Here’s the truth: unpaid work absolutely has it’s place in almost every healthy career. Unpaid work helps to generate opportunities, open doors, and create buzz. But here’s the other side of the truth: your time is valuable. You need to make a dollar, and more importantly you need to avoid burning out and resenting the folks that you work for. If there’s pro bono work in your near future, here are six tips to help you maximize and finesse any unpaid internship, job or volunteer opportunity.
Set Goals. While some internships, and similar unpaid opportunities, are very structured, others aren’t. Before you start, spend some time setting goals that you want to achieve. Setting personal goals will help to give your unpaid opportunity even more purpose and benefit. You will also feel a greater sense of accomplishment once you achieve them.
Avoid Negativity. It can be easy to become negative when you aren’t getting paid, but nothing kills an unpaid internship, job, or volunteer opportunity quicker than a nasty attitude. So, avoid complaining, being closed-minded, appearing inflexible, being rude, or disrespecting coworkers. Tackle all tasks with enthusiasm and a positive attitude.
Find a Mentor. Mentors are invaluable during internships – they look out for you, make sure you’re learning what you need to know, and help you accomplish your goals. A mentor is also a good sounding board for your ideas and questions. When looking for a mentor, be sure to choose someone at a higher level in the organization. This could be your supervisor, but it could also be another person within the company or organization.
Get as Much Exposure as Possible. Some of the best internships rotate you among departments and supervisors, but if yours doesn’t, don’t let that stop you from tackling new tasks, meeting people outside of your department, and attending company social events. You’ll learn more when you expose yourself to new people and ideas.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Questions. An internship, or any unpaid opportunity, is a learning experience. You aren’t expected to know everything. Seek advice and ask questions whenever you encounter something you are unfamiliar with.
Leave With Tangible Accomplishments. One of the main goals of any unpaid opportunity should be to leave with tangible results or accomplishments – both for your resume and your career portfolio. Did you aid in developing a method of packing that helped to reduce waste by 40%? Or maybe you helped to computerize the inventory system, which resulted in fewer errors and more revenue for the company? Try keeping a journal of all the things you accomplished during the duration of your opportunity.
About the author: Mariah Thompson is a 20-something year old writer living and loving in Atlanta, GA. Follow her on Twitter.