I agree with Alice Ralston – summer internships are an incredibly helpful way to decide what one wants to do with their future. “Unpaid internships” which sound better than “volunteering with none of the selflessness”, are a beautiful way to expand your horizons, as well as decorate your CV.
There are few obligations or expectations – you are a volunteer with a student attitude towards learning as much as you can about the industry with the potential to get a job or recommendation – you are completely in charge of making the most of your opportunity. You can’t get fired because you are not getting paid. It’s your time to experiment and explore. It’s less about the experience itself, and more about the world it opens up, the one you never knew existed.
An unpaid internship allows you to explore your passions, and provides a foundation for future activities or industries you may want to involve yourself in. It may also bring forth hidden talents that may lead you to finding a job that satisfies you. You will choose a job that makes you feel good, a job that makes you feel that you are contributing to the betterment of society in your own unique way, instead of a job that drains you. The summer before college I was an unpaid intern at the Hollywood Fringe Festival, a truly life-changing experience. After the monotony of high school, an enterprise singularly directed toward entering university, I found a group of people who had finished ‘the college thing’ and were out in the real world trying to figure life out.
I suppose it depends on the internship, but, for me, internships are not about the networking, not about the CV or the promise of future money. It’s about exploring your interests and the world, finding out what your talents are and expanding your perspective. It’s about life. And yes, a paid internship is great, and a paying job is great, but an unpaid internship is a glorious opportunity. You have to make the most of it, even the most servile tasks. Get excited in the act of buying coffee every morning and becoming pals with the barrista. Become eager at the prospect of talking with new people who you would never have met before – ask questions, and be the bottom rung (for now).
Demonstrate your passion. Experience and learn everything. All of the people there will already like you; you’re helping them for free. When you’re applying for a job, connections matter, but what is truly key is your excitement and aptitude, both of which can and are developed through unpaid internships.