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Friday, May 31, 2013

Would you ever consider unpaid work experience to further your career?

This week we are skipping the weekly graduate news round up in favour of some interesting data we have gathered through our online poll.

We were quite surprised to find out that 86% of you would take on unpaid work experience if the benefits outweighed being paid.

These results come from our latest online poll. When asked if you would consider unpaid work experience, 45% responded positively, letting us know that work experience potentially is more important to you than being paid. 41% replied more cautiously: ‘Yes, if it was absolutely necessary’, but only 14% answered no, implying that you don’t want to be ‘exploited’.

The majority of graduates and students are willing to sacrifice the chance of paid work in order to get experience that will help them climb the career ladder. This demonstrates how keen they are to make themselves more employable and shows the strength of their work ethic. But the statistics raise some big red flags.

Although there can be benefits to unpaid work experience, which is clearly why so many would consider it, in some cases it may actually be illegal. Employers are not required to pay volunteers, but anyone who counts as a worker is entitled to the national minimum wage.

This is a grey area legally as it is not always easy to establish when someone counts as a worker. But any graduate who undertakes a lengthy unpaid internship where they are effectively doing a job will be in this category.

For those considering going unpaid for the sake of experience the National Council for Work Experience has produced guidelines to help decide whether an unpaid work experience is worthwhile. These guidelines include:

-          Ensure the placement is valuable – does it give insight into a particular industry? Will it give you particular skills or clarify career aspirations?
-          Discuss the possibilities of any future paid work with the employer.
-          Discuss the purpose of the internship and clarify expectations from the start.

For more guidelines and to understand the law on unpaid internships read our full article on unpaid internships and how to decide if they are worth it.

The potential benefits of work experience in the industry you are interested in are significant. It’s no wonder many of you are willing to consider unpaid work placements:

-          An opportunity to build your network and connections with industry professionals. You never know what doors this may open.
-          Learn new skills and put theory into practice.
-          Build your commercial awareness.
-          An opportunity that may lead into a job.

So would you consider unpaid short-term work experience in order to gain these benefits? And if so, how long for?  Two weeks? A month?

If unpaid work experience isn’t for you why not search our site for paid work experience


(The survey was conducted on our social media channels and website. The poll had a total of 114 participants)