Can't Undertake An Unpaid Internship in London?

Sunday, April 10, 2016


In order to successfully enter certain sectors - such as media, fashion, marketing, public relations, etc - you are expected to undertake an internship or work experience placement.  Often these internships are unpaid, full-time, they last for months (usually three months in the summer) and they are based in Central London.

Some people take on these internships in Central London, and some people can't, and for those who can't, they may find themselves shut out of their dream careers.

In my case, I'm from London, and I spend my summers there.  I live 20-30 minutes away from Central London (by train.)  However, I can't afford to complete an full-time unpaid internship.  I'm not rich, nothing is handed to me on a silver platter and I have to work hard for everything.  To work for free is just not economically feasible for me, and I don't think working for free is ethical.  I think employers should invest in their workers, not exploit them and I do consider full-time unpaid internships to be a form of exploitation (and elitism.)

Anyway, last summer I decided that I wanted to gain some experience somehow, but I didn't want to work in a shop job, so I figured out a few solutions to my situation.

Work from home/freelance.
I used to work as a freelance writer in my gap year, and when I started my blog in November 2013 I started 'working' (unpaid) from home.  I started applying for writing gigs and freelance work via the Fashion Workie website, and since then I've been building up my portfolio and gaining work experience.

Even though I don't receive payment for all of my writing gigs (I sometimes receive perks), freelance writing makes my life so much easier.  It's flexible so I can fit writing and blogging around my current schedule.  All I have to do is find a place to work - either my bedroom or the local library - turn on my laptop, connect to the Internet, then start typing away.  I don't have to worry about commuting times an costs, I don't have to worry about travelling in London during rush hour, and I don't have to worry about paying for lunch.  I work when I want, where I want, for as long as I want, and that's much better than spending my days working endless hours for no pay for a long period of time.

Don't intern full-time.
Don't spend your time working 9-5 (or longer) when you won't even be paid (or guaranteed a job at the end of your placement.)  If you decide to take on an internship, then opt to work part-time or flexible hours.  In addition to this, don't intern for months on end.  If you have to take on an unpaid internship, then work for a short time (e.g. a maximum couple of weeks.)  If an employer wants you to for work for a longer period of time, then negotiate pay and hours.  Don't undervalue yourself.  You deserve to be paid more than minimum wage.

Try to find opportunities in your home city/town.
I know that people say that London is the best place to be for the kind of jobs I mentioned earlier.  That's understandable because London is the capital city and it is a major hub for media jobs, but there are other places where you could work too.  There are many media, PR and marketing firms located around the country, and some roles involve working from home so you don't even have to leave your house, let alone your hometown.  I write for a women's magazine at university, and it is only based in the local area, though it has a website and two blogs.

Save up or get a job.
If you decide to undertake an internship, then spend time saving up in order to finance yourself. Alternatively, get a job.  Last summer I worked as a Freelance Social Media Intern for an accessories brand, and I worked as a Freelance Fashion Writer for an online women's magazine.  Before I did that, I worked at my university as a Student Ambassador, so I managed to get some money to help get me through, even though I was interning from home, and the money I earned helped to fund me for commuting costs (I went to a lot of networking events) and socialising with friends.

So there you have it!  These are some of my tried and tested methods and solutions in response to refusing to undertake an unpaid internship.

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