{ How to survive as an unpaid intern? Get creative! }

Sometimes when you're a college student, money is hard to come by. Mom and Dad are already paying for college, and they're not always going to provide you financial life support, especially as you near graduation and the world of self-sustaining human beings. Besides, when they were your age, they worked hard and saved up money, etc., blah blah blah.

Sometimes, too, you take on an unpaid internship because it will give you lots of experience and pump up your resume. But, living in a market-based economy, you still need money. When this happens, you must learn to shamelessly - but skillfully - negotiate what I call Unpaid Intern Finances 101. This generally consists of two things: the pathetic practice of parent-begging and the desperate art of acquiring odd jobs.

Interning this summer at the Current newspapers, a local DC paper with a weekly circulation of 53,000, has been professionally very fulfilling - but monetarily enervating. I have been there for three weeks now and written somewhere around seven stories, including a few front pagers. The highlight so far was a 24-hour mad dash to cover the impending sale of Politics & Prose, a beloved, and nationally prominent, independent bookstore where I grew up discovering some of the best and brainiest books in the world.

Despite my modest success at the internship, I have had to survive on a thin budget, eating almost every meal at home, turning down invites to concerts and sports events - and putting myself out there for the chance to make a buck. I quickly learned that traditional jobs like restaurants and caterers wouldn't want me, as I'd only be available to them for two days a week until mid-August. So I turned to my neighborhood listserv, offering myself as a smart, able-bodied college graduate: "I can do yard work and babysitting, and everything in between! Believe me!" I've had much less success with this tactic than I had in high school; perhaps since the recession people are less willing to hire strangers to do jobs they can often do themselves. In three weeks I've had one bite: a two-hour house-moving job for $50. Ka-ching! Just in time to prevent another woe-is-me parent-begging.

About two weeks ago, though, I discovered this great new way to start making money: blogging. I already do that (as you can see), but this is different. I came across this website called examiner.com, where thousands of people have signed up to blog on topics they know something about - and get paid for it by the pageview.

So far I've written two entries:

"As sustainable as we want to be: Resurrecting the streetcar in the nation's capital"

and

"Hermaphrodite fish in my drinking water, oh my!"

I get about half a cent every time someone looks at one of my articles, so obviously I have some work to do before I can start raking in the big bucks. I think writing well will be crucial, but I will also have to learn a skill I haven't used much before: figuring out how to attract traffic, primarily through social media. Twitter and Facebook have worked well for this so far, and I also sent my articles out to Greenscene, an email listserv for Oberlin environmentalists.

I've been getting about 40 total pageviews per day since publishing my second article last week, and I'm hoping to get that number up as I write more articles and promote myself more.

Do you have ideas on how I can better promote my blog? What about ideas for topics I should cover? Please check out my articles, I'd love a penny and your thoughts!

So in conclusion, the one rule to remember about surviving an unpaid internship is that you should leave your dignity at the door. Sure, I've only made $2 in two weeks as an examiner.com blogger, and my wallet is nearly empty. But as long as I'm willing to put myself out there for a potpourri of unconventional jobs, I'm not worried. And besides, being a broke college student is just a phase -- it only happens at your age.


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{ Responses To This Entry }

I see what you did there, Sam. V-e-r-y clever. And yes, I clicked. Twice. Happy to contribute a penny to the cause. (Also, good articles.)

Posted by: David on June 24, 2010 7:25 PM


You forgot to mention your sugardaddy who buys you mad dinners.

Posted by: Anonymous on June 25, 2010 12:00 AM


Last summer, doing an unpaid production internship in Los Angeles, I survived mainly because the company where I worked had a kitchen that was always stocked with english muffins, peanut butter, and apples.

The mantra of an unpaid intern: You show up, every day, on time and with a smile on your face. You do the work no one else wants to do, for free, and don't complain.
Eventually, (hopefully) someone will appreciate what you do enough to start paying you for it.

Posted by: Chris on July 22, 2010 11:32 AM


I paid my own way through Oberlin, and my parents haven't given me handout's since I was 15.... I can't do unpaid internships because my survival depends on getting paid, but if you really do have your heart set on doing an unpaid internship, a good way to make extra money is by working as a tutor for highschool and elementary school students. You can tutor kids in everything from math and science to art and music. If you have any foriegn language knowlege you can teach people english. Tutoring is very flexible and it can be done online or in person. It also pays a lot more than blogging or begging for money.

Posted by: Dolores on August 14, 2010 5:25 AM


True, the tactics I was pursuing were not the most lucrative. Tutoring is a great idea, especially considering I work as a writing tutor during the school year. Fortunately, as I wrote about in the following post, I came across a paid internship a few weeks ago. Lesson learned: I'm getting too old for unpaid internships.

Posted by: Sam on August 14, 2010 11:12 PM



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