On Wannabe Hacks: ‘I was told I could get a job if I worked for free – I was betrayed’

A fantastic resource for aspiring journos, Wannabe Hacks delves into the highs and lows of trying to break into the industry. In this post, George Berridge interviews ‘Sarah’ about how she was taken in by that ever-elusive yet vague promise on the unpaid internship job ads, “with a view to a possible full time position”…

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Would you take an unpaid internship if there was the prospect of a job at the end? Wannabe Hacks talks to one young journalist who took that chance and learnt the hard way that you should never trust an employer who won’t pay their interns…

Sarah (not her real name) is 22. A recent journalism graduate, she is currently working for a publication on a three-month internship.

The job ad said the position was ‘expenses only and the position was full time Monday-Friday with a view to a possible full time position’.

There are those who will never apply for an unpaid position. It’s a noble stance. But any young journalist will also tell you that when employers are looking for lots of experience, the temptation to take any opportunity is very strong.

Sarah’s situation was fortunate: “My travel was paid from day one. I funded my lunches with the remainder of my student loan, which was about £200. I didn’t have to move as I live with my parents about an hour away via train.”

Would she have done the internship without that final tantalising job prospect?

“I would have done it, but for a maximum of two weeks”.

Of course, the job application does use that wiggle-room phrase ‘possible job’. But Sarah claims the company misled her.

“I was led to believe that there would be one,” she says. “Three of my colleagues started there as interns, and it was their view that I would probably be offered a job, too. The view to a full time position was also mentioned in the interview.

“The MD has frequently said that they are keen for the business to grow, and so I thought that if they wanted to grow, they would need more employees. Yet, there are no vacancies. That comment has baffled me the most”.

The company has also told Sarah that she can carry on working with the company for a month – still unpaid.

“I’m not angry because I chose to commit to a three month placement,” she says. ”I do, however, feel used and betrayed. Three months is a long time to work for free. I’ve met some lovely people and I’ve got some contacts, but I really did think all of my hard work would be rewarded with a job.

“I have not been ‘just an intern’, I’ve done the same jobs as everyone else and worked really, really hard. I just do not understand what they have got from not hiring me. I do not mean that in a big-headed way, but I mean that I’ve learnt a lot about the company, the way their systems work, and I just think it’s a waste on their behalf to go and do it all over again with another intern, when I can do the job perfectly well”.

What has she learnt? ”I’ve learnt that it’s best to lay your cards on the table from the start. If you’re looking for a paid position, then mention it early on and do not be embarrassed to ask for money.

“I have absolutely no intention of doing another unpaid internship. This is my sixth placement and I think I deserve to get paid now.”Screen Shot 2013-09-27 at 10.08.55

“I strongly feel that interns should be paid at least minimum wage by law.”

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