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Avoid the Trap of Unpaid Internships - 5 Alternative Ways to Add to Your CV

14/08/2014 14:04 BST | Updated 13/10/2014 10:59 BST

It can seem that the only thing awaiting you as a job-seeking, fresh-from-uni graduate is a sea of unpaid or 'expenses only' internships where you're expected to feel grateful about getting £5 every day to cover your lunch and travel.

Don't be fooled into thinking unpaid internships are an essential stop on the route to graduate employment - there are alternative ways to add to your CV and land a great graduate job without spending months on end in unpaid labour!

Blog your way to success

Setting up a blog is one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to make yourself stand out in the graduate job market. The best blogs stick to one subject matter, are contributed to regularly and showcase the writer's personality.

Better to plump for a light-hearted topic, such as books, films, fashion, music or travel, rather than anything heavy or controversial, such as religion or politics. Make sure you choose something that you're passionate and knowledgeable about too - it'll be easier to motivate yourself to write.

Learn new skills

There are loads of ways that you can add to your CV from the comfort of your own home. Sites like Codecademy, Duolingo, Chandoo and Typing Club allow you to learn valuable, sought-after skills without having to spend a penny.

Teaching yourself something in your own time, whether it's HTML, InDesign or a foreign language, shows a 'get up and go' attitude which'll have employers standing up and paying attention.

Short term work experience or shadowing

Short term work experience or shadowing can be just as fruitful as a lengthy internship. You'll get a flavour for a sector and gain decent contacts within the first couple of weeks of any internship - there's no need to resign yourself to endless months of making tea and filing.

Rather than applying for advertised internships, call companies you'd like to work and ask if you can join them for a couple of weeks of work experience. Very few grads take the speculative approach, so companies will be impressed by those who do.

Paid internships in other sectors

Lots of grad employers worry that fresh-from-university candidates lack 'commercial acumen', or real-life business experience.

If you're struggling to get a foot on the ladder, a paid internship in a sector other than the one you're hoping to end up in can be a shrewd move. Internships in creative industries like marketing, PR and advertising are notoriously competitive and, for that reason, often unpaid. There's no rush to secure your dream job, and interning in a different sector means that you'll get the commercial experience that grad employers are hankering after.

Stop-gapping

There's no shame in stop-gapping. Never underestimate the appeal of having café, bar, shop or other 'non-graduate' work on your CV. It shows you've developed organisation, communication, leadership and time-management skills - which are almost always listed on graduate job descriptions. Plus, if you've stuck around in a stop-gap job for a while, it shows that you're tenacious, unpretentious, and willing to get your hands dirty - which employers love.