Read the latest stories from the Intern Aware community:
Alexander says:
"As a young person working in the field of public relations, I was extremely lucky to get to where I am without needing to undertake..."
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Keri says:
"After finishing my second year of uni I was still struggling to know exactly what I wanted to do, so I decided to defer my..."
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Katie says:
"Having been brought up in the countryside, and feeling as if I didn't quite 'fit in' in such a small town, I applied to university..."
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Amy says:
"When I was just out of school, I thought it was my responsibility to work for free. I worked often for senior designers but always..."
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The Elitism of Unpaid Internships

As a young person working in the field of public relations, I was extremely lucky to get to where I am without needing to undertake internships. However, the field which I always strove to get into was politics, and the door to this world was unfortunately closed tight. When people feel like they have been dealt an injustice, they must feel like they can turn to their representatives for redress. However, when an unpaid intern approaches their legislator about their exploitation, they find that they too use the exact same methods of unpaid labour. 

Progression for me remains extremely difficult, since as a native of the North and a father to a one year old girl, the option of doing unpaid work is impossible. I come into contact with unpaid interns on a regular basis, but in my eyes they are not the real victims in all of this. As opposed to concerning myself with the mistreatment of the young people currently holding these unpaid positions, my sympathies lay with those who have been excluded from these opportunities.

The majority of young people in the UK are not privileged enough to be born and raised in London, and therefore have no base in which they can reside free of charge. Also, these people do not live off daddy's credit card and must therefore go out into the world of work and succeed on their own merit. This group, it must be said, consists of a high number of individuals within ethnic minorities - who have been excluded from industries such as PR, journalism, and politics for a very long time.

You would be surprised to learn that far from being a Marxist, I am a libertarian conservative. This being said, my principles have always made me champion the principle of meritocracy and challenge elitism and exclusion. Unfortunately, London (now the most expensive city in the world) has a job market which is built on the foundations of unfairness.

Naturally, I understand that many who undertake unpaid internships also cannot afford to live without pay and have found themselves having to get by with basic rations. This too cannot be tolerated in a modern economy which should be preparing future generations to become the leaders of tomorrow. Many graduates in the North have found themselves stuck in low-skilled and low-paid jobs while their affluent counterparts slip into industries such as journalism, fashion, public relations, and politics.

However, until graduates and undergraduates collaborate and refuse to apply for such positions as one unit, reform remains highly unlikely. For this reason, we must rally parliamentarians and senior party figures to help defend the rights of hard-working and self-sufficient young people in our country.


They didn't want to pay me, so I made them.

After finishing my second year of uni I was still struggling to know exactly what I wanted to do, so I decided to defer my final year and move to London to try and get some experience. I was lucky enough to be offered a paid 4 month internship in marketing which I loved, and after finishing that I was keen to find another position which focused on writing. 

I spotted an ad on Gumtree from MyVillage.com for an short-term intern writer position at their listing, reviews and lifestyle website. I sent my CV over and was asked to come on board at the beginning of December 2010. The 'office' I had been given directions for turned out to be the owner's house, and for the first week or so I was the only person there. The owner then recruited another intern, and as a duo we wrote all of the content for the site for the next few weeks.

Just before Christmas, the owner took us both aside and told us that the company had been bought by a publishing firm, and that he was keen for us to stay on after Christmas and work from the firm's offices. He told me that he now wanted some continuity for the site and was keen to keep me on, and that we would discuss pay once we had settled in the following month. I naively went along with it.

Flash forward to the middle of February, and I had been given the title 'Senior Editor' and was now running a team of 6 writers - all unpaid interns - who I had trained, continually briefed and looked after each day. I managed the entire editorial strategy for the website as the owner was hardly ever around - he was always off on errands or on holiday. 

I continued to pester about my salary - he continually promised to get it sorted, but never did. Finally, after 6 weeks of chasing, he told me that he and the firm had decided that they weren't going to pay me, and that they believed 'sending her to review restaurants and films was payment enough'.

I really enjoyed the job, but I did not believe that the work I produced was worthless. I quit straight away and took them to court with the help of the National Union of Journalists, and successfully sued them for the minimum wage. My only regret is that I wasn't able to encourage the 6 other interns to do the same. 


At some point our 'dreams' become destructive to our reality...

Having been brought up in the countryside, and feeling as if I didn't quite 'fit in' in such a small town, I applied to university to do a degree in Fashion Promotion in the wide-eyed (and somewhat) naive belief that it would be my ticket to the cosmopolitan lifestyle in London that I'd always dreamed of. 

Fast forward a few years. During our time at university, we were encouraged to do internships (and given a three week slot to do them in - barely any internships are this short, for starters!) based on the fact that it would help us to gain industry experience and to help us find jobs once we'd graduated. It was at this point that my classmates and I realised that 'internship' was code for 'unpaid'. We potentially brushed this off at the time as we were students, still trying to prove our worth.

For me, graduation came and went, tinged with the stark reality that even as a degree educated individual, my only step into the industry, realistically, was via an internship. Having come out of university broke and ever so slightly burnt out, it was simply not an option to plough myself into debt in order to follow my dreams. 

Two years back in the countryside, and my dreams of bigger things niggled and taunted me day by day. And so here I am, having upped and left my cosy countryside hometown and a semi-cushty job, I am now paying £650 a month rent (plus bills!) to live in a city that not only condones unpaid labour, but it also seems to encourage it. The ratio of paid to unpaid internships in my experience seems to be around 1:20, and perhaps I'm being conservative here; paid internships are like gold dust! 

I am fresh out of an internship with a PR company that I didn't even last 2 days in. I begrudged all the mind numbing tasks that I was being given, that I wasn't even being paid to do. I weighed it all out and it simply wasn't worth it - self worth is something that we must hold firmly onto, and mine was slipping away! Breaking point came when I was asked to sort the recycling out; how on earth was this relevant to anything?! True, if I'd have stayed a few more days, maybe I would've got more out of it - but in an office where returns are coming in thick and fast daily, I knew that would be my job and that there would be little time for anything worthwhile. As little value a degree may hold, I still trust my intelligence and my instinct on knowing when to bow out, and that will be the last unpaid internship I ever do.


It pays to know your rights

When I was just out of school, I thought it was my responsibility to work for free. I worked often for senior designers but always on their "pet projects" and never on work that would give me the real experience I needed to land a job. I looked at their employees, who were the same age and had the experience as me and saw them graduating to better and better positions. I realised the only difference between them and me was that they had salary which is so much more than just money, a salary is leverage.