We are often asked by companies whether they can advertise vacancies for students that are unpaid. They use terms like ‘internships’ or ‘work experience’ but many are effectively asking for free labour. There are some good companies out there who are honestly looking for an opportunity to help students by offering experience and a chance to build essential areas of your CV, but in the main, this is sadly not the case.
The question then arises – what is the value of working unpaid for a company and when does the cost outweigh the benefit?
I was recently working with a student who was being asked to work for free as a trial period in a local convenience store. The student was working 10 hour shifts with no breaks and was told that this unpaid period would depend on how hard they worked – it could be another week, or even three months. This student needed a part time job, in part for additional spending money, but mostly to have some work experience on their CV so that when they reached their second year and applied for more relevant experience, they had something to talk about in their application. Whilst the legality of what the store was doing is very questionable, the student was choosing to work the long days. They could choose their working hours and take breaks when they wanted to. The student was so fixated on getting experience, they failed to manage themselves and the situation correctly.
My advice – weigh up the cost and benefit.
Walk away if you feel you are being taken advantage of. Talk to the store manager about expectations and give them a deadline of when you would like your progress to be reviewed and payment to commence.
The result – they started paying them the next day and gave regular shifts.
They even backdated some of the pay for the training. Sometimes we can be caught in situations, particularly as we begin our careers, where we are so caught up in the situation, we don’t look at the bigger picture. As a matter of policy, we do not advertise unpaid work unless it is legitimately offering valuable experience. There are some professions where unpaid experience is unfortunately the norm, and we can give advice on how to minimise the cost to you.