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I am currently a major in computers and information technology with a concentration in web development. I have the education but I don't have much work experience. Right now the only web development internship I can find is an unpaid one. I am aware that unpaid internships are not considered legitimate work experience for jobs but will it help me get a paid internship in the future? Or is just a waste of time?

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The value of internship isn't counted in how much money you get but in how much you learn. Unpaid internship in a good company would be worth much more than paid one in a crappy org. –  Pawel Brodzinski Jul 20 '12 at 21:16
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@redelman431 - Who told you that an unpaid intership doesn't count as legitimate work experience? If you go into a place of business ( even your own home office ) every single day and perform a job function then that is llegitimate work experience. Yes...an unpaid internship is a signed of experience, great way to get a mentor, that can help you navigate the field. –  Ramhound Jul 23 '12 at 12:57

6 Answers 6

up vote 22 down vote accepted

Internships of any kind (paid or unpaid, full or part-time; even volunteer work) are absolutely considered legitimate work experience for jobs and for other internships. That's the whole point of the unpaid internship-- your compensation is in the form of work experience that you can use to give yourself a leg up when you apply for either jobs or paid internships.

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Thanks, your response was very insightful. –  DrinkJavaCodeJava Jul 21 '12 at 2:53

An unpaid internship is by better than having done no work at all. At the very least, you will have references to vouch that you are a good employee.

The kind of work you do will determine whether future potential employers consider the internship "valid work experience." You'll want to be able to show them that the projects you worked on in the internship prepared you for the work you would do for them. If the internship consisted of coffee-fetching and typing, then it might be a waste of time you could be using to work on your portfolio.

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See whoever told you that unpaid internships doesn't matter is completely mistaken. These days, many internships are unpaid but more than anything, it’s the experience that matters. Hiring Managers value a candidate having valuable experience. Yes, you should put your internship project work on your resume, as long as it’s relevant to the position in which you are applying. Here you need not to mention in your resume that these jobs were unpaid. So just include what you did and believe me nothing is mere waste.

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Unpaid internships are a great way to show your work ethic to a company you actually want to work for and it's great for networking. You also get hands on experience, as an unpaid intern, few expect you to know everything about the technical aspects of a job. So, several people are willing to help you learn and establish your career. From my unpaid internship I wasn't looking for a paycheck, I was looking something that I could you to give me a step up in my career and what's in my bank account doesn't do that. It's the knowledge I learned from my internship, the connections I made with managers, who did help me get a well paying job and continue to invest in my success. For me that was more valuable than a paid internship.

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This is kind of a rose-tinted way to look through things, imo. The people are not "willing to help you learn and establish your career" -- let's not forget they are getting free labour -- who's to say they are actually going to help you learn from their experience with tutorials, pair programming etc? Just because something is unpaid, doesn't make it more pure somehow. –  Caroline A Feb 4 at 8:38

I think an unpaid internship is a bad idea. If you can't find a paid internship in your country, maybe try abroad (if this is something that interests you)? I know in my home country the economy is failing, so people do get the sense that an unpaid internship with the potential for a job is better than nothing, but in the country I currently live in, nobody, and I mean, NOBODY, with a CS degree (or working towards it) would accept that and no self respecting company has the gall to offer it. The only way one would work for free is if they were doing their own startup as another poster pointed out.

Also, if you have the discipline, instead of working for free, you can use your time to contribute to open source or do personal projects or read programming books. Someone with a good github account or open source experience is a very attractive hire, if not in your home country, then where the action in CS is at.

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"If you're dumb enough to work for free, you're too dumb to work here."

The point of course, is that nothing of value can be contributed by someone who doesn't value their own contribution.

I've watched a lot of grad students waste their time in unpaid internships. What is there to be gained by working for free? From a business standpoint, unpaid interns are risky because they have absolutely no stake in the game. Employers will more often than not keep you from where any of the real action is because you're an unpaid, unproven liability. Interns gain access to trade secrets, business strategies, and strategic conversations...yet offer very little in return that can be used by the company to grow itself and continue to make money.

You're getting a degree in one of the hottest industries on the planet; you would be wise to start your own business and start picking off the low hanging fruit that the larger companies are ignoring. You'll learn infinitely more by working from the ground up, and your resume will look 100x better than the shmucks' that spent summers making coffee for blue-chip bigwigs. In a worst case scenario, your business fails...but you made exactly the same amount as if you were working for free, and the experience will be recognized for its true value, giving you a huge edge over people competing for the same jobs.

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But what if I get another internship that is paid after that? –  DrinkJavaCodeJava Jul 22 '12 at 21:48
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@ajax81 - After his current internship. Your advice is pretty poor. Your suggestion is to start a company, and more then likely fail at doing so, since he has no experience in the field. He has not even finished school, how is an unpaid internship a waste of his time, if the only other thing he could be doing is working outside of his field? Lets remember this likely is a summer internship. –  Ramhound Jul 23 '12 at 13:00
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@ajax81 - I'm with Ramhound. He has no experience and can't get a paid job. No one is going to hire a company he starts up to do any work if he has no experience. The skills required to start a software development COMPANY are not the ones taught in courses on how to develop software. I found your answer unhelpful and rude. –  David Navarre Jul 23 '12 at 15:06
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@Ramhound: I disagree. What would he learn from a free internship that he wouldn't learn about by starting his own? There is inherently more value in a developer that has experienced first hand the business of developing software. Its not all about algorithms -- half of the job is managing deadlines, relationships, etc. Especially in this case, where he probably isn't going to learn about these things in school, or be put in a position during an internship where he actually has to deliver. –  ajax81 Jul 24 '12 at 19:17
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I had to up-vote this one. If nothing else, it's a different tactic on getting into the business. There'd be absolutely nothing wrong with taking some work from Craigslist or one of the "gig" boards. My first IT gig was a short one that I found in the classifieds. It paid little for an IT job but still more than my regular job. I learned stuff about the legal industry, about managing expectations, and had something to show for it. It gave me confidence in myself without the need for "the company" getting work for me. It's helped me to avoid being an "average frustrated employee." –  codenoire Feb 4 at 16:22

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