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Internships: Where Should You Draw the Line?

Internships are increasingly becoming the most attractive feature of your résumé; they can be a great resource for getting a feel for a job once you graduate so you don’t start off completely in the dark. It’s like spending a few months in the minor leagues before moving on the majors. Unfortunately, although internships involve relevant work for the employer, the recent overwhelming trend has been toward unpaid internships.

Though there have been more than a few instances of illegally employing unpaid interns, Bob Orndorff, Associate Director of Recruiting and Employer Relations at Penn State’s Career Services says that internships, even unpaid, can be a valuable experience, especially counting toward a student’s job prospects in the future. Orndorff has noticed an increase in unpaid internships at Penn State, but he doesn’t believe that pay is the most important aspect of internships. What trumps compensation, he says, is, “substantive experience which is related to [a] career field of interest. If a student can swing it financially, I’d recommend a student taking an unpaid, substantive/relevant internship over a paid, non-substantive/irrelevant one.”

Unfortunately, especially with college as expensive as it’s become, many of us can’t afford to work for free for a whole summer, or even part of one. In this case, Bob Orndorff explains what backup choices are most beneficial to a job application upon graduation:

A student should always shoot for a paid, substantive/relevant internship as their “Plan A.” However, there are a couple “Plan B”s that they should explore as well:

  • An unpaid, substantive/relevant internship that is flexible enough to still hold down a part-time job.
  • A part-time/summer job in a related industry; while there, students should initiate meetins to network, and inquire about any projects that they could help out with, thus making it a more substantive experience.

So while it may seem tough to enter into a career without at first sacrificing your services for free, there are some things you can do. Also, since the economy appears to be turning upwards (for the time being, knock on wood), the number of unpaid internships may decline. In the meantime, you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do: whatever that is, make an effort.

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About the Author

Dan McCool

Dan is a senior and has been writing for Onward State since January 2010. Did you miss him? Nah, neither did we. He's returning after a semester abroad in England and will be serving as Arts Editor. Favorite things in life include references to The Big Lebowski.

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