The UK’s industry experts weigh in on the nature of unpaid internships

Unpaid internships are the next step after graduation. That’s just the way things are now. The same reason for why it’s so crucial that everyone tries to get as much experience under their during their university years is also why graduate jobs are so dang competitive.

But unpaid experiences can be a bit opportunistic, well, they feel that way sometimes. Legally, a company has to pay you after four weeks but until then withholding pennies from you is totally fine.

Are attitudes changing towards these types of work experiences and internships? We asked five experts in five different fields to find out!

1. Yero Timi-Biu – screenwriter and producer 

Speaking to us back in March about The Network, Yero told us about her career story. How she followed her dream of being a storyteller and landing as a screenwriter/playwright and radio producer. She said this of unpaid internships and work experiences:

“It’s really daunting to want to work in an industry that is seemingly hard to break in to, don’t be afraid to offer your services for a work experience (anything longer than 4 weeks unpaid is ILLEGAL!).”


Image credit: Yero Timi-Biu

2. Elisar Cabrera – film director

While promoting the Raindance Web Festival, producer/director Elisar Cabrera gave us a comprehensive run-down of all the channels you can go down to get into the film industry. Most of which began as an on-set runner. When we asked him about these unpaid opportunities he had this to say:

“I do think people can be exploited. It was always just a given that’s how you got into the industry, you work for free for someone. The established production companies shouldn’t be advertising free runner work, they should always be paying. It’s a different thing if you volunteer for a friend who’s making a film.”


Image credit: Elisar Cabrera

3. Amy Cox – probate genealogist

Amy Cox works as a Senior assistant case manager at probate genealogist company Finders International. Amy also works on BBC show Heir Hunters. So as a historian/TV personality we got her experiences as working as an unpaid intern. To get where she had to be Amy “did an unpaid internship with the Museum of Everything”.

“After that I had the all too familiar dark period that many graduates experience where I was unemployed and had to move back in with my parents in Reading.”


Image credit: Amy Cox

4. Matt and Aiden – founders of JobLab

JobLab is a brilliant website that streamlines the hunting process and cuts out all the time-consuming applications. Speaking to founders Matt and Aidan, as career experts (of sorts), we wanted to know what they thought of unpaid opportunities:

“Unpaid internships are okay, so long as they take place over a limited time period. You shouldn’t need to have experience before you can apply for an internship either, it’s an opportunity to practice skills you’ve learned during your studies. Make sure employers aren’t vague about expenses/ pay/ end dates.”


Image credit: Job Lab

5. Lucy Gornall – Showbiz journalist 

Having impressed Now during her stint as a work experiencer, Lucy Gornall is now a fully-fledged showbiz journalist having interviewed Simon Cowell and Mark Wright. Her experiences with unpaid internships were obviously positive and it shows, sometimes, that the experience is worth more than minimum wage:

“After uni, I did various unpaid internships at NowNutsCosmopolitan UK and Cosmopolitan Australia. I also wrote various pieces for local publications. During my month’s internship at Now in January 2014 I helped out in the office and at various events. I absolutely loved it and cried when I left!”


Image credit: Lucy Gornall