My experiences as an intern working without getting paid

And the difficulties that come along with being undervalued by a company

Wouter Kok
Apr 10 · 4 min read

In a lot of industries it is obvious to get compensation for doing an internship. However, in some industries there might be different standards. In the second year of my Software Engineering studies at the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences, I did an internship at an IT startup. It was my first job application so I was nervously answering questions and trying to explain why I was eager to learn and why I would be a suitable addition to the team (a back-end developer, a front-end developer/designer and a scrum master).

The conversation ended and I asked whether there would be any compensation doing the internship. Then the interviewer told me there would be no salary, because it was a startup company and they weren’t sure how I would perform and how much time it would take to prepare me for their work.

I remember coming home disappointed, because I wanted to earn at least something and a lot of friends of mine where earning a lot. I almost said no to the offer, but my deadline was drawing near so I decided to just take the job.

It’s very important to start early in the proces of applying for an internship. This way you won’t end up stressing out and choosing a job which might not be right for you.

After the job application I agreed with the company (because I got no salary) to learn a lot.

Pros and cons

Even though the general goal of an internship is to gain field experience, you should also pay attention to the risk of being undervalued by the company you apply for. Realizing you could be a valuable asset to any team not only gives you more motivation, but as well shows your possible future manager you are confident enough to bear responsibilities.

An internship gives you the opportunity to do something you’re passionate about and at the same time give insights in what it feels like to earn money doing something you enjoy.

So while not having salary, it is possible to miss out on this learning curve. If no salary is given for your work (and there is nothing wrong with that), there should at least be an agreement to learn as much as possible. While you’re doing an internship, you will always learn something. Hence this pro about learning as much as possible should outweigh the cons of missing out on both earnings and learning worthwhile lessons.

Time consuming intern duties

I worked 5 months and about 65% of my work was IT related and 35% was spent on intern duties. The first month I studied and coded to gain the knowledge needed to work on the project. Working on the project, I learned to code together in a team which is definitely helpful in my further career.

Apart from coding, I had to do some intern duties. And that’s just the way it is in a lot of companies. Why let an employee waste energy and time on non-work related duties when an intern is available at all times.

If it’s only for less than half an hour a day, it’s feasible. Yet, because I worked at a startup, there where a lot of different PowerPoint presentations to be made to sell our product. I had to edit a lot of them to meet the standards of diverse companies. Sometimes I spent the whole morning working on presentations and then I had to switch to my coding tasks. In addition, it takes some time to switch tasks as well so if there had to be done something I had to switch up multiple times.

For me it just felt like crap making these presentations, especially since I made a compromise to learn substantially. There has to be a balance between doing work and non-work related duties, especially when you’re working for experience and knowledge.

Conclusion

Working at a company in the industry you are studying in, will motivate you in your further studies and will help you recognize whether you really enjoy working in this industry. Thus, really think about taking that internship without being compensated. Are you sure you will have a more valuable learning experience than someone with a salary?

Thanks for reading! Leave a comment about your thoughts on doing an internship and share if you want to :).

Wouter Kok

Written by

Computer Science student | Freelancer | Music producer | Writing about anything | wouterkok.net

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