Going into an unpaid internship
An unpaid internship can be hard work. Often they require a lot of hours for very little reward except for "experience". While this is often the case, there are situations when an unpaid internship could help boost your career to the next level.
My first unpaid internship was as part of an awesome business accelorator programme here in Wellington called Lightning Lab. It was rather like standing beneath a waterfall with your mouth open. There's so many new things flying at you once it's impossible to take it all in, but you still get a lot of what you need.
The skills I learned there weren't just technical. Working to deadlines, having people relying on you to get things done, being part of a team, these were all things they don't teach you at school. The most important thing that you can learn is how to work with people, and for people. It's the biggest differnce between a graduate and senior member.
For me, it was the perfect time to do an unpaid internship, and I would recommend it to anybody who is close to finishing their studies. It teaches you real-world skills without the pressure of money weighing you down, and it's a way to meet a whole new group of people with similar interests as you.
There's no reason a larger company should be hiring people on an unpaid basis, but small startups need people to get things going for them. This means you have work that people can see, not some minor change to an obscure part of a website. The people you work for are far more grateful, and usually have connections in the industry which could lead to paid work.
It also gives you great insight on how to start your own business. You learn how to network, push boundaries, make people believe in an idea. Being able to take an idea and turn it into something viable is important for any business, and learning this skill is something that takes a lot of effort.
Interning can be great, but it's important to know when not to do it as well. If the company is going out and getting new computers or upgrading their office space over paying you, it means they probably don't value you as much as they should. Paying employees should be their first order of business, because your time is valuable, even if they don't realize it. Don't be afraid to ask for money either.
If your just starting your career or soon to be finishing your studies and you don't have anything lined up, an internship could be exactly what you need. Most people I've talked to don't get the job they want straight away, either due to not being well known enough or not having the skills to make them valuable to employers. An internship could be the stepping-stone to that next level.