Exit signPhoto by Nick Loyless.

We talked about unpaid internships back in 2011, and the topic generated a fair bit of chat in the comment thread. Here’s a question from a recent commentator.

“I worked at a social enterprise as an unpaid intern last winter and my friends all questioned why I would do an unpaid job. […]

“The social enterprise, which is kind of between a normal company and an NGO, aims to hire a large amount of interns for a short-term continuous labour source. They only have several full-time workers. Do you think this plan is sustainable?”

I don’t.

The enterprise seems to be disguising volunteer work as an internship (all too common).

An internship is not where the intern does the work of a normal employee without getting paid.

It is where the employer devotes time to the individual intern so he or she can learn as much as possible about the chosen profession.

Too many companies either don’t know the difference, or don’t want to.

If you’re in an unpaid work placement that isn’t meeting expectations, and it’s not going to change no matter what you say to the employer, get out of there. You’re better than that.

A US court has ruled that unpaid internships where legitimate work is undertaken are illegal, on The Atlantic Wire.

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May 7, 2013


I couldn’t agree more. One piece of advice that was given to me, and I’ll pass along here, is be sure to look for someone who will be a strong mentor. You are looking for an internship to learn. A lot of companies are looking to take advantage of student labor and calling them internships. This can work both ways. If students demand a certain standard in their internship experience, you’ll see opportunities like the one above start to disappear. I was lucky enough to find a great mentor who also paid well for my internship and it was one of the most valuable educational experiences I’ve ever had.

We are a tiny company and pay interns which should cover their costs. It costs us time and money to have them but it’s rewarding and it enables us to take on some more pro-bono work.

The main reason for being an intern is to learn. Not to earn money, but you shouldn’t be out of pocket, students spent enough money on their education, it’s up to us to support the next stage of learning.

I did quite a few internships back in the early 90’s. Some like The Partners paid, others didn’t despite making quite hefty profits and the boss driving around in a Porsche. That’s wrong.

Hi Lee, Michael. I was assigned a mentor, too. Brilliant bloke. He went out of his way every morning to pick me up and drive me to the company, and took me to see the sights on some evenings and weekends when I wasn’t working my second job.

That’s awesome, David. My internship was a little different. I was hired by a contractor stationed on the east coast. I live in southeast Missouri. The majority of the work I did with him was remote. I worked from here. He met with me over Skype twice a week for 1 hour. He allowed me time to ask him any questions I had. He kept himself available, was patient, asked me for input, and generally involved me in the work that he was doing as much as possible. He even flew me out to where he is at to meet a few of his clients in person. I can only hope that I’ll be in a position one day to provide the same opportunity to someone else.

Last year after University I did a one month unpaid internship in a well known company.

Two weeks after the internship ended I got into a year contract for a paid and full time position in another company in the same area of design.

I went into the internship with the objective to enhance the corporate side of my portfolio, and it worked. The company benefited because I freed up the other designers time.

Unfortunately, unpaid internships have become an easy way to acquire cheap labour force in Poland. Nobody or, to be honest for those exceptions, hardly anybody remembers about some social importance of internships and the things that come along with them – all that counts are short-term financial profits. And so, after three months an intern is being dismissed and the company looks for another one. It’s sad when it happens occasionally but when it becomes an epidemy it’s rather frightening. I really wish I had some good memories of internships like you do.

I have a friend who did an internship for just three months, thinking he will get a paid position after it finished.. the internship turned into 6 months. I think people out of University are desperate for experience, companies know that and take advantage of free labour. Its not fair, most people have bills to pay.

There is still a long way to go, but I am hopeful that in a few years time a new generation will be just as perplexed by the idea of an unpaid internship as my grandmother. I was told that working for free is “Just the way it’s always been”, but that is just not true. And with HMRC and universities adding their weight to the debate, it’s not the way it has to be.

I started an internship at a small design firm in my hometown. I work 40 hours a week, 5 days a week, unpaid. I’m lucky and started right out designing a simple logo, though. I do mostly the jobs no one else wants to do, but I’ve been there 2 weeks and have worked hard every day. I’m glad to be getting the experience, and I’ve learned a lot so far, but I’ll be there until the end of summer, and it consumes my time so I can’t get a job and save money for school. It feels a little unfair. I just wonder if this is typical of an internship?

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