Career Talk 22.06.17

11 questions to ask yourself before doing unpaid work

Unpaid work is a sad, sad reality for most young millennials entering the workforce. However, not all unpaid work opportunities are made equal.
Bridie Pearson-Jones
Bridie Pearson-Jones
unpaid work

This post was written by a member of the Debut Publisher Network. Bridie thinks unpaid work is an inevitable part of the millennial job hunt. A word of warning: not all unpaid work opportunities are made equal.

If you’re a millennial, you’ve probably accepted that you have to do unpaid internships at some point. Likely, you’ve already done a few placements yourself. It gets to the point where you need think about if this work is worth it – here are some questions to ask yourself.

1. How long is it for?

unpaid work

The word ‘internship’ is used interchangeably with work experience, but they’re different. A good rule of thumb is no more than two weeks for free. Generally, more than two weeks is considered an internship, not work experience. (This means you should really be paid!)

2. Is it going to add to my CV?

Is this your first piece of work experience in this industry, or your tenth? Realistically, how much value does this opportunity add to your CV and your future worth? If you think this is going to significantly boost your CV, then it’s worth considering. If not, then it’s worth looking for alternative paid work.

3. Can you get a good reference from this?

Will your boss give you a good reference? Also, will this reference be useful and relevant to a future employer? Is this opportunity from the right sector of the industry? If yes, then it could add to your employment prospects.

4. Am I learning from this?

unpaid work

Rather than just looking good on your CV, is this experience going to help you in your career? Are you going to be able to take this experience and and apply it later?

5. Should I be getting paid? What’s the law?

A good employer will pay their interns. Legally you probably should be getting paid at least minimum wage (between ВЈ5.60 and ВЈ7.50 an hour depending on your age). The problem is, the criteria of being a ‘worker’ is vague, and the law isn’t being enforced effectively. It’s really important to know your rights – so read up on them. Remember, the minimum wage law is there to protect you.

6. Could I be getting paid?

Could you be doing something similar elsewhere where you could be getting paid? Have you explored that option?

7. Am I missing something else for this?

unpaid work

Are you missing school, university or paid work for this? Are you missing valuable time where you could be applying for paid work? Will you be able to catch up on anything you’ve missed? Is it worth it?

8. Is it costing me money? Can I afford this?

It’s one thing not to be paid but another thing to be losing money while you’re working. Are you being paid expenses? Will these expenses cover cost of living? In London, employers will often only cover expenses in Zones 1-4, and up to about ВЈ10 a day. This means if you live outside of London you could be losing a lot of money by interning.

9. Can I get credit for this?

Is this worth university or school credit? It’s always worth checking with your tutors if this can count for class credit. This will make not being paid slightly less painful, knowing that it’s contributing to your education.

10. Will I be doing something useful?

Will you be doing something useful that adds to your future job prospects and skills? Or will you be making coffee? It’s worth considering where you currently are in your career and how good the employer looks on your CV. Ask yourself, is this employer a big enough name to add value to my CV and will I be doing something cool or useful on my placement?

11. Will I get a job out of this?


Traditionally, internships were designed to be a “free trial” to test out a grad before giving them the job. However, more usually these days employers operate with a ‘revolving door’ of interns – where no one gets hired. That said, some companies are very favourable to former interns when it comes to grad jobs.

All these are worth considering, as well as what if I don’t do it? Am I missing anything valuable by not going? Will I regret it not doing it?

In the end, unpaid work will probably be a reality for most young people entering the workforce. However, these questions will hopefully help to guide you in choosing the best opportunities out of an unpaid bunch. Tell us about your experiences with unpaid work by tweeting us @DebutCareers.

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