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How to Succeed in an Unpaid Internship

Even though you’re not getting paid, you’ll walk away with something even more valuable: experience.

You'll be counting those.

There’s been a lot of debate lately as to whether unpaid internships are fair, and it’s safe to say it’s definitely not. In the UK the cost to the individual for an unpaid internship is around £1,000 a month in London. I’ve done my fair share of unpaid internships, and I’m going to help you get the best out of your time, and your savings account.

1. Consider the length of your internship.

Like I said earlier, the cost of an internship to you is around £1,000 a month, and sometimes all you need is a little experience on your CV that makes you stand out. The ideal time spent in an unpaid internship is one to three months so that you don’t end up spending money you don’t have, but you gain invaluable experience to talk about in your next interview. After your unpaid internship, you can then look for another internship that is paid (even if it’s a small amount), and then go onto look at a full time role.

2. Do your research.

Look at reviews online if possible. People rate their employers on sites such as Glassdoor and you can you use this to your advantage. Find an internship where you’ll be doing more than making coffee and washing up. Find one where you’ll actually learn the job, and where you can honestly tell future employers that you have experience.

3. Let your employers know how smart you are.

They’ve brought you on to support their team, and in return you’re going to learn. So learn. They’re not going to give you the big jobs straight away, because they don’t want to trust a newbie who has no financial investment in the company with their tasks. Complete the small jobs you are given quickly and accurately and you will impress the people who work there. They’ll be giving you the jobs they find too boring, so if you complete them without a fuss then they will look at you in a more positive light.

4. Ask questions.

Don’t be annoying about it and ask the same question over and over again, but when told to do something a specific way, ask them why it’s done like that. This shows you care, and you’ll learn more about the industry in the process.

5. Keep looking for other opportunities.

You’re not going to be there forever, and not all interns get offered a permanent role. Keep looking on job sites, update your CV every time you learn something new, and start speaking to recruiters in your area. Internships can look really good on your CV because it shows that you have the initiative to get some experience, and lets employers know that you’re serious about your chosen field of work.

6. Ask who to contact in regards to a reference.

This sounds simple enough, but it’s really important. Someone is more likely to give you a reference if they agreed to give you one face to face. I completed an internship at university and stupidly didn’t let them know that I’d need a reference for my next position. The result was that they never replied to my email asking for one, and I lost out on a job opportunity. It’s not rude, you’ve paid your dues, and they owe you a reference for it.

I know it’s annoying that you don’t get paid, but unpaid internships are extremely common in creative fields such as marketing, media relations, and journalism. Get that well-needed experience, do it with a smile and you’ll be on track to achieving the role of your dreams.

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