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Questions to Ask When Interviewing for
Unpaid Internships

It's no secret that many organizations simply see interns as slave labor—and sometimes even as profit-makers as pay-to-intern programs become more common. That's not to say that all unpaid internships are bad, but you want to make sure there will be some sort of return for the investment of time you put in. These questions should make it clear whether a particular internship is a good opportunity or a scam.

1. What skills will I develop while I'm here? The last thing you want to do is spend a summer or a semester filing and taking phone messages for free. This kind of mundane office experience is important to get under your belt—but there are plenty of companies that will pay you for these services. In an unpaid internship, you should have the chance to work at tasks that organizations are less likely to assign to entry-level workers.

2. What's likely to be my next job? Ask about how previous interns have done in the workforce. An unpaid internship that can catapult you to your dream job in the next few years is a worthy way to spend a few months. This will also help you gauge whether an intership with this organization is highly respected in the field.

3. Will you help me get college credit? Many companies will make vague promises, saying they're happy to fill out any university paperwork that you give them. Don't take their word for it. Check with your school before the interview to make sure you know what their requirements are. Then ask the organization detailed questions to make sure their program will measure up.

4. Who will my supervisor be? Will I have regular meetings with him or her? The value of any job lies in the people you work with and the relationships you develop. Make sure that you'll be working closely with someone at the higher levels of the organization who will teach you a lot and be a valuable contact after the intership is over. Even if you'll be working with someone impressive, make sure they're in the office frequently and aren't planning a lot of business trips or vacations. Mentoring you is a task that shouldn't be delegated to an assistant.

5. Will I be invited to sit in on department meetings? Will I get to tag along to conferences or clients' offices? This is a major indicator of whether or not you're really a part of the team. Even if you're only an observer in these situations, you'll get a much better idea of how the organization works and what you'll need to do to participate in future jobs. Verify that your duty isn't to stay at the front desk and answer the phone while others discuss the important stuff or leave the office.

6. How much training is provided? A free education is always a good deal. If an organization is offering to put you through their entry-level training program, you'll be in a much better position to hit the ground running in a full-time job. If, on the other hand, the answer to this question is "no training required," you'll know to be wary.

One final tip: the best way to find a worthwhile internship is to be clear to yourself about what your short-term and long-term goals are. Do some soul-searching before you get too far along in your hunt. You won't get what you want unless you know what that is.

Elsewhere on the Web

Unfair Internships
How to Survive an Unpaid Internship
Maybe You Can Get Paid for an Unpaid Internship


Scoring a Great Internship
Best 109 Internships
The Intern Files: How to Get, Keep, and Make the Most of Your Internship


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