The Trials and Tribulations of an Unpaid Internship

The Trials and Tribulations of an Unpaid Internship

Unpaid labour sounds archaic, but you’d be surprised how many young people are working for free in Ireland and in developed countries around the world.

I started my job search for this summer extremely late, definitely way too late to get a job in the Big Four at least. So all of the good internships were snatched up and most places had closed their applications. This, along with an only-ok-CV, led to me spending this summer doing an unpaid internship.

As a general rule, I’ve always been extremely against unpaid internships, for a number of reasons. So, it took a lot of pride swallowing to eventually start applying to them.

To start, there’s something incredibly disrespectful about not paying people for their labour. Although I know the firm is small and can’t afford to pay me, I still can’t help but feel like my manager is saying ‘you add so little value to this firm that we are literally going to give you nothing in return for the work you do.’ My manager regularly tells me how great a job I’m doing and how much of an asset I am to the firm. While I know he’s trying to be nice and encouraging, these words of encouragement are really just rubbing salt in the wound.

It can be really hard to not feel taken advantage of in these sort of situations. I know I’m smart and I know I’m a hard worker and I deserve to be paid for my work, so why doesn’t the world agree with me? Or does the world agree with me that I do agree to be paid, but everyone knows young university students are easily taken advantage of?

Me having my feelings hurt is really only one small part of the problem with unpaid internships, though. I’m lucky because I still live at home and so my costs are much lower than someone completely fending for themselves. I’m working a part-time job on top of my internship and that’s all I need.

However, this is not the case for everyone. It can already be so hard to go from a less well off, working class background into the business world. If none of your family have ever gone onto third level education then that alone is a massive step that can’t be easy to take. So given there are already so many clear barriers to people from lower income backgrounds, it doesn’t help that people like me can add experience to our CVs that we weren’t paid for. I don’t need to explain to you that someone less well off than me, or without a family home they can live in rent-free in Dublin, simply cannot afford to do an unpaid internship.

I’d love to be able to conclude this blog post saying how much I hate unpaid internships and that I think they should be illegal, because all of that is true. But it feels extremely hypocritical to say that while currently doing an unpaid internship myself.

I hope some day we move away from this trend, but at the moment the professional world for young graduates is too competitive for unpaid internships to be completely written off. In a time of desperation to improve CVs however possible, young people will do whatever they can to make themselves stand out from the crowd, or even just to not be behind the crowd. Especially as a business student, it can really feel like everyone has so much on their CV and that you need to keep up. So for now, unpaid internships play an unfortunate role in a lot of young peoples lives.