What every graduate should know about accepting an internship

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An internship can be a great way to boost your CV with real-world experience (Stocksnap.io)

Arguments for and against unpaid internships are a growing debate. Graduates want to gain the much needed experience to kickstart their careers, while companies want high quality interns who show an interest in learning about the business while working for free.

A catch-22 when you’re qualified, right?

But with no valuable experience, some companies are often unwilling to employ graduates. Which leaves many graduates with one conflicting issue: To accept or not to accept an unpaid internship?

When you should accept an unpaid internship

In the competitive job market, an internship is a great way to enhance your CV with real-world experience. And the truth is it takes much more than your academic ability to impress employers. While companies in some industries will offer a small stipend, some companies, especially in media, marketing, music and the performing arts just won’t.

So why should you lower your standards of employment when you have a university degree?

If you’re seeking to gain work experience from top companies, chances are, there is a long list of job seekers vying for the same opportunity. So, gaining work experience that will enhance your CV will be worth the opportunity.

Budget is another issue. Some start-ups and non-profit organisations may not have enough capital to pay you. But this doesn’t mean that these companies don’t offer great hands-on experience, and other benefits.

In some cases, organisations offer what we may call a trial period – to assess your capabilities – before offering you a full time gig. It’s a win-win situation: for the company, by the time you’re ready to start working you’re already trained and are familiar with the basics of the business. For you, you have a job set up.

So, before you ditch an internship because it’s unpaid, consider what you might walk away with. Ask yourself:

  • Will I make contacts with people who could help me get a job at another company?
  • Will I gain new knowledge and skills about the industry?
  • Will there be chances to get hands-on experience that will give my CV a boost?
  • Most importantly, is there potential for a permanent position at the end of the internship?
  • When you shouldn’t accept an unpaid internship

    On the other hand, if there are no signs that an internship is going to lead you somewhere, then it might be best to decline the job offer. If you’re not sure how to go about assessing the situation, consider these factors: 

  • What kind of work tasks will you expected to do?
  • Will you be given the training and mentorship to enhance your career?
  • Will you be expected to work overtime?
  • Ultimately the decision to forgo an internship should be based on whether you’re going to get any value from it, and if you can afford to be unpaid.

    If you decide to go through with an unpaid internship and realise later that it’s not what you expected, have a chat with your boss. Convey your thoughts and tell him or her that you’d like to be given tasks that will add value to your experience. If nothing comes of it, then it may be time to bow out, albeit in a professional manner.

    Is it okay to resign if you’re only an intern?

    Before making any rash decisions, remember that in terms of the job market, employers and job seekers are in a tough position. When starting your career, your experience, knowledge and contacts will be more important than the money offered. Think of the opportunities that come your way as one of the many stepping stones to pushing your career in the right direction.

    For more job hunting tips, visit our Career Advice column.