Looking for work experience? Read this.

Published:  February 22, 2012
Looking for work experience? Read this.

We get a real kick out of meeting students and mentoring graduates.

We’re always out there providing advice, feedback and giving our time so the younger, less-experienced people in our industry have valid, current and professional information to help them forge a career in design, advertising, branding or whatever field they choose to pursue.

From time to time we come across graduates who have been offered or just completed ‘work placement’ or ‘work experience’ or an ‘internship’ and often they are doing it for free.

It shocks me that there are creative agencies out there today that are exploiting students and young graduates by offering work placement completely unpaid or for a ‘nominal fee’.

To have someone work for you and not pay them at the very least, a minimum legal wage, is exploitation.

Our industry is filled with an outpouring of graduates each year vying for a very small number of positions. They are constantly told that ‘experience’ is what they need to ‘get a foot in the door’.

Most of these people go through their studies idolising some creative agencies for the work they do and for their thinking and philosophy on design and creativity.

At the same time our industry has businesses that exploit this idolisation of their own work and invite graduates to work for them for free under the guise of work experience or internship.

If you are a student, graduate or anyone considering doing unpaid work placement, here are four things I think you should consider when someone offers you an unpaid work placement/internship/experience.

  1. If the studio is getting paid for the work you are doing for them, you should get paid too.
  2. If the studio can afford to run a business and employ paid staff, you should get paid too.
  3. If the studio can do great, sometimes award-winning work and get paid for it by clients, you deserve to get paid too.
  4. If their business model leverages unpaid labour to make a profit, their business is built on invalid foundations.

It’s simple.

Never work for free.

This article was first published by Antonopoulos on TANK’s blog.

6 Responses

  1. Arana

    As part of my uni degree, I can do an ‘internship’ subject. Do you think it is ok for an agency not to pay me if I approach them, asking to do this?

    • Samantha

      I did an intern subject as part of uni. It was great and helped me alot. A couple years later, I now work for one of the most awarded and top agencies in Australia.

      Get as much experience as you can! There’s a pretty good chance you’ll get offered a job out of it, so work hard!

  2. Jess

    And to the left of this article, I see this ad under ‘latest jobs’: http://www.theloop.com.au/jobs/Graphic-designer-PR-marketing-student-or-junior/Sydney/4496


  3. Victoria

    I am a recent graduate, and I am finding that unfortunately this seems to be the norm with “internships”. It seems that work experience for graduates etc, is in such high demand that studios can get away with not paying their interns. Sadly, for so many starting their career in this industry, this is one of the only ways to get a foot in the door.

    It is all very well to say not to take unpaid work, but the reality is that there are not as many jobs or paid internships out there as there are designers. Of course we would love to be paid, who wouldn’t?

    But in many cases unpaid work is one of the only opportunities to gain some experience, so what are you to do?

  4. The course i completed just over a year ago had a requirement that each student complete 2 weeks of work placement. To not fulfill this would mean not graduating. As a result many people worked without pay, indeed the work placement i found was under the agreement that it would be without pay, at the end of this the boss quietly gave me an envelope.. a month later on the night of our graduation exhibition he called me and offered me a job starting immediately.
    I agree that people should be payed for their work, but in this case I’m glad i agreed to do it for free.

  5. As someone who’s done unpaid work in a variety of forms to get ‘experience’ I do think there is a difference between a structured intern program that has put thought into contributing to the industry by teaching graduates and a studio who choose to hire an intern because they need more staff but don’t want to pay them, or want to “try before you buy”. Unfortunately, it’s a fine line and hard to tell when you’re straight out of study if an opportunity will be worthwhile.

    I think that for students and recent graduates it’s a means to a end, but the industry shouldn’t encourage it as a substitute to actually paying juniors.

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