Can working for free pay off in the long run?

by Apr 14, 2021

There’s no substitute for experience, which is why internships are so valuable as an undergraduate student. They can provide exposure to your chosen field and help you gain relevant skills and experience, often the coin of the realm in a job interview.

The downside is that they’re often unpaid and usually require a commitment of one or two days per week. As a time-poor (and often cash-strapped) student, the idea of working for free isn’t exactly appealing, but the benefits of interning can pay off big time after graduating.

It’s important you know your rights as an intern, and don’t agree to work for the first company that offers you a position. But if you can get your foot in the door at the right place, the rewards make the hard work worth it. 

Below, we’ll take a look at some of the benefits of doing an internship while you’re studying.


Turn theoretical knowledge into industry skills

Most degrees are heavy on theory, so an internship is a great opportunity to gain practical, industry-specific skills. After all, studies show you gain around 10% of your experience from books, 20% from interacting with others, and 70% from being on the job.

While pop culture often portrays interns as being little more than glorified coffee runners, most companies are far more interested in having someone to help out with everyday tasks. There are some amazing interning gigs out there – you might find yourself doing anything from content creation and social media to database management or web publishing.

Not only can this help you to gain industry skills, but it can also help to bulk out your portfolio of work to include in future job applications.


Stand out against the competition

Getting your foot in the door as a new graduate can be tough. You’ll likely be up against hundreds of other graduates all vying for entry-level positions, and good marks may not always be enough to make you stand out – but a history of internships can.

Having a couple of internships under your belt shows a potential employer that you already have some basic industry skills and experience. It also demonstrates that you’re serious about your career and prepared to go the extra mile.

Don’t just leave your internship to your final year either. Try and lock in at least one internship per year to show that you’re consistent. The more internships you have on your resume, the better.


Work out what you do and don’t like

Internships are a great way to determine where you want to work – and also where you don’t. Experiencing a range of different companies will give you a better understanding of what your future career path entails and provide valuable industry exposure.

Most interns will find that they’re on the right track. However, you may also discover that a certain career, or even your entire field of study, isn’t right for you. Don’t be disheartened if this is the case – you’re much better off coming to this realisation while you’re still studying.

At the end of the day, working out what you don’t want from your next role is often just as important as knowing what you do want.

It’s worth saying that one bad internship doesn’t mean that you’re in the wrong place either – keep pushing through if you’re unsure.


Make connections in your industry

Internships can help you forge connections and make professional contacts – after all, it’s not always what you know but who you know.

Interning allows you to work closely alongside managers and mentors who can keep you in mind for future job opportunities. For instance, we had an intern start at Finder who now works as a product manager, and gets to test out cool new features for our app. One of our writing interns now works as a beauty writer in the shopping team – the possibilities are endless.

Even if you don’t end up with full-time employment at the end of your internship, it’s worth touching base with the company from time to time to see if they have any roles going.


Working for free is no one’s idea of fun, especially when you’re already trying to get your finances prepared for full-time work. But putting in the hard yards now can pay off tenfold once you graduate.


Featured image courtesy of Unsplash

Jamie Finnegan

Jamie Finnegan

Jamie Finnegan is the global head of talent at Finder