The Pros and Cons of an Unpaid Internship

By: Barry Davis, Senior Human Capital Consultant

The Pros and Cons of an Unpaid Internship

An internship is a work experience offered by an organization for a limited period usually without pay. Most interns are typically college or graduate students looking for real world, professional experience in their chosen field prior to graduating from school. While students in the medical field are expected to complete internships as part of their medical training, many industries now offer internships as on the job training you can’t get from a classroom or textbook. These arrangements offer students the opportunity to gain relevant skills and experience in their potential career fields. Employers benefit from these placements because they often recruit employees from their best interns, who are known entities, thus saving time and money in hiring process.

Let’s discuss some of the pros and cons of taking on an internship.

THE Pros

Valuable experience

The goal of any internship is to earn valuable, business-world experience. For most interns, this role will be their first “job” in a true professional setting. Internships give you an insider’s view to your “dream job” while helping you learn more about the industry, and you’ll become familiar with how general businesses operate.  Besides the day-to-day skill needed to perform your job, you will also learn the “unwritten” rules of being a professional in your industry: how to dress appropriately, how to communicate effectively, how to manage your time, and most importantly, how to behave and act appropriately in a professional setting.

Possible Job Opportunity

Even if the internship is unpaid, this is your first real exposure to your career goals and you’ll be working in a field relevant to your long-term career path. Some internships are set up to screen potential recruits. By investing in interns, companies are investing in future employees. After all, what better way to vet a candidate than seeing how he or she reacts and responds in real-life work situations?


An internship is a terrific way to network and open doors for potential opportunity. It’s never too early to start building your professional network. Try to connect, as your new colleagues aren’t just people with whom you work but are great connections for your career.

Job Variety

You never know what type of work you will be assigned which will allow you to gain experience and insight into the job you think you’re interested in. Even if the work seems menial, it’s a wonderful way to gain insight into what the day-to-day is like. Ask yourself, “Is this really what you want to do?” You may learn that you don’t want to work for that company or may learn that you don’t want to do this job at all. This can be extremely valuable information which helps you make important education and career decisions.

College credits

Despite not receiving an actual paycheck, you may be eligible to receive credits towards graduating. Free credits for your time which gets you closer to graduating is worth something, right?

The cons


Well, let’s start with the first and most obvious downside: you don’t get paid. You’ll be putting in a lot of time and challenging work into your internship and having a monetary reward would be nice. Sometimes that gap between interns and actual employees is furthered by the lack of payment. This could leave the intern feeling isolated within the structure of the company.

Menial Work

You will do lots of meaningful work as an intern, but some of the responsibilities you’ll get will be mind-numbing things below your skill level. An internship is what you make it. This your first chance to start building your professional reputation.

There will always be a debate whether an internship, especially an unpaid one, is worth the time, effort and energy to complete. Realistically, only the individual can determine the “worth” and “value” of their time spent doing “free work” in exchange for experience, skills and networking. In addition, the “worth” or “value” will be dependent on the overall experience itself and not whether you earned a paid position following the internship. The key is to find the right internship program for you by checking out your college’s career resource center, job boards, company websites, and doing research as if you were applying for a job.

Good luck out there!




More in Clearview Search