'This will look great on your CV'
'After your intern we will be able to pay you for future jobs'
'This intern could lead to full time work'
Any of the above sound familiar to you? I have taken part in numerous unpaid work placements and internships at many respected companies, attracted by the bait of securing a job at the end. However, when it comes to the end of my time working for them they say their good wishes and I never hear from them again. This is even after they praise me on the high standard of work and exclaim they've never had a more enthusiastic and helpful intern. As Kelly Fallis, chief executive of Remote Stylist says 'people who work for free are far hungrier than anybody who has a salary, so they're going to outperform, they're going to try to please, they're going to be creative'. This work ethic is used and abused by companies, as they know most interns are treating their period of unpaid work like an extended interview to gain a paid job.
Recently, working for free has struck a nerve with me as I am trying to decipher if working as an unpaid intern is really that good for your CV and we can put it down to experience, or if it's just plain exploitation.
I shan't be naming any of the people or companies I have worked for as this not a personal attack, rather an insight into the life of an unpaid intern role.
Working Hours & Breaks
All of the interns I have done expect me to work the same hours as the full time paid staff members, this has meant working roughly 8 hour days with no pay. All but one have given me 15 minute breaks in the morning and afternoon and then a 30 minutes to 1 hour lunch break. Some of these have also paid for my lunch, which is definitely helpful. Although recently I took part in an intern where I wasn't given any breaks and I mean NO breaks. I was rushed about and made to feel guilty to have to ask to quickly nip out and buy a sandwich, which I then had to scoff down whilst walking or commuting to the next task.
These two little words are the decision maker on whether I take an unpaid intern. If they are paying for my travel and lunch I am not out of pocket, which means I am gaining experience for my CV at no cost. Although, if my CV gets any longer with all the free work I am doing I think it may actually have a negative impact on trying to secure a full time paid job, as at a glance it looks like I have commitment issues!
When I am on a placement I expect to do 'proper' and 'suitable' work for the role I've applied for and I have on the whole been lucky with the tasks I have been set. Although sometimes I find myself sat with paid staff and performing the exact same job. The idea of a placements is to get an experience of how it is to work, not to do all their work, surely? I also expect to learn something whilst at these interns, although I have just been given a list of instructions and then I spend the day working through them with no communication from anyone.
Becoming a slave!
I am extremely guilty of becoming a 'yes man' whilst on placements. I want to show people that I am a hard worker and that I can perform to the same standard as the paid staff, however, this does sometimes lead me to being used on placements. I have been made to clean studios, take out heavy rubbish bags to bins miles away, drop off things to their friends that they forgot on the weekend, carry all their heavy bags around for them whilst they hold nothing etc.
The Legal Part
Take a read HERE on the governments website and it clearly states that interns should be being paid the minimum wage unless they are a student in school or higher education, being trained for government schemes, a voluntary worker for a charity or just shadowing someone and not performing any work. I do not fall under any of the above categories so how do companies 'legally' manage to get away with not paying an adult to work?
The Viscious Circle
Will I do free work again? Yes, because it's so difficult to get paid work in the arts industry that it's actually got to the point, where it's better to be out working for nothing, than sitting at home getting bored and losing your ambition. As long as we are partaking in these free work placements, getting a paid job is going to become more and more challenging as companies know that they don't need to pay for a full time member of staff, as they can 'employ' numerous interns throughout the year for free.
So Exploitation or Experience?
I think sadly it tends to lean towards the exploitation side and if you're working for free you need to understand your rights. Essentially you're providing a service for them for nothing, so you're doing them a favour, which means you should be able to have more flexibility with your working hours etc. Subsequently, learning how and when to say No to an inappropriate task!
I'd be really interested in hearing your thoughts on unpaid work as an adult and if it's something which frustrates you or something that you haven't thought twice about! I set up a poll on Twitter and on the time of writing this post 50% of people think it's exploitation and the other 50% think it's good experience, so no winner there!