In today’s world, it’s practically impossible to get a job without a resume filled with relevant work history. If you want a job, you need experience, but to get experience you need a job. Right…
So, if you’re in school and have only worked folding shirts at the Gap or you’re making a career change and trying to break into a new industry, making yourself a desirable employee often means looking for an internship.
In theory, taking an internship is a great idea. Companies offer students or trainees the opportunity to gain a better understanding of what a job in their field might look like and in turn the company gets an extra set of hands around the office. But there’s a significant downside: many internships are unpaid.
The experience and lessons these positions can teach you may be priceless in the long run, but they don’t help you in the short-term when your student loans are sitting squarely on your shoulders and rent is due.
If you can’t afford to work for free but still want to give your resume a boost, here are four unpaid internship alternatives to consider:
Gain new skills
Not all skills are learned on the job. In fact, you can add to your relevant skills from the comfort of your own couch. Sites like Skillshare, Codecademy, and Udemy offer cheap classes on a wide variety of subjects that you can complete on your own time. Taking the time to teach yourself HTML, Photoshop, or any other relevant skill shows a potential employer you’re willing to put in the time and effort to do a great job.
Whether you’re in school or in the workforce, there are ways to build experience where you are.
If you’re still in school, join the clubs, organizations, and programs that relate to the industry you want to work in. Maybe that means working at the campus newspaper, running social media for a local political campaign, or clearing trails with the Sierra Club. If nothing like that exists, start a club and find like-minded people. Not only will you gain experience, but you’ll make connections that can help in the job hunt. And you’ll be able to dictate how much time you give to the pursuit.
For those looking to gain experience due to a career change or reentering the workforce, there are many professional organizations that function similarly to those available on college campuses. Find one in your area and reach out to find opportunities to learn on your own time.
Start a side hustle
Want to show a potential employer you can hack it in a field? Don’t wait for their permission; go ahead and try it. Want to be a writer? Start freelancing. Trying to become a graphic designer? List your services on sites like Fiverr. Starting a side hustle that relates to the career you aspire to have looks great on a resume and has the added appeal of bringing in actual cash.
Ask to shadow someone
If there’s a company out there that you’d kill to work at, reach out and ask if you can shadow someone there for a few days or weeks. They might say no, but they might say yes — and it never hurts to ask. You won’t get the full internship experience, but in a temporary role, you’ll be able to understand the broad strokes of the sector, make connections, and show off how amazing you are.