This Student’s Internship is Cool but Unpaid. Here’s Why She Took It Anyway

Unpaid internships
Janelle Morris works as an unpaid intern at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Fla., where she assists with the talent. Tina Russell/ The Penny Hoarder

A few weeks ago, Janelle Morris brought Harlem Globetrotter Zeus McClurkin to The Penny Hoarder office for an interview.

After the interview, she took him to local news and radio stations and to a hospital. She wrapped up the day on a yacht on the Hillsborough River, where she filmed McClurkin doing two epic trick shots — and it’s all just a day in the life of her position as an event marketing intern at Amalie Arena.

She Gave Up a Paid Internship Opportunity — and It’s Paying Off

Morris’ internship is freakin’ sweet.

Not only is she in charge of an email newsletter and text blasts, but she also coordinates photographers, managers and more backstage during big-name concerts and major events.

And she sometimes gets to meet a few of the night’s acts. To date, she’s met Hannah Jae (who opened for Bon Jovi), chatted with a few WWE wrestlers and hung out with a handful of McClurkin’s fellow Harlem Globetrotters.  

She holds massive responsibility and is gaining incredible hands-on experience (and, hello, meets some crazy talented people) while doing it.

But here’s the thing: it’s unpaid.

Not All Unpaid Internships are Created Equal

Unpaid internships can sometimes seem more like shadowing opportunities, where interns hang out and observe the action without getting much hands-on experience.

They’ve also gotten a bad reputation over the years, thanks to employers who abuse the system and make interns do insane amounts of work without getting paid.

Morris did have an opportunity to make $15 an hour as a marketing intern for a financial firmbut after she was offered an internship at Amalie Arena, she turned it down.

“I knew that what I would be doing at Amalie would be a lot more involved than what I would be doing at the finance firm,” Morris said. “I would be doing a lot more hands on things and have a lot more responsibility. So, I decided to work for Amalie, and I couldn’t be happier about it.”

Morris saw all of the potential skills she would learn at Amalie Arena — and to her, learning those skills was worth passing on a paycheck.

“I get to see how every part of a business runs, and I get to learn how to speak and work in a business properly,” Morris said. “And I get to see the hard work and all of the little things that goes into getting these shows put on.”

She was familiar with what everyone sees in terms of putting on a major concert, such as setting up the stage, prepping concessions and so on. However, she’d never considered all the small details that different departments work on together — and how quickly they get put together.

Becoming familiar with all of organized chaos has given her a better idea of what path she wants to take with marketing. She isn’t sure if she wants to stay within the realm of event marketing, but she’s grateful her current internship exposed her to everything it takes to make it a fluid process.

How She Landed Her Internship at Amalie Arena

After having no luck in finding a sports internship near her school, Kennesaw State University in Georgia, Morris looked for opportunities where her parents lived: Florida.

She discovered Amalie Arena was holding an internship fair the next day, so she quickly packed her things and drove through the night to make it on time — and she landed the internship.

After she accepted the position, she enrolled in online classes to wrap up her senior year and quickly moved down to Florida, where she now lives with her parents. She started her internship at Amalie this past January.

She would love to continue into the summer with Amalie, and maybe even get a job with the arena after she graduates.

She credits her university’s career services center for teaching her interviewing skills and helping her make an appealing resume — two important factors that go into getting an internship or a job.

How She Manages Financially — Even Though She’s Unpaid

Unpaid internships
Janelle Morris works as an unpaid intern at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Fla., where she assists with the talent. Tina Russell/ The Penny Hoarder

Morris acknowledges she’s lucky to be able to live with her parents in Indian Rocks Beach, Florida, which is close enough for her to commute to the arena.

She’s thankful that her parents pay for her housing, utilities, car insurance and phone bill. Without their help, she knows she would need a full-time job on top of an internship and school, and that it would be a “full plate” of responsibilities.

To earn money for her car payment, food and gas, Morris works part time as a server at a local restaurant.

Not everybody has the opportunity to live nearly expense-free with their parents. If you financially support yourself but are considering an unpaid internship, there are side gigs out there to help you survive.

And, if you’re wondering how to juggle multiple jobs at once and stay on top of your school work, check out some of our tips for becoming a boss at time management.

Good luck!

Your Turn: Would you get an unpaid internship if it meant hands-on experience?

Kelly Smith is a junior writer and engagement specialist at The Penny Hoarder. Catch her on Twitter at @keywordkelly.

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