If the end of your college career is near and you haven’t landed a job for after graduation, you know exactly how scary it can be. Your options seem overwhelmingly unlimited and, at the same time, very, very limited. You’ve read all the tips on how to network, browsed websites that promise to help you figure out your career and checked out all the must-read books for career success — what’s next? Well, if the job offers aren’t exactly pouring in, you might want to consider an internship. While they’re usually reserved for school credit, some companies offer internships for recent grads too. The only problem is they might be unpaid or pretty low-paid, but sometimes the resume-building experience is worth it. We chatted with career coach (and #girlboss) Maggie Mistal to get the low-down on when to say yes to an internship and when to pass.


Maggie says the pros of doing an unpaid or low-paid internship are there. For one, she says, your managers are probably going to invest a little more in making sure you’re learning a lot. “I hired a lot of unpaid interns in my previous job in corporate,” she says. “I felt more in their debt to train them… I wanted to give them a really great experience. And I was less apt, because they were unpaid, to give them the more menial stuff. I was fine with doing some of that. I was like, ‘Here, I’ll do that. You should go do the fun stuff. This is your internship. This is your chance to try something new and really cut your teeth.'”

But still, as with any job opportunity, it can be tricky to tell whether or not an internship is really right for you. So that’s why Maggie’s offering these key tips to help you figure out whether to say yes or no.


1. Trust your gut (literally). Pay attention to “if it’s easy to write the cover letter for it, or easy to interview — meaning, you don’t dread it,” Maggie tells us. “If you have a strong negative reaction or no reaction, that’s when I would say, hmm maybe double check your feelings. I remember a job offer that I got. It was over dinner, and I went to the bathroom and threw up. And I wasn’t even sick! But it was a reaction to the job.”

2. Tune out the pressure. We all know the questions about your big life plans will be flooding in as you get closer to graduation. But don’t let that kind of pressure (well-meaning, but pressure all the same) to get just any experience on the resume drown out what you really want for yourself. “The hard part for anybody who has an internship offer is that everybody else might think it’s great, but if you don’t, if it doesn’t feel like a fit for you, you’ve got to trust yourself… Maybe it is a good experience, but for somebody else. That’s the wording I would encourage people to use — if it’s a fit, as opposed to if it’s a good opportunity or not.”

3. Ask the right questions. It’s important to ask questions in any job interview, but when it’s an internship where you might not be getting paid, it’s especially important to ask the right questions, so you can make sure the internship doesn’t just consist of getting coffee and making copies. Ask things like, “What’s a typical day like? What have other interns said they liked about the program? Were there any concerns or challenges other interns had about the program? And talk to the person you’d be reporting to and ask, ‘What’s your typical day like?'” Maggie suggests. “And usually there’s somebody in HR who’s also helping the internships. So talk to them about other projects or special events they do for interns.”

4. Embrace the uncertainty. The great thing about internships, Maggie says, is that they’re the best way to try out industries you’re interested in, but not sure about. So instead of feeling like doing an internship locks you into a particular career path, think of it more like vocational research. “If you have the wherewithal, the financial means and you can pay the bills, and you can take advantage of paid and unpaid internships, why not? They’re the best research out there, because you get to go, be an eager learner in a new environment where everybody loves the interns and wants to give them experiences or try new things. You can play the intern card, as we used to call it, where you’re working and you say, ‘Hey can I try this? Can I do that?’ There’s no better research than doing things first-hand… There’s no long-term commitment. If you don’t like it, you can just say, ‘Hey, no thank you,’ and nobody’s going to fault you for it.”

Did you (or would you) do an internship after graduation? Tweet us your thoughts @BritandCo!

(Photos via Getty)