No, we don't get profitable from having an unpaid summer internship.
No, we don't get cheap labour out of it either.
However, our interns always leave the 2-month summer time with a solid sense of accomplishment.
How come? The answer is simple:
- We lay all cards on the table - expectations, schedule, skillset, approach, and even an Internship Value Calculator that will help you understand the cost of your internship and how this will help you in any internship interview further on (click here if you'd like to go straight to the math).
- We stick to one focus for the internship: helping you learn how to learn (not just the internship technologies, but technologies in general).
Here we go.
On the Matter of Unpaid Internships
There's always this looming question of why the internship is unpaid. Nobody asks it upfront - although they should. Because it's important to understand the system you're trying to build a career in. So this piece is meant to answer the 'unaskable' question in a way that we, at least, haven't seen before (it's an internship calculator you can find below).
Before I go on, I should clarify that this is not an argument in favor of the infamous unpaid internship - it's just presenting an angle that clarifies why 'unpaid' should not be taken literally. And why a company is still investing in you (although you might not see it in the form of actual salary).
Just keep this in mind: paid or unpaid, you're still an investment.
Have a peek at the internship atmosphere, we wrote about it here 🙂
Internship Ebbs and FlowsRead
Let's see how
First, take a look at what you generally get from an internship:
- close-up guidance on certain technologies;
- to see what having a job actually implies;
- to know a company culture in-depth.
Now let's have a look at what the company gets:
- delegating experienced devs who stay with you 8 hours a day instead of being 100% on their projects.
- to review hundreds of profiles and set up dozens of interviews.
Yeah, that equals time.
Time equals money.
You'll see how much - just keep reading.
What to Choose?
Nobody tells you how the industry works in this respect - not because internships are classified info, but because they're closely tied to a company's recruitment strategy. If you understand this, you'll have an easier time choosing between all the available options.
For international companies, everything is thought out at a larger scale, so it makes sense for them to offer paid internships where you get familiar with their projects and procedures (maybe even continue working on that particular project post-internship). Simply put, giving you an internship salary saves them recruitment costs later along the way.
At the other side of the spectrum, startups are likely to not pay you simply because they don't have the funds to do so. Plus side being that you may get to work on way more exciting projects where you both develop skills and bring a contribution.
And then you have agencies like Around25: mid-sized, undergoing a growth phase, and with an increasing number of projects waiting on the line. No matter what math you apply here, the company loses. Each one of their people matters. Take one out of a project and put them as a mentor for the internship, that project will be lagging for a while. Which takes out a solid bunch of billable hours out of the company's account.
But it's not about the company at the end of the day.
It's about you.
So this is where we get to the juicy stuff: Do you even know what's the value of your internship (i.e. how much the company invests with providing you with learning resources)? Or even better: are you ready to ask this?
Most of the candidates we interview are not.
That's why we created the Mighty Internship Calculator which explains how much a company needs to spend in order to give you an internship experience :)). Feel free to play with it.
Think about it: the more interns there are and the less time a mentor has for them, the less you learn. The fewer the interns and the more hours mentors stay with them, the more you learn (i.e. the company is willing to invest more in you).
So the internship cost fluctuates according to 3 key criteria:
- the amount of mentorship you get;
- the number of interns;
- the type of company you want to work with.
You've got 3 main scenarios, more or less:
- The big company/corporation internship: you get paid, but your mentor(s) can only stay an average of 30% of their time with all the interns. Too little for you to get enough individual mentorship.
- The startup internship: no money, mentorship time varies because a startup is majorly undersied. This is a great choice if you want to train yourself in wearing multiple hats and working under pressure. Which means it's trickier to learn a technology in-depth.
- The mid-sized company internship - this is our case: Around25 won't give you money, but will make any effort (i.e. mentor always at your disposal) to make sure you spend the summer learning a relevant technology in the industry.
Is it more clear which is the REAL value of your internship months? It's about the actual time you get a mentor just for you, answering your questions only. That's why the calculator takes this into account.
But why not take this even further and see what percentage of an internship day will be allocated to guidance? We're assuming we're talking about a full-time internship, 8 hours/day:
The rest of the day, you're on your own.
How does this play out in the 3 scenarios you got earlier?
- 8 weeks & 6 interns mean you get 8.3% of your day getting a mentor's guidance.
- 6 weeks & 4 interns mean you get 12.5% of your day getting individual mentorship.
- 8 weeks & 3 interns mean you spend 16.6% of your day with a mentor just for you.
Check for yourself.
What a Summer Internship IS
If you want, a summer internship of any kind is very much like an in-depth interview. At a regular interview, you only get to spend 2 or 3 hours overall to know the company and sit at the table with their devs or management team. In 2 months, you get to really know those people and the way you can/ can't work with them.
You also get to show them much more relevant skills than you'd do within a regular interview:
- stress management;
- time management;
- fast-learning skills;
- team cooperation;
- getting and implementing feedback.
...to name just a few.
After this interview, you won't get home hoping you had said that you're [insert value], you also did [insert value], oh and you can also bring [insert value] to the table. Because you have enough time to actually prove these values, day in day out.
If you treat your internship like that, show up each day 100% determined to showcase your best, then you're likely to also get an offer and prep yourself for smooth sailing in case you accept it.
So what SHOULD you do?
Choose an internship where you can do up-skilling on steroids. At the interview, ask them how exactly will you do that and how will they value your time.
Uhm, actually, if you're here, take this list of questions to ask at an internship interview:
- How many mentors will I have?
- Which is your company's hourly rate?
- How many interns will join me during the internship?
- How much individual time will I have with a mentor each day?
The answers you'll get are going to help you calculate the value of your internship :).
And ultimately, whatever you do, go into an internship with these questions already answered:
Why am I doing this?
Is it because it's mandatory?
Is it because I need it?
Do I prefer immediate compensation or it really matters that I find the right environment for me? That I understand my industry and secure a solid starting point for myself.
If you want to think of an unpaid internship as volunteer work...you can totally do that. But that's what you always do when you seek to up-skill.
You volunteer your time to become better, to study on your own, to research additional sources, to seek help. If you really want to learn fast, you'll volunteer even outside a paid job and even if you are able to do what you're passionate about inside the project at your company.
Because in this industry, you’ve got no time to lose. What you’re paid today for, might be irrelevant in 5 years. In his book The Pragmatic Programmer, Andy Hunt points out that:
Your knowledge and experience are your most important professional assets. Unfortunately, they’re expiring assets. Your knowledge becomes out of date as new techniques, languages, and environments are developed.
What will carry you forward is the way you pick your battles, even the smallest of professional choices, so that they build yourself as a person and specialist. And a 2-month summer internship is such a choice.
How does an unpaid, yet learning-focused, intense internship feels like? Former interns at Around25 can answer. Hear from Ada, Razvan, and others about what is actually going down during those 2 summer months.