Measuring the Value of Unpaid Internships

There’s been a lot of chatter lately surrounding unpaid internships and whether or not this type of “employment” is fair or not, and because I mentioned in my last blogpost that aspiring PR professionals should be “okay with working for free”, I feel obligated to express my own opinion on the issue.

Personally, I would only take on an unpaid internship under one of the two circumstances:

1. I would work full time – if this was during the schoolyear and I was earning a course credit. (Essentially, I would not be going to school, I would simply be going to this job and “learning” there.

2. I would work 1 (maybe 2 if I really liked the position) days a week for free, while going to school/working/participating in extracurriculars at the same time. (This is basically my life right now, as I volunteer at the HBSPCA in a position with many intern-like qualities).

As someone just entering the field, I think it is extremely important to remember that you are not entitled to simply getting a job because you have a particular degree, hence why I place such importance on building your portfolio in other ways. I’ve had enough conversations with industry professionals to know that these are the experiences that stand out to employers, thus students should keep in mind that, at one point or another, you’ll have to ‘pay your dues’.

But while this is true, I think students today are severely undervalued in the workforce, and it makes me a little uneasy – because let’s face it, we’re talented. And while people may try to tell you that “money isn’t everything”, I think it is completely unreasonable to ask someone to work 40 hours a week, for free. Especially if they’re contributing valuable work to your company.

So while it may be tempting to take on one of these roles, particularly if it’s located at a fairly desirable and/or glamorous company,  make sure you’re not selling your soul just to be able to list a name on your resume. As students, we’re often worth way more than we give ourselves credit for.

If you’re interested in reading more about the unpaid internship debate taking place in Canada right now, The Globe and Mail has been covering this issue extremely well.

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3 thoughts on “Measuring the Value of Unpaid Internships

  1. I think a part-time, 10-15 hr./week unpaid internship is fine. It’s reasonable. A lot of employers can use the extra help, interns need experience, and everyone wins. Working unpaid for 10-15 hours a week allows time for other things, such as a job, classes, etc.

    My problem comes in when companies expect a full-time, 40 hr./week unpaid intern. For some people, this may be do-able. If they have other forms of income or don’t have a lot of things to pay for, then why not? However, a LOT of students are putting themselves through school, paying for rent, a phone bill, gas, car, etc. How can a student work 40/hr. a week unpaid, pay the bills and excel in school? Employers want it all — someone who has a great GPA, is involved, volunteers, has a hard work ethic, etc. But they don’t want to pay? Doesn’t make sense to me. There ARE some internships that are invaluable, and money could never replace. I get that. But I feel like for the average, hard-working & independent student, a full-time unpaid internship would be almost impossible (without having to taking out loans– which is a whole other topic lol)

    • Hi Allysa!
      I absolutely agree with you – 10/15 hours a week is SO reasonable, and I think everyone wins in that situation. No student should feel like they have to work 40 (unpaid) hours per week on top of working a part-time job so they can just pay the bills. This is especially troubling in instances where a full-time employment offer isn’t even guaranteed at the end. The saddest part is that most of these companies can actually afford to pay their interns, they just don’t.

      Thanks for reading and submitting your thoughts!

  2. i agree with you, and i think unpaid internships are a reality we have to accept as students. however, i do wish there were more opportunities available. at my university, for example, you can’t have an internship for credit AND get paid for it, which i think deters a lot of people from doing internships.

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