4 Questions To Ask Before Agreeing To Unpaid Work

Unpaid work experience may seem like an inevitable part of starting a career and entering the workforce as a graduate. It certainly has its benefits as it allows you to gain valuable skills and experience – but is it always worth it?

Legally, all internships should be paid at least the minimum wage, but not all organisations will offer paid work experience or internships, and it is extremely important to know your rights- so read up on them. Here are some questions to ask yourself before saying yes to unpaid work.


  • How long does it last for?

Internships generally last for more than two weeks; work experience is usually shorter. Because work experience is usually a short placement spent shadowing and observing the workplace, you might not necessarily be given crucial tasks to do by yourself and so these placements are often unpaid.

Work experience, even if unpaid, can be extremely valuable as it will give you the opportunity to experience a work environment. Unpaid internships that last longer are unfair, however – especially if you’ll be given a lot of responsibility.


  • Is it going to add to my CV?

If it is the first time you are undertaking unpaid work, the experience is likely to significantly boost your CV and increase your skills, as well as provide you with a good reference.

If you’ve already done several unpaid work placements, you need to think about how much value the opportunity will add to your CV and your future worth. In this case, it might be preferable to research alternative options for paid work in the industry you are interested in.


  • Will it be costing me money?

Most employers offering unpaid work experience will cover your expenses. For example, in London, employers will often cover expenses in Zones 1-4, and up to about 10 pounds a day.

Companies that don’t pay expenses are exploitative, and you need to ask yourself if losing money will be worth the experience gained. Will you be able to afford and fund yourself during an unpaid work placement?


  • What will I be learning?

Rather than choosing unpaid work just for the sake of it or because you think it will look good on your CV, make sure that the experience will help you in your future career and that you will be doing something useful. What will your duties involve? Will you be making coffee or helping with routine administrative tasks? Or will you get the chance to shadow someone, ask questions and even be given a fair amount of responsibility?

Ultimately, unpaid work experience is a reality for many young people starting out their careers. Nevertheless, it is vital to ask yourself some of the questions above to establish whether unpaid work is worth it and whether you would be better off looking for other opportunities instead.


Inspiring Interns is a graduate recruitment agency which specialises in sourcing candidates for marketing internship roles and giving out graduate careers advice. To browse graduate jobs and graduate jobs Manchester, visit their website.