In Defence of Unpaid Internships by Megan d'Ardenne

There is a longstanding debate about whether or not you should be paid as an intern; on the one hand you are offered invaluable work experience that will set you above fellow students when you graduate; on the other, you are giving up your time to complete necessary tasks that contribute to the functioning of the company.

As a student who is currently on a year-long internship, I have experienced what Dolly Parton would call the ‘working 9-5’ life (I actually work till 5.30pm, but who’s counting…) and therefore appreciate the value of a monthly pay check, and do believe that everyone should be rewarded in some way for their work. When I was looking for an internship for my placement year, I was only able to consider roles that were paid, as I knew I wouldn’t be able to afford living in London on nothing. However, this is because my internship is a year long, and therefore I wouldn’t have been able to sustain myself living off savings alone. I think if I was applying for a shorter period of time (e.g. a two-week work experience over the summer), then I would be able to afford taking on an unpaid role, and would be willing to do so because these short unpaid internships can be just as valuable as paid ones in terms of experience and knowledge of the industry gained.

It is often assumed that an unpaid internship means you won’t receive any rewards for your work, however many companies will offer to subsidise the lack of a pay check through things such as travel compensation or a free lunch. If you are able to find an internship near home (and you’re lucky enough not to be charged rent), and all your travel and food at work is covered, then an unpaid internship isn’t the worst deal you could end up with, as you won’t go into negative funds.

It is also worth remembering that internships, whether unpaid or paid, will always add great value to your CV, and some top-end companies refrain from offering a salary, as they are so competitive that applicants won’t be as picky. I’d be so much more inclined to take an unpaid role if it provided a gateway into my dream career, compared to taking a role just to bulk out my CV. This way, I’d ensure I would really enjoy the role and get the most out of it, rather than missing out on a rare opportunity simply because it was unpaid.

At the end of the day, no matter how long or how convenient or how much an internship will make your CV shine, work is work and time is time and at the end of the day an internship isn’t charity work. The labour law states that temporary members of staff should be treated the same as permanent employees, as they often take on the same workload. Therefore, I feel all interns should be feel rewarded for their work, whether that be by monetary means, or through experience gained.


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