Should we accept Unpaid Internships??

I need some advice. I am currently in my 2nd year of product design at a University in the UK and thoroughly enjoying my course.

I am trying to get a summer internship in London so that I can gain some work experience and learn more about the ‘real world’ of design and improve my skills at the same time.

I have spoken to many interns and they have told me that most companies are only offering unpaid internships. Should we accept this and take the financial hit and gain invaluable work experience or should we at least be asking for expenses to be covered??

Any advice will be much appreciated.

P.S. My tutors advice was don’t take unpaid internships!

if that is all you can get, take it. Experience is experience.

Also, I deleted your duplicate post in the Employment section… don’t double post the same question please…

Well, if you insist on living as a designer in London you’d better get used to starving or stardom.


I have spoken to many interns and they have told me that most companies are only offering unpaid internships. Should we accept this and take the financial hit and gain invaluable work experience or should we at least be asking for expenses to be covered??

Being a UK grad and currently employed myself I hate to say this isn’t true. I sort internships 2 years ago and The Top agencies in London all paid, the interns we have at our studio are paid. PDD, Seymour Powell, Conran, Therfore, Samsung, Nokia,Fitch, IDEO, pearson Lloyd, tangerine, Factory etc… all pay (unless things have drastically changed). You won’t be on a full juniors salary but needless to say you’ll be paid. The only ‘renowned’ studio that doesn’t pay (that I know of) is Industrial Facility run by Sam Hecht and Tom Dixon.

My opinion and personal experience (as I was paid very little on my internship, although I was still paid) is avoid an unpaid internship if possible. The reason being that everyone from my year that went on and unpaid internship (generally at small un heard of studios) had a pretty piss poor time and learn’t very little and incurred large debt, in my opinion there is a correlation between the the work you will be expected to do and the amount your going to be paid. Your also going to struggle to afford to live in London unless you have parental support. Working a bar job in the evening and weekends isn’t going to leave you with much time (if any) to improve any skills you wish to improve on. This time in the evenings is priceless to getting better.

I would also say that look outside london, as london isn’t the be all and end all. There are plenty of other top rate design agencies dotted around the country. You have The Alloy in Surrey and Rodd in Hampshire, Kinneir Dufort in bristol, Shore up in Edingborough, Renfrew group, Small fry, DCA, Hodges and Drake all in the midlands. (again as far as I know these all pay).

As YO said if an unpaid intership is all you can get take it (they should at least pay traveling and lunch costs) as you will struggle to get a junoir job when graduated without an internship. But there are options for paid internships.

best of luck with it all

I have done 3 internships during my school time. One was paid very well and two covered lunch and public transport. One of them actually in London.
They were all very valuable but vastly different. I don’t regret do have dug into savings in order to do it.

I would say that to provide for lunch/transport is a curtsey that should be expected from the firm you are working with. Sort of the “room & board” kind of deal that apprentices have been living (and starving) with since the beginning of time.

Clam mentions a few firms. Out of my expereince I can say that it is mostly the classic ID consultancies that do provide decent pay while the more furniture and (for the lack of a better word) milan oriented studios such as BarberOsgerby or Tom Dixon cover about 10 pounds a day. Not much.
However, these studios are often a great way to learn as they are high pressure with exciting clients. You will probably get a lot of responsibility early on.

It really depends on what you want to do. If you aspire to furniture and accessory design, I think you will be hard pressed to find a studio that will pay your way. On the other hand, if straight up ID is your thing, there are more options.

Good luck and in any case just as Yo and Clam said, try to do an internship no matter what.

@ Yo - I apologize for the duplicate entry, I won’t do it again…I just thought I might get more responses.

Thank you to you all and especially to clam and bebster for your long responses this has certainly been helpful!

@ clam

My situation is such that I have no parental support what so ever so have to pay for my own way. I could if push comes to shove tap into savings…but anyway the other reason why I chose London is because this is the only real city in the UK where I have some sort of home i.e. organising short term accommodation for the summer would be a bit easier BUT I am starting to look else where as well and your list above hast set me on the right path so thank you again for that.
So yeh I guess it’s all about reaching a compromise if needed….in the end (and I have been told this on countless occasions) work experience is priceless.

@ bebster

My tutor has also said something along these lines i.e. if it comes down to it you wont regret forking out a bit for educational stuff as it will pay back ten fold in the end.

I was looking for more ID related work/consultancies so this is good news J

Anyway thanks to you both this has certainly shed more light on the matter.

Take the best internship you can get, paid or unpaid.

With that being said, companies taking advantage of students or companies taking advantage of student’s desperate situations, however you want to look at it; does reflect upon the company and their personality. So be very cautious.

On a more personal note, if a firm can’t reimburse a poor desperate intern for travel and some living expenses, they shouldn’t be offering to take an intern in the first place, are acting irresponsible as a company, and probably have some issues internally, but that’s just me…

There should be no unpaid internships, period. Even if the intern is cleaning up around the shop, mounting presentation boards or fetching coffee, let alone contributing to the creative effort of the office, there is value to the organization and the intern should be compensated for it. Lunch and transportation aren’t enough. The value to the intern is experience and contacts but it’s certainly not one sided. Reputable design organizations should not be offering unpaid internships and young designers need to say thank you but no.

Dan: while I agree with you, in today’s job market, that’s a decision that I’d caution against. I’d rather be working for 6 months unpaid than 6 months unemployed because I was too snooty to accept an unpaid job. Same living expenses (maybe a tiny bit of travel involved), but 6 months of experience you could use to land the next (paying) job.

On the other hand, I find spec work completely unacceptable.

It also depends on who you are working unpaid. I worked as internship for school credit, then continued for about 2 years as unpaid designer. I was applying for other paid jobs, and got few phone interviews. All the interviewer asked about my experience and I believe they were interested in me. Then they asked about salary expectation and history. I told about my unpaid job and how at that time I didn’t have green card. They then told me that, ok then you don’t have proper experience. I guess they meant, paid jobs are more serious than unpaid. It felt like the 2 years experience is nothing.

Maybe if you work on high profile companies, you may be dealt in a different way.

I’ve been meaning to reply to this for a couple of days, and was going to post differently before I re-read your post.

I don’t see any issue with trying to find and carrying out unpaid internships during your holidays from study. Any financial assistance is obviously beneficial and I can’t imagine it’s seen as disrespectful to ask.

I had originally thought you were looking for unpaid internships after finishing your studies, which I would have advised against.

From a financial point of view it’s obviously easier to carry out unpaid in the area you live to keep your living costs, which you could then subsidise with a bar job or similar.

I have had interns often over the past 40 years – I have always paid them. In the US, at least, interns for for-profit companies are required to be paid unless specific criteria are met. Aside from feeling that we had a moral obligation to pay for work done, we have never seen that we are able to legally meet the criteria. If you are an intern or an employer that uses interns you might want to review this US Department of Labor bulletin:

if I were you and my finance isn’t in trouble, I would choose on which company that would provide me better experience, paid or unpaid. however if the say that they wont pay you and some expense money is the only way you would work/live, then try to negotiate with them hopefully they’ll understand since they’ve been a student also, goodluck :slight_smile:

Thank you to everyone that has responded to my post. While the general consensus seems to be to try and get a paid internship if possible a lot of people have also said that work experience is invaluable. All the feedback has certainly helped shed some more light on this matter and hopefully it will help in making a decision.

Thanks again to everyone!



As for the flyingdutchmen, You need the experience, if you get get paid do that. If not get them to cover something lunch and your metro card are really the minimum. If you’re not doing 40hour weeks then I would get a job at a book shop, high street, or a bar (I’d do the bar myself). You can find cheap places in alright neighborhoods around london, I’d look at Shooters hill and Golders green type places (boring in other words), or really really near your offices. Maybe leverage some skills you have helping co workers and whoever out doing remodeling and whatnot, make a few quid.

I’m currently on placement and know how hard it is to get a paid one (I had 9 interviews) I would definitely stay away from unpaid/low paid internships unless they are for a short period of time (<3 months) or local to your parents and they pay your travel.

There is difference between offering work experience and milking creativity, I’ve seen the bills top agencies charge clients and it would be criminal if they didn’t pay their interns a fair wage for the value they bring to the business.

I think this is ultimately a personal decision. I personally think if a firm actually uses your work for profit and hands it over to the client then there should be some form of payment. That’s just my own view of it. Other peple desperately need to have expereince for resume building so for some this may be the only way to get it. Sadly there are firms that take advantage of this. I say get what you need out of it and start looking for paid gigs.