What is the point of unpaid work experience?

Mar 21, 2016

Recently I spoke to someone who had completed a long-term work experience placement at a book publishers for around 6 weeks. The placement was unpaid but their travel and lunch costs were covered. At the end of the term the publisher asked them to stay on for more weeks – at the same terms – as they were ‘so happy with them’. If the publishers was genuinely ‘so happy with them’ they should have paid the person properly and compiled with the law on the national living wage.

What compounds this issue, is something common with most people who do short-term placements – paid and unpaid – is that they find they are too busy to look for a job (working full-time, often taking manuscripts or books home to read, evening events). So not only are they giving away what little expertise they have for free, they are no longer in an environment where they have time to look for a job.

I hear all the outcries –
A) How can I get a job if I’ve got no experience
B) I want to boost my CV
Or the worst one of all
C) They always recruit from their interns as this shows a commitment to the company and they’ve tested you out.

Here is the guidance:-
A) How can I get a job if I’ve got no experience
You need to be involving yourself whilst you are still studying. You need to accept extra-curricular activities, involve yourself in societies and voluntary organisations where the role will mimic what you intend to do in a job. E.g. editorial or design for a student magazine, publicity for a student society, social media for student or school events. All will help you get some basic experience. If you have already left education, there are similar opportunities for you out there, without committing yourself full-time.

B) I want to boost my CV
You can do this by learning new skills or software or understanding the area of the market within which you want to work. New skills – get those computer skills up to standard, most publishers ask for InDesign, CSS, XML, but coding is key. Also social media, are you using all the platforms that you could be – what other platforms are out there? How are publishers using them? What would you use them for. If you are thinking of blogging, read this before you make any of the common blogging errors.

C) They always recruit from their interns as this shows a commitment to the company and they’ve tested you out .
This does not show a commitment, if anything it shows an ignorance of diversity issues by the publisher, as they are only ever going to employ people who live locally or can afford to do work experience – and this includes paid internships at minimum wage levels.

So back to the original question, what is the point of unpaid work experience… when all it seems to do is close off the job market for young people entering the industry and prevents you from securing a fairly paid opportunity? There seems to be very little point at all.

[If you are reading this and stuck doing internships in UK Book Publishing please make an appointment to talk to us. We have an allocated amount of free help available for you.]