The Cost Of Unpaid Internships

Written by Faizan Patankar

internship (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

Some call them ‘giving back to society’, some call them ‘must-do to get a job’. I call them ‘abusive’ and ‘exploiting graduates’. Yes, as you might have realised by now I am not a fan of unpaid internships and I stand by it. I am not sure the Editor of Career Geek would allow this post to get published, but if it does, then it would be for the greater good of society!

Alison Davies previously wrote an article about Unpaid Internships, telling us how a lot more graduates would be happy to do unpaid internships to get work experience if they could only afford it.

The argument has always been about the good versus bad of unpaid internships and whether it’s ethical or not for companies to use such a practice. Have you ever noticed how the people advocating unpaid internships are those who have jobs and probably have a £3.99 lunch consisting of a sandwich, crisps and a drink, not by graduates and students who can barely afford a pasty from local street bakers.

Firstly, asking people with jobs about unpaid internships is like asking my dad to comment on IE8. My first question would be: “have you used it”? Why would you suggest using IE8 only after reading blogs and using the information on the internet? Try using it and see how ridiculously useless it it. It’s the same thing with unpaid internships – if you haven’t done one and if you are on an above-the-average salary, then STOP telling graduates they should take up unpaid internships.

Do employers think unpaid internships cost nothing? Yes, unpaid internships cost nothing to an employer, but they do to graduates and students.

  • A shirt from Next £22
  • Trousers from Next £25
  • Formal shoes and socks £30
  • Travel £5 / day
  • Living cost £400 pm rent
  • Bills £150 pm

Go on, add these and tell me if you can afford to go one month without earning yet paying these costs without any stress? How can you expect graduates and students to cover living costs while doing unpaid internships?

I know work experience is important, but why can’t employers pay at least a national minimum wage to our graduates and students? Are we not to support our youth?

If you are a charity or a start-up, then you may have some points to argue for volunteers and unpaid work-experience. But multi-million profit making organisations are exploiting students and graduates by offering unpaid internships. Stop abusing the word internship – when all you offer is unpaid work.

Disappointed that unpaid work is even an option for graduates and students. Unfair that young people have been left to the dogs again – personally I am against unpaid internships and think the practice should be abandoned.

I am glad that Career Geek supports and agrees in principle with the intentions of The Internship Project. I hope a lot more career blogs and advisors start pushing the society towards paying graduates and students for the work they do.

Follow Me on Pinterest

About the author

Faizan Patankar

I started Career Geek Blog in 2011 to share my experience in job-hunting. I now focus on careers industry and blogging is just a tool to share that info. Love hacking careers. During the day I focus on my hobby - Engineering.


  • While I agree that it is unfair that students and recent graduates have to resort to unpaid work, for me at least, complaining about it won’t get you anywhere. It’s a fact that numerous companies, and especially certain industries rely heavily upon unpaid interns. It might perhaps demonstrate I’m not as ‘moral’ or something, but to me not furthering my career because I believe unpaid work is unfair would just be cutting my nose off to spite my face (to quote my Grandmother) when there are hundreds of other candidates who are happy to do it.

    This summer upon graduation I will be embarking upon my second unpaid internship in an attempt to gain further work experience with the hopes of gaining full time employment.

    I feel unpaid internships are often over-dramatized. Both companies have been extremely accommodating of the financial implications of working unpaid. To begin with, both gave me a travel and lunch allowance and paid me back for any expenses I incurred during the course of work. In addition, both positions were part time so I was able to work a paid part time job alongside it. I won’t be living off caviar and champagne any time soon but savings from part time and vacation work at university, a good part-time job alongside and a sensible budget means I will at least be comfortable(ish).

    Obviously not everyone is as lucky as me with the companies they apply to. You do have to hunt around for companies which provide fair unpaid internship schemes. From my experiences at least, I do feel that unpaid internships can be an extremely positive experience you just have to make sure you don’t get taken advantage of!

    • Nice points and that is true not all internships are that bad. I still feel if someone works for free and that work adds value to the business then its slavery

      • First of all, I think the accusation of ‘slavery’ is a little harsh. Most charities are run by a largely voluntary work force. In addition, numerous University societies are run by voluntary committees who dedicate hundreds of hours over a year into it. All these positions are unpaid and add value to businesses. Having participated in both of these pursuits, and an unpaid internship, I would not say in any instance I felt like a victim of ‘slavery’.

        Secondly though, I would agree with you Faizan that it is incorrect to view internships as a choice anymore. Every job application I have ever filled out has asked for relevant work experience – how would you gain this without an internship?

        For me at least, complaining about the current situation is not getting us anywhere. With full respect, Faizan, while your stance against unpaid internships is commendable, I feel it has little practical implication. I am by no means suggesting you abandon your campaign. However, in my opinion, efforts to improve the current situation, such as petitioning for part time placements to allow for another paid job alongside or travel allowances, would be a much more valuable use of time. Perhaps an article about ‘How to navigate the unpaid internship obstacle course’ couldn’t be amiss on careergeekblog.com? I’d be happy to contribute some ideas to it!

        • I do think some terms could be phrased differently – but my frustration with lack of support and fairness towards the young graduates far surpasses my correctness in use of language.

          As for a campaign, no, I am not running a campaign against unpaid internship’s. It is a very challenging field and one that is well run by the likes of Graduate fog and The Internship Project. I simply argue for paid internships.

          I like your idea of the post and will work on it, hopefully once there is a draft / outline I might tweet you to feed into the document. Thanks a lot.

          • Sounds great. Your site has loads of really useful advice to graduates and think that’d fit in really well. Look forward to reading it!

  • Students have a choice to go to school, or not. If they do, many students pay to go to school.

    Students have a choice to do an internship, or not. If they do, many students pay to do an internship.

    In a perfect world, education would be free. But we don’t live in a perfect world and education is not free.

    One of the things students learn in the working world, if they don’t learn it in school, is that not everything in the world is fair.

    • That’s not true – students don’t have the choice to do an internship or not. It is well known fact that work-experience and internships are now important to be able to get a job after graduation.

      Mr Eric you still haven’t put forward any good argument why should someone work for free? Would you leave your 3.99 lunch and join in for a pasty along with let go of 3-6 months worth of pay and work for free? Listen to us graduates, none of us wants to work for free – we are being forced to in the name of work-experience.

      I know its not the ideal world – but I will stand up for my graduates and ask some of the industries to pull up their pants and stop arsing around. Not all industries have this un-paid ‘slaving’ internships. I hope the society understand it’s not a choice to use and abuse students and graduates.