Woes of the 'lapdog intern' and other tales of unpaid labor

June 13, 2011: 10:30 AM ET

Nabbing the perfect job seems impossible without the help of an internship these days. But is it worth taking one that's unpaid? Our readers share their experiences.

FORTUNE -- Students across the country have placed their caps and gowns aside and have either hit the pavement to find work or have begun their first full-time jobs. Internships have become a staple of the college student and recent graduate's professional life, providing a path to more permanent employment. But is it worth taking one that doesn't pay? According to a recent student survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, paid interns spend a larger portion of their time on professional (versus clerical) tasks than their unpaid counterparts, suggesting that it might be best to hold out for salaried work if you can. Three readers share their thoughts and experiences.

Crawling out of a recession

I came out of school in June 2008 and earned a graduate certificate in June 2009. At that point, the recession had just hit so there weren't a lot of jobs out there.

I was sending out tons of resumes and wasn't getting any feedback or callbacks. That was extremely frustrating, especially because at that point I had finished two post-secondary programs and wasn't getting anywhere.

Just as a function of the times, there were a lot of other people out there who needed experience. They got caught in that cycle where nobody wanted to hire them without experience but they couldn't get experience without a job. The only places that were hiring were startups that didn't have a lot of money. I got a few offers from these kinds of places and made a judgment call based on which company I thought had the best chance of growing, which was More

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