Unpaid Internship: The Corporate Scam?

Two people discussing about the unpaid internship

Unpaid Internship: The Corporate Scam?

Chances are, you’ve recently pondered over a hiring post in social media where the company was looking for ‘unpaid interns’ and you thought to yourself, ‘this sounds like a good opportunity, but should I really work for free?’ 

But then you took a good look at your resume and decided to ‘gain some experience’, applied & congrats, you are hired on your first job (!). And from then on, you can only hope for your time to be worthwhile while staring down at the barrel of a corporate gun.

So, this is me, staring right back up at you, who’s already traveled through the funnel, and hopes to guide you into choosing the right internship for your career.

“Gaining Experience” is overrated

First of all, you need to understand the hook of an unpaid internship. Everyone tells you that it is good because, “Hey, it’s better than just sitting at your home doing nothing, right? You get to ‘’gain some experience.’’ So, you do it, you spend months after months of your life, elevating a company that’s probably not even on google maps to fill the spaces of your CV. 

Just to say at your entry-level hiring, “ I worked for a company you don’t really know about, and they didn’t deem me good enough to pay me. Will you hire me now?” In fact, statistically speaking, unpaid interns end up in a much worse starting salary at their full-time job than interns/ part-timers who indeed were on the payroll.

How To Sell Your Unpaid Internship

So if you’re accepting an unpaid internship because you will get added benefits later, forget that. I understand you must be thinking right now, “Of course paid interns start at a much better salary, but I don’t even get accepted into unpaid internships, I must be good for nothing!” Well, I can’t change your mind in one article, but hopefully, you’ll trust Tyler Durden when he says

“You’re the all singing all dancing you-know-what of the world.”


And that’s where our second point lies.

Stop Selling yourself Short

I can’t begin to emphasize how important this point is. I recently founded my own company, Offset Interactive, and my partner received a text on his phone from this amazing guy, how he wanted to be a part of our company, and he doesn’t need any payment to start with. Now, I loved the proposition of working with someone who also wants to work with me, but, why do you not want any cash in return? 

Then I realized this, the only reason corporates get to exploit these amazing young people because they don’t know what they can offer to the company, and how it can have values. Needless to say, we offered the guy an internship (of course a paid one), and he has truly been an inspiration even for me in his work ethic and deliverables.

So, yes, even if you think that you can’t do something, you’re actually wrong. If you’re good at English, congrats, a lot of companies crave good client communication, you can have values there. You’re only familiarizing yourself with adobe illustrator? 

No worries, a lot of companies need a basic level design that can even be done with Canva! You just have to look for the opportunities and have to decline any offer that doesn’t pay.

Do you still think you’re good for nothing? Well, then the next lines are definitely meant for you.

Focus on Personal Development

Your undergrad years are far too precious to be giving away to someone else free of cost. This is the only time where you get to explore the horizon and spend hours learning stuff without feeling exasperated after a day’s work or guilty for not giving enough time to the family during the weekend (breaking news, continuing to learn is tough when you’re an adult with different responsibilities).

So, if you feel you are good for nothing, then you can also learn things for free on youtube, become skilled without being burnt out or listen to your boss’s whining about how you never do anything right, and actually land yourself something that you’re good at, and it will pay yourself off in the long run!

If you don’t know where to start, start from absolute zero. If you’re a BBA student, learn the basics of a PowerPoint, I have only so many clients yet I need to make slides every day! If you’re into coding, open a git and work your way into showcasing a product. If you’re an architect, make a box! How hard could it be, right?

If none of these apply to you, you can still find your goal, and work your way up into becoming a better version of yourself that people will gladly pay for.

See, Facebook doesn’t have unpaid interns. Google, Amazon, Microsoft pays thrice the amount to their interns in comparison to what we pay our 5 years’ experienced executives.

Bangladesh is an overwhelmingly underpaying country in general, and the only reason the company where you’re applying doesn’t want to pay you is that either the company doesn’t have the money to pay you, or the organization doesn’t value your work enough to pay you.

So, speaking from personal experience, even after a grueling unpaid internship, you’ll find yourself in an extremely underpaying offer letter, and realize it was not worth it all along. And 5 years down the line, while editing out the unpaid internship from your resume because there’s just not enough space, your mind will wander among the things it could do in all the 6 months of getting exploited.

So, should you never consider an unpaid internship? Well, actually, no! There’s a twist where unpaid work can actually prove to be valuable too.

The Right Kind of Free Work

Lately, I’ve really grown into the habits of data science and was looking for opportunities to learn more from a veteran or build a better portfolio.

 Now, if you’re looking to explore a certain horizon you know nothing about, and your previous resume doesn’t compliment you there, an unpaid internship can help you understand if this career switch is going to be worthwhile for you. You just have to make sure, a) you’re moving into a more learning-based program, and b) the company is not substituting a real-life employee with your work.

So, yes, if an unpaid internship is offering the scopes to learn (and only learn), and not utilizing you in vacant spots of employees (that they are not willing to pay for) and generating revenue off of you, then yes, you should definitely consider the learning curve and enjoy the process.

For example, if your manager is giving you a task to create a presentation so that you understand how to curate your presentation better, it’s perfectly fine. But, if your manager is telling you to create a presentation to send to a client, and creating chances to make money without paying you, well, you just got exploited.

And if you don’t know it yet, please, don’t let yourself get exploited.

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