Should you work for Free?

Keeping up with all this intern talk, I found something else I’d like to share for all my past, present and future intern amigos.

My friend @laurenonizzle found this flow chart created by designer Jessica Hische.

You start in the middle and answer some YES and NO questions to find out if that unpaid internship/job is worth all your time and effort.

You will probably find this chart humorous and quite frankly very truthful, but I have to say it was a little quick to judge. While there are mixed views about working for free (tough competition, exploitative, necessary for success, slave labour) in these times I don’t really see a way you can’t get to where you want to go without one (or two, or three…).

Never mind the networking and hands-on experience, but internships give you a sneak peak into the word of whatever career you have your heart set on. And what better way to find out if it is really the right thing for you than having the chance to do a “trial run” per se for a few months. You may love it and know for certain that there is nothing else better for you, or you may find it was not how you imagined and go back to the drawing board for another shot at a career path that you will love and excel at.

Internships can be draining, emotional, intimidating, frustrating, exciting, and rewarding all at once. You have to believe in what you love to do enough to be willing to work for free (hopefully only for a little while anyway). You have to be smiling and helpful and eager to do whatever is thrown your way, even when you know you are above the task and you feel like yelling, “WHY WON’T YOU HIRE ME ALREADY?”

There's more to being an intern than coffee runs.

But in the end it is all about what you make of the opportunity. Be smart enough to pick an organization with a track record for good internship experiences, and talk with anyone and everyone you know about their experiences and words of wisdom. Don’t be shy. Ask the stupid questions. Get there early and bring a pen and a notebook. Always ask if there is anything more you can do. And don’t forget those thank you notes when it’s all over.

Be the best you can be.

You may be still waiting for your internship(s) to pay off (I know I am), but it will happen. One day. And when it does, I hope you remember to be nice to YOUR interns.

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3 thoughts on “Should you work for Free?

  1. I’m glad that you have such a positive outlook on your own internships and the relationship between new grad careers and internships in general. It’s really easy to get all huffy-and-puffy about unpaid internships, but it’s not productive in any way. The reality is if you don’t do them, someone else will, and they’ll be leaps and bounds ahead of you. End of story.

    I think one of the other great aspects of internships is that you can also find out what you don’t want to do with the rest of your life. If I hadn’t completed an unpaid internship at the National Post, I could have graduated thinking I actually wanted to be a reporter at a national newspaper instead of a web editor at a small start-up.

    Also, from the perspective of an employer, if we take our responsibility to our interns seriously, it is seriously detrimental to our own productivity. It requires a lot of attention to manage interns because they’re not just working, you’re constantly explaining the company, the business, the history, the best practices, etc. You’re training them and, hopefully, your training will help them in their careers in the long run.

  2. Sean Ward says:

    Maybe there’s also something to be said for creating your own vehicle, doing all of your free work in service of your own project, and be your own intern….

    • ddistefano says:

      I’m liking this idea Sean. I think it definitely shows initiative and creativity on your part which will no doubt catch the eyes of employers. Thanks for your thoughts.

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