Alternatives to unpaid internships

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The word goes that after you graduate or even during your studies you need to get a job so you gain some experience...But then you need to have experience to get the job. And this has the tendency of turning into a vicious circle out of which is challenging to get out. But luckily, a trick was invented. The almighty INTERNSHIP! You get to spend a couple of months, see how’s the work done in your domain, see whether you see yourself doing it for the long term and do some networking. A great thing, ain’t it? Though there’s a small catch. It’s common knowledge you shouldn’t expect to be paid. It’s like, companies are giving you such a huge chance of entering the real world of professionals. Why would you even dare to ask anything in return? Like many other organisations, such as the Youth Forum at a European level, we also oppose unpaid internships. Why so? On the one hand, it’s about not appreciating the time a young professional puts into accomplishing the tasks that are assigned to him/her. It’s also about the resources that are undervalued. Plus, isn’t a bit discriminating? It might be a great opportunity, but if an intern doesn’t have the money to sustain himself/herself, then that person cannot even apply for the job. On the other hand, let’s not forget about the companies themselves. They show they are not willing to invest in the development of their employees, are focused on short-term winning and are willing to slightly jeopardise their brand just not to spend money.
But then, how do you get out of the vicious circle?  If you can’t find something else than an unpaid internship, what other options are there? We made a short list of other activities from where you can get some real-life experience:

Volunteering in a local NGO
Whether is a cause you believe in or an activity you’d like to explore, working in an NGO is always a good option. Nowadays they cover more than social causes, with purposes going from saving the planet to organising events in your vicinity. The advantage is that you can dedicate as much time as you can and you can choose the type of responsibilities you will have. NGOs became quite professional lately, with their activity organised in multiple departments, from logistics to fundraising, communication or even IT. Also, some exist at multiple levels, local, national or international, thus giving you the opportunity of expanding your network considerably.

Get involved in student societies
If you want to dedicate your time to a volunteering project, you don’t have to look far. For sure your faculty or university has a student society. What’s even better is that they are focused on your field which means you get experience without having to go through an unpaid internship. The resemblance with a real job is stunning. There are plenty of projects happening, you work in a team, you set your targets, you interact with other organisations or even with business partners and you can participate at different conferences.

Take a part-time job
Part-time jobs are great! You get some extra pocket money while being able to go on with your studies or your job hunt. And plus, you can still develop your network. The offer is quite varied. Try to see whether there are any opportunities at your student bar, cafe or supermarket. Even though it’s not in your domain, having a part-time job has other perks, you work in a team, you have to deal with customers and you learn how to deliver to achieve certain tasks. When hiring, employers tend to look beyond and appreciate any soft skills a candidate already has.

Take advantage of the EU opportunities
If you’re living in one of the EU countries, then you hit the jackpot. The Erasmus+ programme is maybe the most successful initiative. This gives young people the chance of being involved in projects all over the European countries. You might already have heard about it via the student exchanges, but the programme has so much more to offer. Do you want to develop your skills in a certain domain? Then go for a free/almost free non-formal youth exchange. You get the training, the trip to a new country and new friends. Do you enjoy dedicating your time to a cause, but you want to do it internationally?  Worry not! Just check out the database of organisations participating at the European Voluntary Service sub-programme. Do you have a business idea you want to put into practice? Try Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs. You have between three and six months to learn the insights of the startup world. And these are only the highlights of the entire initiative. As a participant, for the short term exchanges, you get the food, accommodation and transportation covered. For the long-term exchanges, you also receive a scholarship. Not to forget, you also get certificates stating your new developed skills.

So, next time when you’re wondering what you can do to gain more experience, think about these options. You can always skip an unpaid internship!
Let us know how the tips worked for you!