How To Turn Your Unpaid Internship Into A Full-Time, Paid Job


Ah, the beloved and yet begrudged unpaid internship. Is there any other position that elicits more mixed feelings?

It’s an incredible opportunity that gives you that competitive edge to build your career, opens doors to much-needed work experience, and puts you in touch with a whole slew of potentially critical contacts.

But no monetary compensation? Like…zero? Nada? Zilch? It’s a bit of a tough pill to swallow because, let’s be real, those student loans are not going to pay themselves and, um, you kind of need to eat.

I feel that, I really do. But in the long run, the opportunities that unpaid internships open up far outweigh the short-term costs.

And, as cliché as it may sound, your internship is really what you make of it. So why not make it into a paying job?

I spent months as an intern for an international non-governmental organization and I turned that unpaid internship into a paid, previously non-existent job (high five, me!) How? Let me show you how it’s done…

Work your ass off

Well, duh. This should go without saying, but you’ve really got to treat this internship like a real job. Take ownership of any and all of the tasks that are thrown your way. For the next coming months, this internship is your baby and, damn it, you’re going to make sure your baby is the healthiest, most successful baby there is!

Awkward analogy, but you know what I’m trying to get at…

Offer to take on extra responsibilities

Time permitting, of course. Show that you’re a go-getter and willing to get your hands dirty. And don’t just stick to your department either. Network with individuals from other areas of the company and see if there’s anything you can do to help. Not only will you broaden your skill set beyond your general expertise, but you’ll also broaden your exposure to different people who may offer you a job in the future.

Innovate and initiate

Don’t be afraid to push your ideas out there. I know it can be a bit intimidating because you’re “just an intern” and what do you know?

The answer is a lot. You know a lot. You are not a blank slate. You have a ton of experiences to draw from and the fact that you’re a newb in this company can actually work to your advantage. You have an outsider’s point of view and are unencumbered by deeply ingrained company practices. You’re in a unique position to give some fresh insight and out-of-the-box ideas given that, well, you actually are outside of the box.

Showing that you’ve got the confidence, gumption and brain to bring your ideas forward? Boom. That just reeks of some straight up #winning.

Make yourself invaluable

Now I realize that’s a pretty ambitious statement, but hey, you’re an ambitious person who makes things happen, right? So go and make things happen. Carve a niche for yourself in the company. Learn something that no one else knows or learn how to do something so well that they can’t possibly afford to lose you.

Keep in touch

Okay, okay. So maybe there just really isn’t a job available for you at the moment and there’s no budget to hire another staff member. That sucks, but that’s the real world for you! Just don’t let them get away so quickly. Keep in touch and check back every now and then just to say hello and touch base. Make sure you’re always on their mind so if a position does open up…well then, hello!

But, to be real, by that time, you’ve already been scooped up by another company because let’s face it, you’re a pro!

Have you ever turned an unpaid internship into a full-time, paid job? Tell us about it in the comments below!

Photo credit: 260/365 Internships by Ken Colwell on Flickr
About the author

Justine Abigail Yu is a communications professional by day and a freelance writer by night. Graduating from the University of Toronto specializing in Political Science and Sociology, her heart lies in the development sector where she has worked with organizations operating in North America, Africa, and Southeast Asia. You can easily lure her in with talk of international development, human rights, emerging technologies, travel, and yes, Mad Men. Or a slice of cheesecake. Read her blog here or follow her on Twitter @justineabigail.