Real Jobs for No Money: Farewell to Unpaid Internships

Many graduates are proud to be interns, get new skills, earn some money (if this is a paid internship of course), and increase their chances to land a job of their dreams. But do all of them understand what an internship actually is, and do all of them understand that unpaid internships do not give them any chances to get hired?

What is it like to have no status at work but still be expected to work hard for nothing? Many companies exploit interns today and are not going to pay for their work; hundreds of young people do real jobs for no money but hope to get hired afterward. But the situation seems to change soon: unpaid interns start to battle for fair rewards of their work.

Why did they keep silence before? The problem is, many companies do not understand the role of interns, neither do people who were tasked to supervise an intern; as a result, an intern does jobs “just to keep them busy” and creates the same entirely unpaid position for all next interns who replace them. Moreover, some interns do not even realize the fact they are being unpaid: they take it for granted and view unpaid internships as a good chance to get a job, forgetting that they spend months of even years on internships.

Plus, many interns keep quiet about their unpaid jobs and allow themselves to be exploited with a hope of get hired finally and land a job of their dream.

After that deal with Fox Searchlight, when brave and angry interns went to court and asked to pay them for their work in the Black Swan movie, many companies have ditched their unpaid internships programs and agreed to pay all their interns (a leading US publishing house, Condé Nast, for example). It has become the first step toward interns’ labor exploitation termination because, as far as we all understand, this system with unpaid internships works for no one except employers who take advantage of it.

Many authoritative online jobs websites, such as Monster or Milkround for example, have removed all ads for unpaid workers, but it does not mean that unpaid internships have ceased to exist at once. But! If some companies still have them, employers are usually quiet about this fact; plus, all interns have gained confidence now, and they are not afraid of telling about their work exploitation when it comes to unpaid internships. Tax inspectors are about to check on businesses that are still believed to hire unpaid interns too.

As far as we can see from all above mentioned moments, unpaid internships become less and less popular today. And the main reason is not a desire of employers to stop exploiting young people’s work, but their amenability and fear to stand trial.

Here are some stories from graduates who share their experience of unpaid internships in different fields:


“When I was a 22-year-old promising designer I agreed to a six-month unpaid internship. It was a central London advertising agency, and I perfectly understood my industry was not the easiest one to get into. What did I expect from that internship? First of all, some experience and staying at the company as they promised me (if they felt I was a fit of course).

My duties were hard to call ones for designers: I made tea, bought lunch for people in the office, emptied bins sometimes. After first two months of my internship I graduated to making more tea, stuffing envelopes, and sticking stamps. Then I though that it was all worth it for getting a chance for a job.

When my six months of internship were almost over, I arrived at the office and met a group of young and officially dressed people in the foyer. Being polite, I asked if I could help them anyhow, brought them some water and asked what they were here for. The answer hit me, as all of them were here to interview for… my internship actually!

It was the moment when I felt myself stupid and embarrassed. My internship was over, and there were no chances to get this job. I had realized that I had not been given any design task to do for these six months. They called me into the office at the end of that day and said something like “Thank you, it’s over. All the best.”


“As a part of my journalism masters, I had two internships for the same magazine. I must admit that the first one was really good, and that is why I was glad when the digital director invited me back. And everything was great until my boss came to me one day and said: “I can see you are good with technologies. There is a special task for you from today, and it will keep you really busy”.

The point was, his daughter had some issues with her dissertation and could not deal with getting pictures on Word to match up with everything. She started giving me instructions at once, and her boyfriend was also there, writing her bibliography. I had quite controversial feelings at that moment; I considered myself a good journalist and I believed I interned for this magazine because of that, but here was my boss’s daughter (younger than me) who told me all that “do it again” and “this one needs to be here” staff.

I did not want to decrease my chances on getting hired after this internship, that is why I did not confront my boss about that task. This industry is small, you know.”


“After 18 months out of university I still could not find a job with my degree in journalism. That’s why I decided to take an unpaid internship to have something for my CV and show some more dedication. After I’ve got some offers from companies for designer and copywriter positions, I was “lucky” to choose the worst of them.

Several meetings in a cafe because “it is always nice to get out of offices” – and I realized there was no office at all. Four months had been spent on writing texts and designing promotions for cracked software; I worked in cafes or that guy’s home, and I was told that investors were about to come and fund this business after they would see the results of the work; and they would give me a paid position after that.

I thought it was better than nothing for my CV, and I was worried about how I would look if I went to some interviews with no job experience after 18 months passed since my graduation. Anyway, I quit soon after realizing there were no investors and no one was going to materialize.”