Paying for the privilege to work for free

While the concept of today’s graduates doing internships is a much-debated issue, a more worrying trend established in the US appears to be gaining headway this side of the pond: interns (or their parents) who pay large sums of money to secure unpaid work placements.

Around 10% of Washington D.C.’s 30,000 interns are thought to have been placed by dedicated internship recruiters who charge upwards of $5,000 per candidate. Similar patterns are occurring across the States, with companies such as Dream Careers in California placing privileged hopefuls in unpaid summer internships for $5-10,000. With Dream Careers having operated for ten years, paying for a job in the US is clearly nothing new.

However, BBC News’ Sean Coughlan recently looked at what he reported as a growing trend in this country, citing increasing numbers of graduates paying recruitment companies anything from £250 up to £1,000 in order to land themselves unpaid positions. Lamenting the ability for the wealthy to effectively purchase the careers of their choice as a “perpetuat[ion] of the long standing lack of social mobility in the UK”, Coughlan’s article highlights some of the more controversial facets of this approach to internships.

Charities are also leaving themselves open to criticism by using sought-after internships as a fundraising tool. Earlier this year a charity auction was held at the Oxford University Red Dress Couture Ball, where internships were sold for four figure sums. Clearly if candidates are spending vast amounts of money to do prestigious placements it is better that this cash goes to a good cause, but the issue of pricing out the majority of graduates still remains.

So we want to know your thoughts:

  • In an increasingly competitive job market, can it be right for parents to pay employers for their children to be taken on for free?
  • What about if the graduate is paying for themselves using savings or increasing their debt?
  • Are employers right to accept such payment for taking on an intern?
  • Is it acceptable to auction internships to raise money for charities?

Inspiring Interns is the UK’s leading internship consultancy. We provide meaningful three month internships, mentoring and graduate job opportunities in London and throughout the UK. The majority of our roles lead to paid, full-time employment. For the latest vacancies visit our website: