpaid internship gives room to acquire work skills without becoming a burden on the company, and it offers invaluable benefits in the areas of personal and professional development.

*Stepping out of the Comfort Zone
An unpaid internship enables an individual step out of his or her comfort zone and explores career options that would otherwise not have been considered. It presents the individual with two options: the first would be to match his/her interests with a complimentary industry, company, and particular department. Secondly, venture into another industry sector, but in line with his/her interests. Usually, paid internship is stringent whereby an intern is matched by his/her course of study, and subsequently the unit in the company; while, an unpaid internship gives the intern freewill to make that choice. In the long run, the intern can discover the different aspects of a particular industry, which could build his/her confidence, rapidly build relevant skills and be focused.

*Systemic Thinking
Many times, interns are not privy to workplace culture and the nature of work. They come to learn that companies do not perform random activities; they carry out activities that align with the service that they offer or the products that they sell. These activities are structured and performed in a systematic way to achieve their goals. The activities range from working as teams; handling documentation, reporting lines, critical thinking methods, resolving problems methods, building relationships with clients, and even prospecting clients. With an unpaid internship, an individual learns the system of a workplace, the process of the day-to-day running of an organisation, and in the long run understands the nature of work culture, which is helpful seeking future employment or establishing a business after the internship programme.

The purpose of both paid and unpaid internship programmes are the same—to acquire work experience and translate knowledge to skills. With a paid internship, an individual may serve the entire programme within a particular unit, but with an unpaid internship, it gives room for flexibility. Since the intern does not present a financial burden on the employer, the intern is able to get involved in the various departments of the company, and understudy experts in order to gather holistic experience and skills as in the case of Sola who is mentioned in the story above. With this sort of flexibility, it offers more exposure, more importantly; it tests the interests of the intern, who may likely find out that he/she is interested in another area in the same industry or not even interested in the industry at all.

*Building a Network
Personal connections are important in a workplace. Because an unpaid internship programme is flexible, and driven by the intern, it creates opportunities to connect with staff, not limited to the particular unit where the intern has been placed, but in other units. The intern can receive mentoring not from one individual, but several who are experts in their field, in the course of his or her programme at the company. Beyond that, take the case of Sola in the story, who got involved in units besides the editorial unit where she was placed, interns can also connect with clients, and receive valuable insights on the nature of the industry.

*Option of First Selection
A paid and unpaid internship offer the same benefit: the opportunity to be selected first, above other candidates who did not intern at the company. However, an unpaid internship presents more opportunities to get those sorts of offers because the interns focus is not to earn a wage. Employers learn to trust interns that they have worked with, especially if the interns produced high quality results on the job.

Learning the knowledge and skills required to be successful in the workplace is something that cannot be taught in the university. An employer would place more value on a job candidate with adequate job experience rather than one without. On the other hand, among interns with experience, an employer would place more value on a job candidate with holistic experience rather than limited experience, and that is what an unpaid internship offers.
Any internship pays off in the long run. It can help to build your confidence and transfer your knowledge to being successful in the real world.

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