16 June 2023

Think Twice Before Doing an Unpaid Internship

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An internship could rocket-launch your career.

Available across a broad range of sectors and disciplines, internships are there to equip students with a set of transferable skills that will increase their hiring potential.

That said, not all internships are paid. And while it may seem like a good idea to spruce up your CV with a bunch of tasty-looking roles, unpaid internships are exploitative, immoral, and quite frankly, wrong – for the most part anyway.

Want to know why? Scroll down.

What is the problem with unpaid internships?


Unpaid internships are seen as being largely exploitative. Understandably so. An intern works for free while an employer profits from it. 

Companies are sales-driven entities that care mostly about money. If a business feels an intern shouldn’t be paid for the work they’ve done, it’s not valuable to them and no-one should be doing it.  

Barrier to social mobility

Not everyone can afford to do an unpaid internship, especially those who come from lower socio-economic backgrounds. 

It costs the average person approximately £1200 – £1300 a month to live in London. Some industries like banking and the arts are mostly based in London, so if you don’t have roots in the city or savings to spare, it’s really hard to break into these fields. 

Are you worried about the cost-of-living crisis? Read our top tips to find out how you can manage your finances effectively.

Notting Hill, London

Are there any pros to doing an unpaid internship?

There’ll be times that employers will need you to have some work experience under your belt before offering you a job. In such cases, a week-long placement could work wonders for your career. 

Here are some reasons why you might consider doing an unpaid internship:


An unpaid internship can bring you a wealth of experience. You’ll get to meet people who are passionate about their field and test company waters to see if it’s the right fit. As you’re not being paid, you’ll feel less pressure to perform – rather, experiment and grow.


If your internship is flexible enough to fit around your studies or part-time job, go for it. You’ve got nothing to lose, yet everything to gain.

Do unpaid internships lead to employment?

Unpaid internships can lead to full-time jobs, but this isn’t always the case. Some people move from one internship to the next, and before they know it, six months have gone by and no money has come into the bank.

Of course, you may get lucky and bag yourself a role after completing your placement, though it’s not guaranteed, so best not keep all your cream eggs in one basket.

Want to know how we feel about unpaid internships? Read our copywriter Louise’s blog: Why I Regret Doing An Unpaid Internship.

What are the alternatives to an unpaid internship?

If you can’t find a paid internship in your desired field, don’t despair. There are plenty of things you can do instead. 

Maybe you’re a budding writer in need of some creative exposure? If so, launch a blog, pen a few short stories, build a social media profile and showcase your powers of persuasion to your followers. 

Empathy is a highly-valued trait in the writing profession, so the more you’re able to form meaningful connections with readers, the higher your chances of success.

If you want a role in public service you could always volunteer for a charity like Independent Age and offer befriending services to the elderly.  

Volunteering is a great act of public service

Are unpaid internships legal?

In order for an unpaid internship to be legal, the intern must be the primary beneficiary of the arrangement. If not, the employer is required to pay the intern a National Minimum Wage. 

Are you a primary beneficiary?

To qualify as a primary beneficiary, your internship either needs to…

  • Accommodate your university studies
  • Complement employees’ work, not replace it
  • OR serve as a learning platform or a springboard for your career

How much is the National Minimum Wage?

According to the National Minimum Wage Act 1998, which states the minimum amount of pay that an employee is entitled to per hour, workers must receive the following from April 2023:

23 +£10.42
21 – 22£10.18
18 – 20£7.49
Under 18£5.28
National Minimum Wage

For a full list of intern and employee rights, visit GOV.UK.