The Alternative to Unpaid Internships

Across the internet, there have been a variety of discussions and online debates happening around the topic of Unpaid Internships. Some users believe in the system of unpaid, yet highly educational and experience-based internships, yet other are arguing against the institute of free labour in corporate spaces. For me, I’m on the side of the latter — but as I’ve recently posted my thoughts and views on unpaid internships over on my IGTV, I didn’t want to write another blog post repeating myself online.

Instead, I wanted to showcase some of the alternative options available for young or inexperienced workers in various industries — that don’t require free labour at a detrimental financial cost to the employee. Gaining experience in the industry you want to work in is crucial to stepping onto your desired career ladder, but for many people the only options presented to them to get this experience are unpaid work experience roles or interships. Having worked as not just an intern, but a part time assistant, full time executive and freelancer in my chosen industry, I’ve met so many people with such a wide variety of experience that internships should nto be considered the only path for a young person in 2018.


Some of my best roles and most exciting projects have come out of nothing but my blog. Without taking a look at my CV, and finding out about my experience as an intern, I’ve been contacted by employers looking to work with me just based on the styling and content of my website. My website has some of my best case studies on it, my most intricate pieces of work, and links to every project I’ve ever worked on. It is always going to be the best representation of my best standard of work, and it can tell employers almost everything they need to know about me. No matter which industry you work in, a digital portfolio of examples and testimonials of your efficiency and working style can really go a long way in highlighting you as a potential employee.

Of course, there are pluses and minuses to both scenarios. Yes, building and working on your digital portfolio or website will take time — but so can a full time internship. But whilst at the end of an internship, you might leave with a nice reference, blistered feet and some heavily overdue coffee run expenses, with a website or portfolio, you get to keep and promote everything you make.


If you’re looking to intern in an industry that wasn’t your chosen field of education, gaining experience can be difficult. So why not take a part time or night course in the area you want to specialise in? These courses can range in fees, from free community courses to more inclusive subscription courses, so there will always be something that works for your lifestyle. If a busy daily routine is keeping you tied down, then an online course could also be a great way to learn some extra information about your field — and will look great as a bonus qualification on your CV. This way, you highlight yourself an employee willing to go the extra mile for their passion, and as an educated participant in the field. You leave with a qualification, an accomplishment and a great deal more knowledge about your chosen industry than you might as an intern spending 7 hours a day answering phones and opening doors.


From my experience, freelancing is not just a practice for those who consider themselves to be ‘experts in their field’. Depending on the area of work, there are a large range of freelance opportunities available for those willing to work at them — that do not require managing enormous long term projects or contracts. Some positions can be short term, ‘busy period’ freelance opportunities, some can be based in-house for industry environment experience, and some can be small ‘filling in the caps’ freelance contracts for those businesses who can’t quite find a permenant member of staff to do the work.

Freelancing is a really great way to embed yourself in an industry, without needing to worry about immediately being thrown in at the deep end work-wise. You have a lot more control of your workload and your working habits, allowing them to fit around your lifestyle — and as long as you can do the work, the only thing you need to worry about is an invoice at the end of the month.


One of the most off-putting elements of intern work is the communal attitude towards the role in typical work spaces. It can be a huge knock to your self esteem to be labelled as the ‘coffee runner’, ‘the photocopier’ or the ‘personal assistant’ in your chosen field of work. In many cases, whilst an intern might gain an insight into the culture of a workplace, they learn very little about the actual work itself, and are given very few responsibilities. So why not put yourself forward for voluntary short term opportunities instead? Say, for example, you want to work in photography. Look out for local festivals, parties and events that might need a one-off photographer, and volunteer yourself for the role, free of charge. This is a great way to get your name out there in the local field of photography, but also to practice your skills and gain some on-site experience off of your own back. Taking one day out of your schedule to learn some new techniques of working, and to help out someone with the skills you have is not only incredibly rewarding, but will look great on your CV too.

Overall, for some people, the unpaid internship system really did work for them, and it helped them progress in their careers and become successful. But for others, it’s simply not an option they can afford to pursue, and it can be difficult trying to find work without it. So take the time to try out a couple of these alternatives, and keep updating that CV, and hopefully you’ll be a pro before you know it!

Freelance Social Media Manager, Coffee-Drinker Email me at: for chats ’n’ stuff!

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