Pick me- I’ll work for free

Unpaid internships are definitely not worth our time!

Source: Creative Commons- Tearing Money

It is often drilled into university students “Get an internship and you will have a better chance of getting a job.” There is also mass debate over whether paid or unpaid internships are better.

But what is often left out of this debate is the fact that many of us have no choice but to take on unpaid internships.  We have no choice in the matter and many people are realising that paid opportunities simply aren’t going to come their way.

So is taking on an unpaid internship really worth all the hours of free work you are giving that company? Well myself and many others don’t think so and see unpaid internships as an unfair way of companies gaining ‘free work’ out of entry level beginners like many of us are.

I read an article recently about how deregulated the term ‘intern’ is in New Zealand. Interns are not defined under New Zealand’s Employment Relations Act (ERA), so regulation of how they are treated all depends on whether an intern fits under the definition of what an employee is.

Definiton of Employee

So what is the definition of an employee in New Zealand? Well under the ERA, an employee is someone who is employed to do any work for hire or reward under a contract of service. This definition includes, full-time, part-time and even casual workers but does not include anything to do with unpaid internships AKA volunteer work. So if someone, such as an intern, is not defined as an employee then that means the protections and rights covered in legislation do not apply to them and the only protection they have is the agreement they make with the company they are interning at.


Now what about unpaid internships? There is no contract because there is no pay so we really don’t have much protection if anything was to go wrong. A main word that comes to mind is exploitation. Exploitation of young, inexperienced students who are vulnerable to companies that can take advantage of them.  The New York Times recently posted a debate up about whether unpaid internships exploit students and many people agreed they do.

A recent study done by the National Association of Colleges and Employers also found that 60% of students who did a paid internship in 2012 ended up getting at least one job offer when they graduated. But only 37% of people who did an unpaid internship ended up getting job offers and that’s only slightly better than the 36% from students who did no internships. So this shows how the effort of unpaid internships doesn’t pay off as much as paid internships.

Now don’t get me wrong, gaining experience is extremely important to get that edge over others when it comes to looking for jobs but as statistics has shown, not many people benefit greatly from unpaid internships.

“It’s Because of the Recession”

A main excuse by many companies is the fact that we have just come out of a recession and cannot afford to pay interns. Blog writer Stephen Colbert put it nicely, saying internships these days are being justified because of the recession. Because companies know graduates are desperate for work they are using this as an excuse to get helping hands for free.

So if you are looking for an internships- research, investigate and think…will this internship benefit me? Especially if you are willing to do it for free.

How to make the best of an unpaid internship:

1).  Check if your university has any scholarships available, that way you can intern for free but be getting money through your university.

2). Set guidelines for this free work before you start.  Ask to intern only a few days a week or even just one day, that way you can keep a paid job on the side.

3).  Check if the company you’re interning for reimburses interns for travel. Sometimes companies are willing to pay for your transport to the office or for the extra hours you put in.

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2 thoughts on “Pick me- I’ll work for free

  1. lizandrews says:

    So surprised to see the 60% vs. 37%…speaks for itself! Whilst I think the experience of unpaid internships CAN be great for the CV you definitely do need to fully consider exactly how far ahead stuffing goodie bags or the like is going to get you that’s for sure!

  2. Russ says:

    Good post. I learn something new and challenging on sites I stumbleupon everyday.
    It’s always exciting to read through content from other authors and practice a little something from their sites.

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