Students frequently ask me about the value of internships, both paid and unpaid. I’ve seen dozens of company executives, industry leaders, celebrities and graduates visit our campus, many of whom offer the same advice regarding internships – take every opportunity that comes your way, whether it is a paid position or not.
Of course, that advice doesn’t always sit well with students, and some don’t understand why an unpaid internship makes sense. Their argument is that they are making a huge investment in their education, both in terms of money and time, so how is an unpaid internship going to help them progress?
It’s actually a very easy question to answer. Because that’s how it works. Sure, it sounds “old school” and a bit like fatherly advice, but it’s as true today as it was when I was in school – you know, back in the dark ages with the cave paintings. Things change, business models and industries change and innovate, and the way we use technology changes almost daily. But one thing is constant: hands-on experience trumps anything else, period.
There are two important reasons I always recommend taking advantage of internship opportunities, even when they are not paid. The first is the opportunity to get experience and add to your professional resume. Last weekend I was responsible for providing entertainment for an event that was attended by more than 40,000 people. To be clear, it wasn’t my event – I was just responsible for the entertainment, and to be even more clear, the overall event had well over 400 volunteers, not just the ones assisting me and our team.
So why would someone volunteer for an event like that, especially considering the fact volunteers worked from 5AM until about noon? Easy – they got to be part of a huge event, one that received a lot of news coverage and other attention, and which benefitted the American Cancer Society in a quest to find a cure for breast cancer. Huge event – noble goal – worthwhile beneficiary. Whether staffing a specific position or just picking up trash, every volunteer was part of a team to make this large fundraising event happen.
The other obvious benefit is that word we beat to death every single month in the classroom – networking. Demonstrating initiative and having an opportunity to meet and work with others is just such a very powerful force. It’s where paid jobs come from. It’s where you meet that one person who can help jump-start your career.
So would you rather sleep in and wait for that call for a paid gig eventually? Hell no! Grab a cup of coffee, and let’s get out there to gain some real world experience and meet some people who might one day change our lives. Opportunity is knocking; will you answer?