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While the idea of internship itself is not new, there’s a buzz that unpaid internships are unfair. What do you think?

Well obviously if you are looking at it from the candidate’s perspective it might seem unfair. Then again, interns get to learn on the job and put #experience on their resume; so it’s not as if they are not getting anything out of it. From the employer’s perspective of course you get paid in kind for teaching – no training – the intern. So fair or unfair? Let’s take a look –

What is Unpaid Internship?

Before we talk about what unpaid internships are, lets understand what is an internship. Internship is a short term job that companies offer – usually to students – so that they can gain some much needed experience in their chosen industry of field thus getting their first career break. You might for instance have heard the terms Apple internship, ISRO internship, or Summer internship 2021. The hiring companies may or may not pay a small amount – called a stipend – to the intern as out of pocket expenses.

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How does unpaid internship work?

Paid or unpaid, an internship is usually a contract between the employer and the candidate. In some professions such as medicine or Chartered Accountancy – CA internship – is a mandatory first step. These interns are usually paid a fixed minimum wage – called intern stipend. Once the internship period is up, it is for the candidate to decide whether he would like to continue working in the same firm or look for a new job. Of course the employer too has to option of whether to retain the intern or let him go.

Many private practitioners in other industries take on interns with no pay for a short period usually with the understanding that if the intern performs well he or she will be on-boarded. As an intern, you can get your hands dirty and gain some much needed experience which will enhance your resume. It will also add to your employability skills.

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Is unpaid internship volunteer work

That’s one question that’s been floating around a lot. Well one similarity between the two is that in both instances you don’t get paid. They are definitely not the same thing however.

The word internship implies an employer employee relationship. It implies mentorship. It implies learning for earning. You would enter an internship – say an unpaid marketing internship – with the understanding and goal that at some point in the future, you would do the same work to earn a living.

Volunteer work on the other hand implies that you are willing to work of your own free will with no expectation for payment. You would do it for a social cause to help fellow humans. There is no expectation of earning in a volunteer arrangement. Indeed, there is no agreement because there is no transaction.

Are Unpaid Internships Fair?

So, the million-dollar question! Is it fair to hire someone with no pay? Is it even legal? Perhaps that’s the question we should answer first.

Are unpaid internships legal?

That depends upon where you are. Unpaid internships in India for instance are technically legal because there is no law barring unpaid work – internship or not. Unpaid internships in UK and US on the other hand, are technically unlawful. In the real world however, unpaid internships exist because of the natural forces of demand and supply.

When hiring a new employee, employers look for experience so that they may save on training costs. Therefore, there aren’t many jobs for fresh graduates. The only way to gain experience is to land a job – which is hard to get given the lack of experience. Internship is the answer to this paradox.

Internship gives fresh graduates a chance to add experienced to their CV or resume.

So is the question of ethics in unpaid internship moot? Or you might ask –

How does one determine the ethics of unpaid internship?

There’s a theory that propagates 7 parameters to determine whether or not an unpaid internship is fair. To put it another way, as an intern there are 7 questions that you should ask yourself to determine whether or not you are getting a fair deal. Of course your employer would be asking himself the same questions. So interpret these questions appropriately depending upon whether you are an intern or employer.

  1. Are you (the intern) aware that you will not be paid anything?
  2. Can you compare the training during internship to an upskilling course?
  3. Is the internship related to what you are currently studying?
  4. Does the internship disrupt your academics?
  5. Is the internship for a limited period – how long?
  6. Will you be displacing and existing employee or will you be helping them – and still learning?
  7. Does the employer promise you a job at the end of the internship?

This last is of course negotiable and it might turn out you yourself do not wish to continue working in the organization or firm.

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The answers to the questions above should give you an idea about how ethical your potential employer is. If you are looking at this from an employer’s perspective, giving your interns a fair deal and eventually recruiting – even just one from every batch – speaks volumes about your work culture.

Can Internships get you a job?

You may well ask, “Are internships good?” Well if you are looking for guarantees, remember internships and placement are two different things. That said though internships do have their benefits.

The biggest benefit you derive from internship is experience.

Apart from experience – which you can put on your resume or CV – they help bridge the campus to corporate gap. This means you spend less time job hunting after you graduate. If it is a paid internship it can earn you some much needed pocket money – and perhaps pay for your textbooks. It will also keep you away from trouble saving your parents some heartache. On a closing note, as an intern it is important to beware of scammers – they have penetrated every industry including HR. Ever since dotcoms came into existence, small businesses have been looking for economical HR solutions. Internship resolves this problem. Given the large population and unemployment in developing countries like India, some entrepreneurs have begun utilizing unpaid interns in rotation thereby keeping their HR costs near zero. While this is not completely unlawful or even unethical – after all you will learn a lot during your internship – you should read your internship contract carefully – especially in organizations where interns are unpaid. On that note, here’s wishing you all the best on your career hunt. Meanwhile stay tuned by subscribing to our newsletter and joining our FB community.

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