Why you shouldn’t apply for unpaid internships… EVER!

Unpaid internships are the bane of creative industries. They devalue the hard work of graduates and career changers so they can save a bit of money. If you can’t afford an intern, don’t hire an intern, simple. This does not apply for 2 week work experience placements, although I believe they should have expenses paid at least. If you see any being advertised in the publishing industry, send it to @pubinterns on Twitter. If you’re outside the publishing industry, send them an email enquiring as to why. Let’s work towards a future where people are fairly paid for their work!

Reasons you should NEVER apply for unpaid jobs/internships, ESPECIALLY in the creative industry:

1. You are a human being with skills that could add value.
Okay, so you’re a graduate, or you’re changing careers and you’ve never had any experience in a creative industry. However, you have hopefully had experience in a customer facing role in part-time work, or an office environment. You might have been a student ambassador, or helped a lecturer out with some work on occasion. Being on the committee for a university society will have given you transferable skills, you just need to learn how to talk about them. If you’re changing industries/job roles within the industry, you’re golden; you have already had a job. You have worked to deadlines, in an office environment, you have communicated across departments, with external people, and you will have handled your fair share of administrative tasks. If you cannot regurgitate this information into your CV/cover letter, get in touch with recruitment agencies or senior people within the industry and see if anyone will help you. For publishing, you can book a careers consultation with Suzanne Collier at bookcareers.com. Do this now, and STOP SELLING YOURSELF SHORT!


2. (If) You have a degree!!
If you have been to university, you have invested 3/4 years of your goddam life into studying so you can be somewhat ‘qualified’ for the job you want. Now, I know that my publishing BA does not entitle me to a publishing career, but it means SOMETHING. It means that I have been dedicated to this industry for 4 years, and know that I want a job in it. I’m not going to change my mind and switch industries, I am dedicated and focused on working in publishing. A degree means that; you have worked to deadlines, you have done group work, independent work, presentations, coursework, learned computer skills relevant to your degree. This is all worth money!!

3. Think about everybody else…
Okay, so you live in London with your parents who aren’t making you pay rent. You see an opening for an unpaid intern in a publishing house and you decide that it would be a good way to get the experience and start your career. Now, I’m not telling you not to do it, but just think about the implications; companies will assume that because you (and a small percentage like you) can work for free, that all people your age will have the same circumstances. It sets a precedent, and makes us look ‘greedy’ when we expect a minimum £20,000 salary because we have our own bills and food to pay for.

4. If the company needed the work done that badly, they would pay for it.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I love the idea of companies opening their doors to interns when they don’t really need the extra help. But just because they don’t need it, that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t pay for it. As an intern, you are still lightening their workload and, based on my experience of people I’ve met in publishing, they will do ANYTHING to help out and make a good impression, in the hope that they’ll be offered a job or get a stellar reference. Therefore, interns should still be paid for. Based on a recent ‘work from home’, ‘freelance’ opportunity I recently saw, where they were asking an entry-level worker to read submissions for no pay, I realised that if they really need that work to be done, then they should pay for it. Otherwise, they can reshuffle responsibilities and divide the work load up evenly.


5. Think about the freelancers…
Again, I understand that this is YOUR career. But if you’ve ever dreamed about going freelance and being your own boss, this is important to consider. Companies will take you interning for free as an indication that others in the sector can and will do the same. This falls on freelancers. Freelance workers are honestly a major inspiration to me; I have no idea how they manage themselves as they do and they deserve a medal for the crap they put up with from jobs. Let’s say that you have just completed a 3 month unpaid internship. That company is then looking for somebody to complete some work that needs a deeper level of expertise, so they look for specialist freelancers. They have just had someone work for free, so they assume that they can request this work to be done and then offer no renumeration to a higher-levelled professional who doesn’t generally have a steady salary.

6. Finally… You are worth more than nothing!
I am genuinely concerned by the amount of people in creative industries who don’t seem to believe that their skills are worth anything. There is a worth calculator online, where you can input your skills and experience and it will tell you your worth. Generally, graduates are worth between £13,000 – £20,000 which is fair, and most companies pay more than this for you. However, if you’re considering an unpaid internship, try to negotiate based on this. She them the calculations and explain why you’re worth that much. If you can get a company to change it’s mind, that would be even better for the industry!

So, please please take all this into consideration and DO consider the struggle for those of us who have had to move to different cities, don’t have any financial support from anybody and must fend for ourselves. If the industry standard could become to pay ALL interns the London living wage, and all entry level roles £23,000 p/a, then we would be onto a winning industry.

3 thoughts on “Why you shouldn’t apply for unpaid internships… EVER!

Add yours

  1. Unpaid internships are designed for current University students to participate in while undergoing a degree to acclimatise themselves to an office and network. It gives students an opportunity to discover whether they’re interested in the career field they’d be working without having any meaningful workload. Think of it more of a taster than unpaid labour as the work most interns will participate in typically lacks any meaningful value to the company.

    Whether this is the process all companies implement for their internships, is an entirely different conversation. Essentially, once you’ve left University, unpaid internships should be behind you.


    1. The problem with this is that even at uni, I couldn’t have afforded accommodation, food and travel in London for a week or two which is where I would have had to go for internships in publishing. Just because you’re a student doesn’t mean you can afford to do unpaid stuff either.
      Also, companies still don’t see it this way and still expect a lot of graduates to work for free, so this is still prevalent.


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