How to Survive an Unpaid Internship

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Don’t you hate when you go to apply for a job and it says you need a certain about of experience? How on earth do you get experience without a company actually giving you a chance? Then there’s the stress of getting zero pay…

 

Internships are undoubtedly the best way to get your foot in the door and take you one step closer to landing your dream job. But in all honesty, the #internlife isn’t always easy and is made relatively harder when the role is unpaid. Committing to a position that sounds perfect but will inevitably leave you broke is not an easy decision to make. The Gov.uk website has some advice for interns regarding their rights. Depending on the company and circumstances, you may be entitled to the National Minimum Wage. From past experience and speaking to friends, more often than not, pay just isn’t a widely offered option. Until the situation changes, which we’d love to hear your solutions for in the comments, we have some tips to help navigate the difficulties.

 

At the interview

Aside from the obvious research about the company, the role and structure of work days, be prepared to ask some of the tough questions. Stay calm, confident and rehearse them BEFORE entering the room of doom (only joking, interviews are never that bad). The key word in this is ‘negotiation’. You may be able to work out an agreement on your travel or lunch. You could also inquire about the start and finish times. If your internship doesn’t offer travel expenses, you could possibly ask to start later or finish earlier to travel whilst it’s off-peak. Also, make it clear that if there is any travel included in the job description (such as taking taxi’s or using the underground to deliver samples etc) ask that you are either given the funds for this upfront or reimbursed on any money spent.

We’ve heard an increasing amount of stories of employers ‘expecting’ staff to pay for work-related travel outside of the regular commute and this is wrong! Especially if you walk to work and don’t actually purchase any travel tickets.

 

Save Save Save

If possible, we strongly advise saving money before the internship begins. It doesn’t have to be enough for a lavish lifestyle but should cover any fixed expenses you’ll have. Everyone knows how expensive travel is in and out of London and that won’t be the only expense you’re likely to incur. A little research will tell you whether it’s cheaper to choose contactless payments, buy a weekly pass or invest in a full-on monthly travelcard.

You probably would have bought into all the fashion office cliches, in while you’ll want to sashay into work with an expensive notepad in on hand and Starbucks coffee in another! Mornings are hard and coffee makes them somewhat bearable. Hold back on this image for now and bear with the instant coffee’s most offices provide. Some companies also provide interns with branded notepads, so don’t go splashing on a Smythson’s personalised stationary set just yet.

Another money-saving no-brainer is packing your own lunch! Don’t be embarrassed by this, most fashion office employees do the same. Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, is trying to save money in the same ways you are. On the occasion when you do go out for lunch, this will be your opportunity to network. Ask someone that you speak to if they’d like to go to lunch with you or go in a group. It gives your colleagues a chance to get to know you better and may open doors for you in the future.

 

The ‘side’ hustle

On top of battling through an unpaid internship, one day you may have to choose between your part-time job and an intern position. In the event that the internship isn’t paid, don’t hand in your notice too hastily. Most companies are quite flexible with interns that have other jobs and may be able to let you leave early a few days a week. Having a part-time job provides you with some income and also show your boss that you can juggle the two and work well.

Aside from interning and your part-time job, how much would you call yourself a creative hustler? Most of us have skills learnt during Uni/Life that you could sell in order to line your pockets. Photoshop talents? Logo design? Coding skills? – Freelance on the side, in the evenings or weekends and keep the cash coming in.

 

There is no ‘easy route’ to surviving an unpaid internship. All of the suggestions above will require hard-work, sacrifice and lots of grit. But there are the qualities you’ll find yourself carrying into your full-time job and throughout the rest of your career. Anything worth having doesn’t come easy and it’ll comfort you to know that most of your role models started out in the very same way.

Taeja Austin

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