Unpaid work experience

Your Careers Service does not endorse working unpaid as despite the great number of unpaid internships out there, many are in fact illegal and should be paid. We include some suggestions below so that you can consider some of the issues, understand your rights better, and know where to draw the line if you do decide to take any unpaid experience.

Understand your rights

The National Minimum Wage legislation states that if you are a 'worker' (and none of the specific exemptions apply) you should be paid minimum wage. In some limited circumstances if you are a genuine 'volunteer' you may not be entitled to the Minimum Wage, however some employers exploit this loophole, so educate yourself about the rules.

  • Read the government guidance on minimum wage and unpaid internships
  • If you feel the organisation is clearly breaking the rules you can get advice from the Pay and Work Rights Helpline on 0800 917 2368. The Helpline is open from 8 am to 8 pm (Monday to Friday) and 9am to 1pm on Saturdays
  • Speak to the Careers Service if you need advice.

Plan how you will benefit from the experience - before you agree to it

  • Will this opportunity help you learn useful skills? Prospects Occupations Profiles can help you identify these skills, look under 'entry requirements' for the occupation/s that interest you
  • Understand the pitfalls. Check websites like Interns Anonymous to read people's experience of unpaid work experience, and pick up some tips
  • Ask questions about learning opportunities. Suggest areas you want to learn about, if you don't ask, you don't get
  • Will you be in a team and be able to learn from others? If you are stuck on your own and have no-one to ask questions of, you may not learn a lot.

Structure your experience

Agree with the organisation in advance, what work you will be doing.

Agree for how long and how many hours the work experience will be.

Have a clear end date in mind. The TV industry has work experience guidelines suggesting a 4 week maximum. You may find this a useful benchmark.

Agree some objectives and things you want to learn. If the organisation doesn't stick to them, re-negotiate or look elsewhere. If you are working for free, there has to be win-win.

Pay, expenses and costs

Negotiate to be paid expenses. Some organisations offer travel and other expenses, so if you are working unpaid ask the employer if they will pay expenses, pointing out any essential costs you will incur. Ask about paid opportunities.

  • Find out what paid opportunities there could be at a later date.
  • Ask for a timescale when this could happen.
  • Raise the issue again at the relevant time.
  • If they can't/won't commit then consider moving on, unless you feel you are still benefitting from the experience.
  • If you would need to move to take up the opportunity, see if you can reduce your accommodation costs by flat or house sharing.