Tip Tuesday: Unpaid and Commission-Based Internships

Considering an unpaid internship?


If you are thinking about pursuing an unpaid internship, or an internship that is based on commission, you need to carefully weigh the benefit of skills gained vs. how it will affect your financial well-being.  For instance, how many hours would you be able to give to an employer for an unpaid internship while still having enough time for any wage-earning jobs that you will hold concurrently?  You need a clear understanding of how a commission-only job is structured so that you can approximate the “prep time/payoff” ratio.  Also, keep in mind that students without prior internship experience may find greater benefit in these types of opportunities compared to students who have completed previous internships.  Often, these experiences allow students to strengthen their resumes so they can later qualify for paid internships.

FisherConnect does not post unpaid internship opportunities, but it will post positions that are stipend or commission-based.  You will see the following phrase accompanying these positions: Compensation for this position is stipend or commission/quota based. Be mindful of this payment structure when considering the opportunity and conduct thorough research to ensure you understand the potential outcomes and skills required to be successful in this type of position.

If you choose to interview for positions such as these, we encourage you to ask questions such as the ones listed below:

  • What percentage of time will I spend on administrative work vs. resume-building experiences related to my career development?
  • Which task will I be spending the most amount of time on?
  • Will I be able to obtain, in writing, an outline of the commission/stipend structure?
  • (If a campus marketing position) Will I be asked to utilize my own network (i.e. friends/social media connections) to be successful in this role?
  • Are you able to provide the contact information for previous interns, so that I may contact them for their opinion on the position?
  • (If an unpaid internship) Is there a possibility for this unpaid internship to evolve into a paid position in the future?
  • What types of career exploration activities will be offered through this opportunity?
  • Which transferable skills will I be able to obtain, or improve upon, via this position?
  • What is the average income that a sales representative earns (and differences between top salespeople vs. average salespeople)?
  • Could you describe your training program in detail?  Are new salespeople able to train with experienced salespeople?
  • What is the salesforce turnover rate?
  • Are leads provided or does the representative need to prospect their own leads?
  • What would you consider to be the biggest challenges to selling your product/service?

Please note you will not be able to ask all of these questions during the interview, so choose a few that seem most appropriate for your situation.


If you have any questions about this type of opportunity, please make an appointment to speak with a career consultant in the Office of Career Management at your earliest convenience.




Katie Reynolds

Katie Reynolds is the Assistant Director of Undergraduate Student Career Development in the Office of Career Management at Fisher College of Business.

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