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Unpaid Internship: Would You Work For Free?

A typical workday means long hours and taking orders from a boss you may not always see eye to eye with. Still, at the end of the day, the promise of a paycheck makes it all worth the hustle. So, what happens when there is no payday?

In many of the most competitive industries — and especially in light of the recession — unpaid internships are becoming common practice. In London's fashion industry, hundreds of qualified fashion graduates end up working for free. These unpaid interns are largely responsible for the beautiful clothes turned out by some of the industry's top designers — contributing their ideas and man hours, with no hope of sharing in the company's profits. Regardless of legislation to guard against these practices, many companies take on full-time, unsalaried interns without contracts. While some argue this is just paying your dues — and standard practice in the fashion industry, where things can be pretty cut-throat — I can't help but sympathize with the unpaid workforce.

What's your take on the no-pay practice? Would you (or did you) work for free after obtaining your degree?

Join The Conversation
floppyfish1986 floppyfish1986 7 years
I have to do two unpaid internships to graduate, one is 2 days a week and the last semester is 5 days a week (full time). Oh the life of a future teacher!
Advah Advah 7 years
Did and still am, but I guess it's slightly different since I've been working for the last two years and doing that as well as my full-time job, so it's not like I'm relying on my parents for paying my rent. I used a week of holiday to do an internship in a magazine, which seems to be paying off (fingers crossed) as I got some great contacts, and I've spent the last 3-4 months working about 8 hours/week in a literary agency, which I absolutely love. I'm really glad I decided to email them my CV; it's exhausting to do that after work, but I'm learning SO much, adding so many amazing skills to my CV and especially getting a better idea of what work I'd like to do in the longer term.
classysassy classysassy 7 years
currently in my 4th year of college and doing an unpaid internship. in this economy, us students need to take anything we can get to build up our resumes before post grad.
skygirl84 skygirl84 7 years
In New Zealand it isn't as common to intern (like we see on TV/movies) but some career books recommend trying to work for free to get a 'foot in the door'. I wouldn't do it personally as there are so many options that do pay and to be honest if someone offered to work for me for free I wouldn't know what to tell them.
jelibeann jelibeann 7 years
right after college, i had a hard time finding a job in my industry, so i took an unpaid internship with the company i'm still with 6 years's a non-profit, so i didn't feel as bad about it and i think the way i worked up through the ranks there definitely holds me above those that were hired from the outside in my bosses has definitely helped me, looking at the company as an unpaid intern to start...and "back in my day," we were more appreciative of the opportunity to learn and less about the entitlement, like the interns i have now
Spectra Spectra 7 years
I had an internship in college that I got paid for, but I was WAY underpaid for the amount of work I did. Lots of research labs rely on student interns to do a lot of their work because they don't have a ton of money to spend on paying everyone; they need the grant money for research and equipment. My husband had a really great paid internship in college and wound up getting hired permanently at the company, so they do pay off.
marisaoswald marisaoswald 7 years
I agree with many people- I took an unpaid internship in college, and it really helped boost my resume. I probably wouldn't take one now, but I think as student (especially in this economy), it would be a good way to start out. However, I have a friend who took an unpaid internship after graduating, and now he's a full time employee making good money!
syako syako 7 years
Just an fyi if there are any students reading, I got my paid internship by just applying to a random student worker position of a company that I knew had a communications department (most do!), so when I had free time from my student worker projects, I would literally shadow the PR guy and the communication director. I talked to them about what I knew how to do (writing, design, ads, p.r.) and then they would assign me small tasks every once in a while, eventually through that I became the communications intern. (And once I got a full time job they started actually hiring for a communication intern, so it was definitely something they needed).
OHmeetsBK OHmeetsBK 7 years
I had unpaid internships during the Summers when I was in college. They really made my resume and all of my references for my post grad career. I don't know where I'd be with out them. However, I can't imagine being able to take one now. I know they would be valuable but logistically, it would be pretty damn hard not to be paid.
kiwishe kiwishe 7 years
I agree with mek123. Unpaid free labor is good only if it's either going to get you to a paid position or add some skills to your resume, in under 6 months time.
GlowingMoon GlowingMoon 7 years
Yes, I have. I took a short-term internship at a prestigious firm. They had so many intern applicants even though they're were non-paying. Many students were willing to work for free just for the experience and exposure. The positions were competitive. It was great to have that experience on my resume. I got offered a full-time job even before I graduated because of that experience. In my opinion, in the long run, that unpaid internship paid off.
mek123 mek123 7 years
I think unpaid internship are good for the short term only otherwise companies are taking advantage of people.
carhornsinapril carhornsinapril 7 years
i did two simultaneous internships the summer after i graduated--one was paid and one was unpaid. the paid one turned into a two-year job, though i also got a full-time offer and some freelance work from the unpaid position. i would definitely to it again. it can be a great foot in the door.
earnold14 earnold14 7 years
I interned while in school and didn't have a problem with it. After graduating in May, I was lucky enough to get a job, but many of my friends were not and have no choice but to intern and hope it goes somewhere, or get a job at the mall.
bengalspice bengalspice 7 years
I interned in Editorial ... and it still hasn't gotten me any closer to where I want to be.
UrbanBohemian UrbanBohemian 7 years
In school I took some unpaid internships. Now that I am out of school, it's not an option for me, unless there is an overwhelmingly good possibility for me to obtain full-time work with them.
SDTransplant SDTransplant 7 years
All my internships and jobs have been paid. My brother is currently working as a full-time intern for free and while there is a possibility he might be hired as a salaried employee at the end of a few months, I told him he needs a back-up plan. And he can only continue to work for free while my parents help pay for all his other expenses so that can only be sustainable for so long...
lilkimbo lilkimbo 7 years
I kind of did. It was for two different PR classes. The first half of the semester, we went to class. The second half, we worked with community organizations on PR campaigns. It was a requirement for the major, so I didn't exactly have another option. I enjoyed it anyway, though.
ilanac13 ilanac13 7 years
my first internship was non-paying but it turned into a paying gig after a while so i think that if you can't figure things out any other way - at least this is a way to get your foot in the door and then when a paid position opens up you're already in the consideration set.
Antioxidant Antioxidant 7 years
I did years ago. I had no work experience so I interned. Because of that internship, I aced my next job interview and I got my first job.
syako syako 7 years
No thanks. I had a paid internship and our school discouraged us from taking unpaid internships. The sign on her shirt should say "not paid" not "underpaid"
heatherhas heatherhas 7 years
Yes, I did have an unpaid internship, 40 hours a week, for 2 1/2 months. I lived on location though, so food and board were covered. It was the only way to break into this niche in my industry and make a name for myself.
bellaressa bellaressa 7 years
Yes, I have done so in the past. It's hard work. I did it twice, one employer only wanted me twice a week which wasn't bad - I still got to learn a ton; however, I had one employer who wanted me to work 5 days a week and 10-12 hours which was hard when I actually had a real job.
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