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After searching for six months after college graduation, Molly Canfield, 23, took the advice of her high school headmaster.

“I remember he just said, ‘Molly, it might be that kind of thing where you have to go and sell yourself for six months and work for free in order to gain experience that will allow you to get paid later on,” she said.

She took two unpaid internships, working half the week at Food & Water Watch, a nonprofit consumer organization, and the other half in a lawmaker’s office on Capitol Hill. On weekends, she works in a part-time job to help pay the bills.

“I will go on Monday to Food & Water Watch, and make calls to people in our network and ask if they are interested in setting up a meeting with [their] representative to talk about our school milk campaign,” Miss Canfield said. “Then I would go to the Hill on Tuesday and I would answer those same calls. … I was really getting to experience government from both sides.”

As she nears the end of her internships, Miss Canfield said that though she has gained a few more bullet points for her resume, she does not feel much closer to finding a permanent paid position. Neither of her offices is hiring entry-level employees.

“I know I have experiences that I will take with me, but it doesn’t make it any less hard to find someone to read my resume,” she said.

An internship can be a good way to gain employment in an organization or transition in a career, said Linda Bayer, founder and executive director of the Washington Internship Program.

“Also, in a bad economy, entry is from the bottom, and a lot of our interns get opportunities they wouldn’t have because they have other older employees or staff they had to let go,” Ms. Bayer said. “But the company still has as many requirements, so they give more work to the interns and they look and watch them.”

Ms. Ochi said GlobalGiving has benefited from having people with degrees and more diverse backgrounds, but the organization generally does not offer its interns full-time jobs.

“In the past we have hired a few people,” she said. “Our needs have expanded over time … but we generally don’t put that out there as an offer. … It’s more of a case-by-case basis, [because] right now there are no openings for entry-level people.”

Mr. Brower said he is not discouraged by his situation, even though his internship is nearing an end.

“I know how much money I could be making if I just decided to do any chemical engineering job. I could be making enough money to live very comfortably, at least at my age. I know what I want to do and I’m not going to settle,” he said.

Calling himself the “eternal optimist,” Mr. Brower said, “I understand there’s so many people applying to so many of these jobs that I don’t particularly take it personally. I don’t think it’s a reflection on me.”