How to Tell if an Internship Is Paid or Unpaid

How to Tell if an Internship Is Paid or Unpaid

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An internship is arguably the best way of gaining experience in a certain field. It can also be an opportunity to learn more about oneself and one’s interests and make valuable connections in the professional world. However, there’s one big question that potential interns must ask themselves: is this internship paid or unpaid? 

There are a few ways to determine if an internship is paid or unpaid, they include:

  1. The company lets you know beforehand
  2. Researching the company’s website 
  3. Asking current or former interns 
  4. Researching the company’s industry 
  5. Asking directly 

In this article, we’ll go over the various ways of telling whether an internship is paid or unpaid. We’ll also discuss whether it’s worth considering an unpaid internship. 

1. The Company Lets You Know Beforehand

The first sign is if the internship is listed as “paid” or “unpaid” on the organization’s website or job listing. Most legitimate organizations will list this information upfront so that potential interns know what to expect. If the internship is unpaid, they will usually mention that it’s a volunteer or unpaid position. 

If the company doesn’t mention anything about pay on their job listing, the internship is likely unpaid. It doesn’t mean that all internships with this company will be unpaid, but it should provide you with a good indication. Keep in mind that if the internship is indeed unpaid, there may still be other benefits and compensation (like college credits and references). 

2. Researching the Company’s Website

Sometimes, the organization might not explicitly mention that they pay their interns since that information is already on their website. 

In this case, you’ll have to check through their website to determine whether the internship is paid or unpaid: 

  • Check the company’s “about” page. Some companies list what they do and who they serve on this page. You can use this information as a basis for determining if an internship with them will be paid or not. 
  • Look for any information on their website about pay. The company might list the pay rate for their employees, or they might state that interns aren’t paid but may receive college credits. If there’s no information on their website about pay, the internship is likely unpaid. 

3. Asking Current or Former Interns

If you know anyone who has interned with the company in the past, it would be a good idea to ask them about their experience. 

They’ll let you know whether the company pays its interns. They might also give you some insight into what the work is like and what kind of benefits (if any) they received. 

If you don’t know anyone who has interned with the organization, go on LinkedIn and establish connections with people who work there. Once connected, ask them if they know anything about the internship. They’ll advise you on what to expect in terms of pay and benefits. 

4. Researching the Company’s Industry

It might also help to do some research on your own to check whether internships in that particular industry are usually paid or unpaid positions. The company may not explicitly state whether the internship is paid or unpaid. 

However, if most internships in that industry are unpaid, the company will most likely follow the industry norms. 

5. Asking the Interviewer Directly

If all else fails, you can ask the interviewer directly about payment. It’s important to show that you are interested in their organization and would love to work for them, but it is also okay to ask this question at the end of the interview. 

The interviewer might ask you if you have any questions for them. This is your opportunity to ask about: 

  • Compensation 
  • Benefits  
  • other related matters 

If you don’t get the opportunity to ask those questions during or after the interview, consider doing so via email. Let them know how much you appreciate their time and ask if you can follow up with a few questions. At this point, simply ask them whether the internship is paid or unpaid. 

As expected, most aspiring interns are afraid of posing this question since it might make it sound like they are only interested in the money. 

However, if you phrase it in a way that makes it clear that you are genuinely curious about the internship, the interviewer will most likely be understanding. 

Therefore, the trick is to be polite, respectful, and genuinely interested in the company. 

Reasons for Paid Internships

You might be wondering why some companies pay their interns, and others do not.

There are many reasons why companies might pay for their internships. Some major ones include: 

  • The company has the money to compensate its interns. For large corporations, an internship is one way of giving back to the community by providing students with valuable work experience. Other times, they hire interns because there is high turnover in the industry, and they need to fill vacant positions. 
  • Some organizations work with external partners who pay their interns for their work. For example, an organization may have a contract with an external company to supply it with interns for a certain period. The external company might hire interns on behalf of the nonprofit organization and compensate them for their work. 

Reasons for Unpaid Internships

Some companies don’t pay their interns because they can’t afford to do so, or it’s a new initiative that’s still in its infancy. Other times, they might not have as much support as they would like from external partners, and they simply can’t compensate interns for their work. In this case, nonprofits might refer interns to third-party organizations or other sources. 

The U.S. Department of Labor defines an unpaid internship as a work experience offered by a for-profit company that benefits the intern and doesn’t entitle them to a job at the end of the training. In short, it’s meant to be educational, not financial.

The company must also derive no immediate advantage from the intern’s activities, and both parties should understand that the intern is not entitled to wages.

The Differences Between Paid and Unpaid Internships

There are several key differences between paid and unpaid internships. The main ones include: 


Paid interns are typically given more responsibilities than unpaid interns. That’s because there’s nothing such as a “free lunch.” The company is expecting something in return. 

On the other hand, unpaid interns are typically assigned a smaller workload. 

The upside of being an unpaid intern is that you’ll probably have more flexibility to pursue other interests while working for your organization. 

Experience Gained During Internships

One major difference between paid and unpaid internships is the experience you’ll gain. Paid internships are much more intensive because interns are doing real work for the organization. Since they’re compensated, employers expect interns to be fully invested in their tasks and responsibilities. 

Since unpaid internships are typically less intensive, it comes with the risk of not acquiring any valuable experience. On the other hand, you’ll have more flexibility to explore your interests and pursue outside projects. 

Networking Opportunities

Paid internships also offer more networking opportunities because interns are typically assigned more important tasks. This opportunity gives you greater exposure to people who are influential in the organization. 

Unpaid internships are not necessarily bad, but they’re typically less intense. If you’re looking to get your foot in the door of a certain company, paid internships might be the way to go. 

Attainability `

Needless to say, you’ll be more likely to land an unpaid internship since most organizations can’t afford to pay their interns. The good news is that you’ll have more flexibility, experience, and exposure when working for an organization.

Another reason unpaid internships are more common in most fields is that interns aren’t considered employees under the law. As such, the organization isn’t required to pay them for their services or offer them benefits.

Relevance to Field of Study

Many students will opt for a paid internship in a field that’s not relevant to their career path just because of the monetary compensation. That’s because most students are looking for paid internships to cover their expenses. 

That means you might end up acquiring experience in a field that you don’t really care about. As you can imagine, that will affect your job satisfaction when you start working. 

The benefit of unpaid internships is that you get to test the waters in fields that you’re passionate about. This ensures that you will be more satisfied with your work experience. 

Final Thoughts

Hopefully, this article has answered your question of how to tell whether an internship pays. 

Unpaid internships are not necessarily bad, but they should serve a purpose in your career path. If you want to get some valuable experience while exploring different fields, try working for an unpaid internship first. 

Nonetheless, the networking opportunities are unrivaled when it comes to paid internships. Moreover, paid internships will serve you better if you are looking for money. It’s important to consider these factors before making your decision.