My Take on Unpaid Internships
This is a topic that has been beat to death on this website, but I realized I never shared my perspective on it. For context, this post is geared entirely toward students trying to break into IB / S&T / PE / high barrier to entry areas of finance etc. (especially if you're a non-target)
Background: generic middle class kid who attended a school most of you haven't heard on, with essentially zero presence on the street (this is relevant later). Worked multiple jobs growing up, working more or less minimum wage jobs through jobs that "paid well" for my age (none over $20 per hour). To ensure I dont miss my mark on this point, in other words, I had experience and opportunities to work relatively low paying jobs even as a freshman at uni.
When I hear people talk about unpaid internships, 99% of the time the sentiment on this site is that they are not worth it. The rationale always comes out as "oh, you are telling your employer you have no value for your own time".
Well let me opine on why these people are so out of touch with reality? Did you grow up with a massive trust fund, or were you never 18 years old? Did you all attend the most elite school in this country, or do you just have an inability to think from someone else's perspective? Let me make this very simple, at 18-19 years old as a college student with zero skills in the field you seek to enter, YOU ARE WORSE THAN WORTHLESS.
You have yet to work a day in the field, and having the mentality of "im going to do everything in my power to break in" is a completely pragmatic approach. It does not, however, mean you dont value your time. It is indicative of the fact that you are willing to make a short-term sacrifice for a long-term gain. If you were to explain it to any employer, they would likely see your POV. You are essentially acknowledging that you have no skill set in a field of interest, but are hard working, and enough of a hustler to get ANY experience.
An attempt at getting experience by any means necessary is a move most people respect. This initial foot in the door can be the catalyst for getting jobs down the road, even YEARS later. Especially as a non-target with a mediocre / less than ideal GPA, this can make you more competitive than your bettered positioned counterparts.
My first internship led to multiple more and I wouldn't be where I am today without it.
I actually lost a good amount of that summer. I spent a week of my life putting together a fullan internship, and became one of three interns. The one was a JD / candidate and the other had two summers in VC ALREADY. I spent hundreds on gass that summer driving far out of my way. Hours commuting every single day (multiple hours of traffic). But I was grateful to be there. I messed up and learned how to properly check my work in a low risk environment. I gained knowledge about the basics of working in a professional setting where I was the youngest person there. I started to learn the basic skills of my field of interest. I learned from really bright folks that went out of their way to teach me.
In the end, the experience and having something strong out of my resume got me so many more looks moving forward. It led to a internship that I got a few years later, which was one of the sole reasons I got my latest role.
I'm obviously not stating I think internships should be unpaid, or that if choosing between a paid and unpaid internship in IB the unpaid one should be considered, but that if you are desperate for experience, take what you can get.
Lastly, Im not shitting on interns in general, when I say you are not valuable. What I mean is that based on my own experience, and my friends (most who were much smarter than I was) that all of us were more trouble than we were worth. We would take a long time to do deliverables, and they would mostly need to be redone. Further, when in banking, we were essentially slowing down every analyst we worked for. They would send us a task, explain it, send us a template, wait for us to do it 3x slower then they would, and then they would have to edit it. We were doubling, if not tripling the amount of work it took to do anything. I worked for a company that told me the worst intern they ever had was a kid from Standford, so even the highest performers are kinda brutal workers at 18-19. Don't walk in with a sense of entitlement that you are there to add value at 18/19, odds are you have taken under 4 finance classes and still cant build out awithout a youtube video pulled up on . And if you are niave enough to think that the company is "lucky to have you", I wish you the best and look forward to seeing "IB is for people who couldnt get into tech" posts on this website too. Unless of course your Dad's an MD, in which case, yeah the future is bright.
TLDR: Unpaid internships are worth it for anyone struggling to get initial experience (i.e., fresh / soph year internships) in a high barrier to entry area of finance, especially if they come from a no-name school / have a mediocre GPA.