Unpaid internships: exploitation or experience?

Recruiting interns is a norm in every industry, but should companies be paying their interns for their work?

If you’re thinking about taking on an intern or two it is worth putting some serious thought into their pay. Unpaid internships are still common and if you own a start-up, you might be more inclined to take this route and save some pennies.

And if you’re looking for more advice about what exactly to pay your interns, we’ve got you covered.

What is an internship?

An internship is an opportunity for someone inexperienced to gain skills in their desired field. It is a short-term position – usually between 1 and 12 months – often held by students or recent graduates. Some internships are paid, some only cover expenses and some are completely unpaid.

To employers an internship is a completely different thing. Although you might have to spend some time and resources training these new recruits, they will take on some of your workload. Overall, internships are a mutually beneficial experience for everyone involved. They can even lead to further employment down the road.

Should you pay your interns?

The law

The law around hiring interns can be confusing. Government guidance says that ‘work experience’ does not have to be paid, but ‘internships’ that involve a contract have to be. A good rule of thumb is to think about if your new team member is considered a ‘worker’ – if they are, they have to be paid. The government website has all of the information you need to stay safe.

Class and diversity

The idea of unpaid internships is inherently classist. Thousands of qualified young workers have to pay their bills and probably don’t have enough money saved to stay afloat while working for free.

By paying your interns, you are opening your company up to diversity. You enable people from all walks of life to get invaluable experience and make an impact on your company.

Public opinion

There is lots to be gained from being a fair employer. Your interns will have a positive first impression of you and your company – they might even spread the word and leave a good review.

Social media is opening up the conversation around unpaid labour and it rarely votes in favour of it. By promoting equal pay and opportunities, your company will develop a positive public image. More people will want to work with and for you.


Paying your interns is a good thing. It will increase their happiness, productivity and loyalty while easing their financial stresses. You will get so much more out of your employees when they are happy. You will be able to truly see what they can do and whether you should employ them later down the line.

How do you find interns?

Speaking of diversity, make sure you are advertising all of your opportunities. It can be tempting to ask around and give the position to someone you know, but there are thousands of qualified, eager people that would love the chance to work with you. By promoting fair access you campaign against nepotism, promoting equal opportunities for everyone.

A quick way to advertise internships and find qualified, passionate interns is through DigitalGrads. We are a graduate recruitment company that champion paid internships. We have a huge pool of skilled candidates that are just waiting for their next opportunity, so why not hire through us?

About post author

Hi, I'm Daisy. I'm using my passion for writing to work with DigitalGrads on their content and social media campaigns.
Posted in Hiring Graduates