Recent graduates

No unpaid internship? No problem

May 22, 2012: 12:41 PM ET

As student loan debt heads skyward, not all students can spend their summers as unpaid interns. How baristas and sales clerks can compete with internship-heavy resumes.

FORTUNE -- Dan Black worked at the same gas station, D&F Getty in Staten Island, for seven of his high school-to college summers and holidays. No, he wasn't interning at the White House, nor was he fetching coffee at The New Yorker, but the job paid well, and the longer he worked there, the more responsibilities he was given. He was assigned the busiest shifts and began training new gas attendants.

After graduating from Binghamton University in New York in 1994, Black got a position as an auditor in the financial services office at Ernst & Young. Today, he is the Americas director of campus recruiting at the firm.

For many rising seniors and recent graduates entering a sluggish job market, Black's story is a cause for hope: you can actually land a solid job without spending your summers at unpaid internships.

According to recently published research from Rutgers University, only 51% of 444 surveyed graduates from 2006-2011 were employed, 20% were in graduate or professional school, and 12% were unemployed or looking for full-time work.

MORE: Employee burnout: Around the corner? Already here?

Numbers such as these scare current students into accepting unpaid internships in the hopes that the experiences will strengthen their resumes -- or get their foot in the door at employers' offices -- before graduation. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers 2011 Student Survey, 48% of internships held by seniors from that year were unpaid. The question that's on plenty of young minds is "Are unpaid internships really worth it?"

With more than $1 trillion in outstanding student loan debt weighing down on graduates' pockets, working without pay isn't always an option. For students who had to work their way through college -- logging hours at a local restaurant, school bookstore, or corner bodega after class and throughout the summer -- it can be intimidating to compete against applicants with a slew of professional experience decorating their resumes.

But a bit of resume savvy may sooth these applicants' worries. More

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