Paid or Unpaid Internships: Getting the Experience You Want (Guest Post)

By Diana Neal. Diana is currently an intern for the Marketing Zen Group. You can connect with her at

There have been some good points made recently about the disadvantages of unpaid internships. The most obvious disadvantage is money — or the lack thereof. Although I cannot argue against the importance of money, I can make a compelling argument for why unpaid internships should not be overlooked.

In my twenties and thirties, I was busy raising kids and going to college. Now in my forties, I have been unemployed for an extended period of time. Since there seemed to be no end to my job search, I started giving some thought to how I could apply my skill set and do something else.

At this time I began looking at internships. When you are in your forties, some traditional routes for internships are not an option. Most internships want college-aged students who have a degree or who will graduate soon. Many internships require relocation, which was not an option for me. My internship choices were slim pickings, but they were out there.

I applied and was accepted for an unpaid internship with an online marketing company. My internship is online, and I work with a team who work from home writing for search engine optimization, or SEO. I have been assigned three clients, a Leave Your Legacy campaign, an ophthalmologist in New Jersey, and a mobile apps development company. I am responsible for the research, outreach, and the writing of blog ‘guest posts’ that use keywords to connect back to the client’s site.

Here are six things you should consider when choosing an unpaid (or paid) internship. I chose topics based on my personal experience. I also offer some suggestions on how to carve out an internship that is right for you.

1. Contact companies directly. Sometimes you may find there isn’t anything offered in the area you live, or maybe what is offered is not something you are interested in doing. Sometimes the internship requires relocation. Not everyone can relocate to take an internship. What do you do when your choices are limited? Well, you can always ask if a company would be willing to provide you an internship. Just email them, or give them a call. I have usually started with the human resources department when doing this in the past.

2. If you approach someone about an internship, come up with a list of goals you would like to reach during your internship. This will help you find an internship that fits your needs while making you look super capable. You will appear self-motivated and committed to a successful internship — all positive things that will most likely lead you to getting an internship you will love.

3. Think outside the box. Many skills are universal. You may find you can get the skills you want from an internship that does not exactly match your degree plan. An example would be my internship. I wanted to write and learn more about marketing. I had no previous experience with SEO, but I found my internship could meet my personal needs while giving me the experience I wanted.

4. Negotiation and compromise are a part of life. Be willing to negotiate and compromise for the types of experiences you would like to have in an internship. In any internship, be willing to do things you may not find that great, because you learn from those experiences too. Knowing your goals and what you are willing to do — and what you will not do — will help you negotiate in a way that puts you in the driver’s seat.

5. Reach out to those around you who can help you. You are never too young to understand the importance of building networks and forming connections. There are many ways to do this online, and the internet is full of tutorials. When you are looking for an internship, tell everyone who will listen. They might connect you to someone who can give you the internship you are looking for.

6. Consider a volunteer position. There are many volunteer opportunities that are just as good as an unpaid internship. When you volunteer there is usually some form of training; you learn new skills, you can get someone to write you a letter of recommendation, and it looks just as good on an application.

The Pros and Cons of Doing a Work-From-Home Internship

My internship is based from home. If you’re interested in a work-from-home internship, consider the pros and cons before making a decision. To get you started, I have listed some of the pros and cons I have experienced.


Flexibility.  I set my own hours. If something happens at home I’m there to take care of it.

Informal. I can wear whatever I want. If all I want to wear are my pajamas, then that’s what I wear!

Less Stress. I am sensitive to light and noise. I find it very stressful to work in a loud, noisy setting. I just don’t function well in that kind of environment. I need to be able to think, and I can’t think in an environment where I am subjected to intrusive stimuli that I can’t control.

Time.  I like being able to take a break, and maybe do my dishes. I also like avoiding interruptions from well-meaning coworkers, and bosses. Also, being able to manage my time cuts down on distractions and gives me more flexibility in my day.

Less Distraction. I find I am more productive at home because I am not distracted by idle gossip and chit chat. If I am distracted I retreat into my room.

Now for the cons:

The cons are easy. Pretty much anything considered a pro can also serve as a con. Some days, being self-directed is easier than others. A break with family around can easily become an hour — or two. Doing the dishes can turn into cleaning the whole house. Being at home can also become monotonous. It can be too quiet, or too loud. Wearing your pajamas everyday sounds cool, but after a while you just feel gross and in need of a shower. If you do choose an internship from home you will have to find ways to balance the demands of home and work. You will also need to develop tunnel vision so the distractions at home are not disruptive, and you can get your work done.

In conclusion, you may find your list of pros and cons looks differently than mine. That is okay. Your list should be based on your unique needs. Regardless of what type of internship you choose, I hope you find an internship that will help you meet your goals and rock your world!

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