Unpaid Internships: Secret to Success for Gen Y

by / ⠀Startup Advice / July 7, 2022

Jobs are scarce. Fewer jobs are available, and the pool of qualified candidates is vast. As post-graduates struggle to navigate the tough economy, undergraduates are experiencing similar conditions in the increasingly scarce market for internships and summer jobs. In an environment characterized by the survival of the fittest, what can Gen Y do?

Summertime can be a very critical turning point in Gen Y’s professional development. For many college kids, this three month vacation represents a time to do nothing but lie on the beach and chase pretty girls (or, vice versa). But for those searching for a way to get ahead in the highly competitive job market they will soon be entering, summer can also be a time to gain experience and make connections that will jumpstart one’s career aspirations.

So, what is the secret to success for Gen Y? Many are finding it to be unpaid internships. It is imperative for Gen Y to distinguish itself from the scores of unemployed, and an unpaid internship can have a dazzling effect on a resume.

Recently, I was blessed with the opportunity of a lifetime.

Unpaid Internships with Start-up Companies

I met Kent Heyman over lunch back when I was a 16-year old aspiring entrepreneur dreaming of one day building a law firm. He was a quasi-mentor of mine that I looked up to as a successful entrepreneur who had previously been recognized as one of the nation’s pre-eminent attorneys in California. After my sophomore year at Clarkson University concluded this past May, I reached out to him via email and offered to work for free. It turned out to be perfect timing.

Mr. Heyman was in the midst of launching Syncables, a company that enables users to easily sync, migrate, access and publish content between Windows, Mac, Linux PCs and portable storage devices. Their desktop product syncs music, photos, videos, email, documents, and even browser bookmark favorites. I was given the challenge of creating a compelling PowerPoint presentation and company story for Syncables, right in the thick of the product launch. The experience of working alongside the CEO of a startup company was simply exhilarating! It was unforgettable and highly motivating.

Many others are taking advantage of the incredible opportunity provided by an unpaid internship. Kurt Von Weisenstein is a finance student at Pace University in New York City. After listening to John McGowan from the startup company Alternative Asset Investment Management (AAIM), LLC discuss the hedge fund industry at a Pace Investment Club meeting one night, Kurt took the initiative of striking up conversation about stocks and emailing his resume later that evening.

AAIM is a company that connects individual investors with ideal hedge funds, endeavoring to create the perfect match. Kurt had the weekly challenge of creating a fact sheet and concise summary of a specific hedge fund. He was able to conduct research alongside the very successful founders and managers of the company!

It was an experience that money cannot buy.

How to Score an Unpaid Internship

Seeking out and taking on an unpaid internship is one the best secrets to success for Generation Y. But what is the recipe for obtaining such amazing opportunities?

Get in touch with a local entrepreneur or reach out to a mentor in your network and offer to work for free for her/him. Or: check out the Quarter Life, where Lauren Berger, aptly known as “The Intern Queen” offers incredible opportunities for those pursuing incredible internships.

Already have a full-time job or internship but itching for more experience? Call or email an entrepreneur or business leader and offer to work for free on weekends or a few hours each week. Be persistent!

Can’t Miss Tips

Need more? Check out the marketing guru Seth Godin’s take on how to get ahead in the game as an unemployed college student or recent grad. Without question: it is a must-read for Gen Y.

Don’t ever forget to always have fun and pursue your dreams. It’s summer! Time to lie on the beach, hang out with friends, and take one step closer to achieving your dreams by utilizing the secret vehicle to success for Gen Y: unpaid internships.


John Exley’s passions include entrepreneurship, fashion, technology, and helping others to achieve their dreams. 

About The Author

Matt Wilson

Matt Wilson is Co-Founder of Under30Experiences, a travel company for young people ages 21-35. He is the original Co-founder of Under30CEO (Acquired 2016). Matt is the Host of the Live Different Podcast and has 50+ Five Star iTunes Ratings on Health, Fitness, Business and Travel. He brings a unique, uncensored approach to his interviews and writing. His work is published on Under30CEO.com, Forbes, Inc. Magazine, Huffington Post, Reuters, and many others. Matt hosts yoga and fitness retreats in his free time and buys all his food from an organic farm in the jungle of Costa Rica where he lives. He is a shareholder of the Green Bay Packers.