Unpaid Internships

As promised, in this post I am going to vent about the topical issue of unpaid internships.

Designed (I presume) to entice only the most enthusiastic of applicants, I often wonder whether being able to work for free shows a level of enthusiasm, or a level of wealth.

Enthusiasm or Wealth

I suppose the answer is that it shows both – depending on the candidate. Some applicants may be able to work for free because they have a strong financial support network (rich parents) and some genuinely wish to work for free, and risk bankruptcy, because of their passion for the industry. It is out of our hands. One just has to hope that their enthusiasm and commitment comes through on their applications. As I said in my previous post, I wish I could explain on applications why I have no experience, and how being poor (yes, I said it) proves my enthusiasm further than someone who can afford to work for free. As I also said before, this level of negativity (and begging) is strictly forbidden on applications.

I am dreading being asked: ‘you have a lot of waitressing experience. Is your decision to publish a recent decision?’ The simple answer would be ‘no’, but I feel I may need to expand. I have always wanted to publish, but working unpaid during University was not an option for me. Waitressing enabled me to eat food and pay rent, which is key when studying. The skills I learnt whilst waitressing were real, I haven’t lied on my CV, but I wish employers would be slightly more understanding when asking such questions. To study full-time, waitress part-time (full-time during holidays) didn’t leave much time for unpaid work experience to my grave disappointment.

No matter how downhearted or cheated you may feel – do not tell your prospective employers. It’s not healthy. They know how competitive the industry is – they have the huge pile of CV’s on their desk. We have to find new ways to prove to employers our enthusiasm. Unfortunately, for now, this is through unpaid work experience. My advice to recent graduates with no experience is to soldier through and get a part-time job on the side if needs be. I know we all have experience in that.

My advice to employers is to be aware of the larger political issues surrounding unpaid internships. One hopes they can truly appreciate just how much an unpaid placement is costing a student or a recent graduate. I’m not asking you to pay us (you are a business after all), but I am asking you to appreciate enthusiasm when you see it, and reward it accordingly.

Hope that wasn’t too ‘deep’. Until next time.

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ABOUT AUTHOR – Alison Davies

Alison Davies is a 22-year-old English and American Literature graduate (2:1) from the University of Birmingham. I am the author of journeyofagraduate.wordpress.com and am an aspiring publisher. I am currently seeking my first entry-level position placement within the publishing industry. I enjoy travel, literature, art and film.

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  • Couldnt agree more! In stuck in a sinilar situation with my primary job as a waiter for the family business. I have personally done some unpaid internships and to be honest I felt underutilised. Not only did they not communicate to me properly but also failed to use my skills efficiently.

  • But we should be asking businesses to pay their interns. The fact is that almost every applicant to a job will have enthusiasm for the job for which they have applied. That isn’t going to set you apart from everyone else. What will set you apart is the work experience that you have. Those with more appropriate work experience will have the best chance of getting jobs. Unfortunately that is often those who can afford to work unpaid. Therefore the only solution is to make sure that no work goes unpaid. There is a huge difference between an internship and volunteer work. Something which businesses/organisations seem to have forgotten.

  • I agree Siobhan. But I don’t think the responsibility lies with the businesses. If they can get away with free labour they will. The pressure must be put on the government to change policies and make unpaid internships a thing of the past.

  • I’m doing an unpaid internship for a charitable organisation working to alleviate poverty in Britain. I’m trying to keep my chin up and see their refusal to pay interns as ironic rather than hypocritical.