Unpaid internships can be a great way to gain experience in a field that is hard to otherwise break into and to learn valuable skills for full-time, paid employment. However, just because they don't pay you, doesn't mean they can play you. There are both federal and, in many cases, local guidelines as to the responsibility of your employer in implementing an unpaid internship program. In addition to legal requirements, there are some reasonable and practical criteria you should have for your unpaid internship. You are not simply a source of free labor to be used for undesirable work.
What should you be getting paid:
Unpaid interns are not free replacements for full-time, paid employees. As an intern, you should be receiving substantive training. An unpaid internship is really supposed to be an educational experience for the intern.
You should be supervised in your work. There should be someone available for questions and problem solving if any issues should arise.
Even if your internship program does not have a formal review program, your employer or supervisor should be providing you with constructive feedback about your work. You may have to ask, but don't be afraid to ask.
Introductions to people in your industry
Unpaid internships do not guarantee full-time, paid employment by your employer. You may be back on the job market after the conclusion of the internship. Meeting people in your industry helps you learn more about the industry and can help you establish a network. Try going to company events or asking to shadow meetings or business calls if possible.
Letters of recommendations
Recommendations have to be earned based on your performance. If you do a good job and you believe your employer recognizes your work, you should be confident in requesting recommendations.
If you believe you are being exploited in your unpaid internship, you should consider seeking legal counsel. The foregoing information is not for the purpose of legal advice; just some tips for getting value from your internship.