The Truth About Unpaid Internships

As someone who thinks there is nothing better in life than reading an epic fantasy, I had a great time studying for an English degree. Reading books, writing about books, arguing about books. BOOKS. Unfortunately, finding myself at age 20 in a cap and gown with no job prospects was a little bit of a “well… shit” moment. Now I am 24 and have managed to find myself some of that much needed experience. And not to bite the hand that feeds me or anything… but I have a lot to say about unpaid internships.

I have had three different internship experiences – all with differing levels of payoff. So I have experienced both the pros and cons of working for free.

The work whenever you like internship

I got my first internship about three months after moving to Madrid. I was settled and happy in my new home but wanted something to do alongside teaching (which I already knew wasn’t my calling). I could already craft hilariously topical tweets and followed social media trends – I just needed a way to prove it to potential employers. This internship was great as it allowed me to do just that alongside my day job. I may not have been getting paid – but I was gaining experience and could work from my bed. The company knew I needed another means of income so let me choose my own hours. All in all it was a pretty great arrangement made for a great internship.

The liberally described internship

Two months after getting my first internship I saw an ad for another one. It was a much more established company and offered the chance to work from their office. Even though it meant I would have to cut down my teaching hours, I took the risk and went for it. I got the job and soon found out I’d be working 20 hours a week (at the time I thought this was inhumane). Of course, unpaid. But whatever, you’ve gotta suffer for your art, right?

So I turn up for my first day of work. I sit at my desk and am ready to start my role as Social Media & Communications Intern. But what exactly is that role? In this company, my job was essentially to sit on Facebook and post a million advertisements to different groups. Imagine doing that. FOR. FOUR. HOURS. Needless to say, it wasn’t exactly what I’d call a social media position. But I hate confrontation and naively thought that maybe I’d get more exciting tasks as time went on. But I didn’t. Two months into the internship and enough was enough. Not only was I not getting paid for my time, but I wasn’t gaining any experience either. I quit and quickly went back to teaching full time. I kept my original internship for another eight months or so but in the end became jaded about the whole idea of being an intern. Where was my money? I thought I was done. But I wasn’t.

The full time employee internship

A whole year and a half later I was facing the prospect of another summer teaching English to camp kids when I saw an ad for an Editorial Internship in my city. It was for three months so I knew it wouldn’t be some never ending pit of despair and figured it’d be a beneficial way to spend the summer. So I interviewed. I got it. I yay’d. Imagine my surprise when I find out that this internship was 40 whole hours a week. More than double what I worked on my €1000 salary as a teacher. But this was the career I wanted, so I was willing to make the sacrifice.

This time was definitely a step up from my previous position – I had my own desk and computer and spinny chair. But most importantly, I had responsibility. In the three months I was there, I actually learnt a lot. I got to develop the skills I already had as well as learning new ones – such as email marketing and exposure to new CMSs. In fact, I was doing so much stuff there that I couldn’t help but wonder – why aren’t I being paid for this? As much as I was learning about the industry, I was also learning about how unfair the whole unpaid intern thing can be. Upon leaving the role, I was asked about any suggestions I had for improving it for future interns. I said that they should pay travel expenses – which for me would have been €60 for the whole time I was there. It’s kind of hard to feel any self worth when supposedly 480 hours of your work isn’t even worth €60 to your employers.

And with that, I officially end my internship journey.

Sure, there are positives to being an intern and I don’t regret any of my jobs. I definitely wouldn’t be where I am today without them – but that’s the problem, why is it necessary for someone to do all this work just to get a job? I spent three years getting my degree only to discover that entry level jobs want you to have two years experience alongside it. Now I can see why Hermione needed that Time-Turner so badly.

In the future, I hope this changes. I hope that companies stop demanding a PHD and a previous CEO role for an entry level gig and that other businesses start paying their interns at least a travel card and a sandwich for all their hard work. But until then, stay strong little intern babies. Soon you will be in charge and can pay all the future interns as much as you want.

The Rarely Roaring Twenties


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Over the past year or so, I’ve spent a lot of time on this blog writing about ‘what it means to be a grownup’. Or, at least what I think it means to be one. I’m totally convinced I’m still a child. I’m 22, I moved to an entire new country, and I still don’t know what I want to do with my life. I’m just winging it really. That been said, there’s a lot of people on my Facebook feed who’ve been unnerving me a bit lately. People getting engaged, having babies, buying houses. What? There is no way I am ready for any of that. There is no way I want to do any of that.

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