Are Unpaid Internships Worth it?

Competition is tough and it can be a dog-eat-dog world outside of university. Your once classmate is now clawing their way to get that job you both want, and sitting on the sofa stuffing your face for hours on end juggling job hunting and the latest series on Netflix is a new multitasking skill to add to your CV. Yes finding a ‘grown up’ job can be difficult, so is it a bad thing to work for free?


More now than ever graduates are scouring the jobs market and for many of them, being an unpaid intern has become an additional step on an increasingly wobbly career ladder. Even though the graduate job market is picking up, competition is still tough, meaning many still regard unpaid internships a necessary evil, a check on your to-do list– or even a rite of passage – on the road to full-time, paid graduate employment.

But do unpaid internships really work or are they just a waste of time and money? Do they give you the experience and skills you need to break into an industry – or do they highlight the fact that you haven’t managed to land a paid role? So many questions to answer and so little time because we’re too busy trying to do ‘life’.


As a young striving professional still at university, I’ve been reminded over and over again just how important it is to get experience in my chosen field. Those in favour of graduate internships say they provide young persons with valuable experiences in areas where they previously had none, which is true, how else are you supposed to get a job without having experience? And how can you tell if you like a job or not without trying it on for size first?

I’ve yet to do more but so far my placements have consisted of a range of print magazines, radio presenting, social media training days and being stuck in a socially awkward corner too afraid to speak out because I was ‘just the intern’. That was my first time and I’ve learnt a lot since then- all from doing more unpaid work.

Some are critical of this whole idea of working for free in 2015, they say internships – mainly unpaid ones – are just an easy way for companies to milk desperate job seekers who are yearning to be noticed. But, isn’t it always best to go into anything you do in life with a glass half full perspective? Try to make the most out of these unpaid internships. But don’t just do them for the sake of bulking up your CV as you won’t be fooling anyone and you can’t get that time back. They say fake it till you make it, but you can’t fake passion, so do ones that will help you flourish in a department you’re genuinely interested in.

I’m sure many like me have been told they don’t have enough experience. Then, when they struggle through an internship (often unpaid or on very low wages) they are told that this is not good enough either, but you need to keep powering through. I’m currently on day 11 out of 25 working days in a row in-between a Monday to Friday internship in London and working weekends in Cardiff, my eye bags are slowly creeping up on me, yes my purse has taking a little bit of a beating; I’ve swapped nights out and takeaways for tube rides and money saving meals. It’s fair to say I’ve now become a coffee drinker. Bring on adulthood!


But doing a handful of internships is not a sign of inconsistency; it is a sign of determination and willingness to sacrifice a lot to gain experience to pursue a career in a desirable industry. These unpaid internships can pay off and two people I’ve met on my most recent placement at Grazia magazine started as interns and are now working for the company, and getting paid. We’re all trying to navigate our way around this system so just hold on tight as there’s no guarantee for a smooth ride.

Written by Stacey Owen



If you are interested in taking part in our internship programme at The Mothership Group, then click here to find out more.

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