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Should You Work for Free?

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Though the jobs outlook has improved in recent years, many college grads are still having trouble securing employment in their fields of choice.

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Though the jobs outlook has improved in recent years, many college grads are still having trouble securing employment in their fields of choice. According to recent data, as of 2014, over half of employed grads had jobs that didn’t require a college degree, while a mere 27 percent managed to find jobs in fields related to their areas of study. As a result, some job seekers have resorted to accepting volunteer opportunities or internships in the hopes of opening the door to long-term employment. While working for free has its advantages, it also has several drawbacks.The Pros
• You’ll get hands-on experience in your industry of choice, which will increase your chances of getting hired for paid positions. The trend of hiring interns is especially strong in banking and finance, in which employers later offered 69 percent of summer interns full-time positions, according to the Graduate Management Admission Council. This figure is consistent with internship.com’s previous survey findings, which found that large companies with more than100 employees offered full-time jobs to more than two-thirds of interns.

• You’ll get to build relationships within your company and gain networking opportunities within your industry.

• You’ll have something substantial to add to your resume, especially if you participate in a successful endeavor or project.
The Cons
• You won’t be making money, which could impact more than just your ability to cover your bills or pay off your student loans; that lack of a salary could result in low self-esteem and job dissatisfaction. Even if you’re treated well and are given interesting projects to work on, your absent paycheck could cast a negative shadow on the whole experience.

• You may wind up doing more grunt work than anticipated. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), unpaid interns spend a mere 30 percent of their time doing non-administrative tasks.

• Your unpaid stint may not actually result in employment. According to NACE, only 37 percent of unpaid interns actually received paying job offers when their arrangements came to a close.

Before You Sign up:
• Do your research. Get stats on post-internship hiring rates in your field, and talk to people who got their start working without pay.

• Don’t overcommit. Negotiate a short-term arrangement, especially if you’re skeptical about the chances of it turning into a paid job.

• Discuss your goals and expectations openly with your employer. Explain that your ultimate objective is to get hired for pay, and clarify your on-the-job tasks up-front so that you don’t wind up spending your days filing reports and making photocopies.

• Understand your rights. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) has certain criteria that must be fulfilled for an internship to be established — namely, that the intern is not guaranteed a job at the conclusion of the internship, nor should the intern expect compensation. But some of the laws are designed to protect you as an intern. For example, an internship must be designed to benefit the intern, and it must offer training similar to what might be found in an educational environment. The FLSA has also established rules to protect volunteers. Individuals, for example, cannot work without pay for a for-profit, private sector employer. On the other hand, volunteering for a public sector employer such as a government agency is permissible, as is volunteering for a religious or humanitarian organization.
While clearly there are no guarantees, the right unpaid opportunity could wind up advancing your career much faster than months of fruitless job searching.

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