Internships and Pro-bono Work Support Job Search

This strategy only works if you have a steady source of temporary income – severance pay, a working spouse, savings, unemployment, whatever – because these are unpaid internships, and pro-bono also means unpaid. That’s the first thing to get your head around. But it helps. Sometimes a lot.

I first tried this strategy in the mid-80s – we had pretty much come out of my first recession – I had finally gotten my bachelor’s degree, in agricultural economics from UC Davis, and tried out related jobs. I didn’t particularly like them, but I liked writing and I loved magazines, so I decided to try magazine editing. In my explorations, I discovered that a local nonprofit magazine took on interns. I was interviewed and selected, and I learned a lot, and it was fun – but I was mostly doing fact-checking, not editing.

Cover artwork by Tim Mooney

Cover artwork by Tim Mooney

So I proposed a second internship with a smaller magazine – but this time I specified that at least half of my time would be spent copyediting. They agreed and took me on, and I learned copyediting from their top-notch freelancer. Between the two internships, I also got my bearings in the magazine business. I started pitching stories to local magazines, and from one of those writing gigs, I was asked to apply for a job that opened up, and I that’s how I got my first job in magazines. I still love almost every aspect of publishing, even online publishing (yes, the Web is a form of publishing).

I’ve done internships and pro-bono work twice more in recent years. Even if it isn’t a direct path to a job, it serves many other positive purposes:

  • Keeps your skills fresh.
  • Adds recent accomplishments and references to your resume.
  • Reinforces the reality that your skills are valuable, even if the job market seems to disagree.
  • Keeps you busy and productive.
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