(Potentially) Frequently Asked Questions


What’s an “unfair internship”?
It’s an entry-level position with normal responsibilities that benefit the employer but called an “internship” so as to avoid paying an entry-level salary or any salary at all.

What’s a “fair internship”?
It’s an internship that should be called an apprenticeship: the intern receives a lot of coaching (more than a regular new staff), his presence is more of a burden than a benefit for the organization. If the intern receives an entry-level salary, with normal responsibilities, it’s a job by another name.

Does a stipend make an internship “fair”?
No. A normal salary covers more than housing and food costs.

And college credits?
It might not be enough either.


Economics will tell you that new employees represent a higher risk and hence a lower value
Are they worth nothing? New employees are usually at the bottom of the pay-scale – but they’re not at zero. A normal pay-scale already recognizes this “lower value”.

If they’re not happy with it, interns shouldn’t take the internship!
In many fields, competition is so fierce that students are forced to accept any internship conditions because they need the experience to get a real job. Employers take advantage of this weakness. It has very little to do with having the choice or not.

Unfair internships will always be there
Slavery is gone, child labour is on the way out, apartheid was crushed. Why would unfair internships survive?

Do you think all internships are bad?
No. I even think that internships as they were meant to be are good: short-term learning positions.

Interns are not paid because they need to learn
Doesn’t anybody in a new job learn a lot? Why is it that “interns” shouldn’t be paid for it? The need of a new employee to learn is compensated by lower wages and his learning is rewarded with pay raises (at least in theory).

Unpaid exploitative internships are forbidden in the US
That must be why there are none… It is true however that the Fair Labour Standards Act bans unfair internships. So, let’s use the age-old strategy of activism: hold them accountable by their own standards.

Will you also outlaw volunteering?
No. If you help a not-for-profit organization, then it’s volunteering. If you work for a for-profit organization, it’s an internship and it should be paid, unless it’s educational.

Similar issues are covered in this post.


How can I know if my internship is legal?
See the Resources page.

Oh my, I now see that my internship is illegal! What can I do?
See the Resources page.

Where can I rant against my internship?
In the right-hand side column of this blog, there’s a section about internship reviews. Fire away.


14 Responses to FAQ

  1. […] The debate is only starting, but I find the heuristics developed by other websites quite good (from unfairinternships.wordpress.com/faq/). What’s an “unfair internship”? It’s an entry-level position with normal responsibilities that benefit the employer but called an “internship”? so as to avoid paying an entry-level salary or any salary at all. […]

  2. Gigi Girls says:

    You should check out InternshipRatings.com.This site allows students to find out what companies are really like before they intern there. This is a great way for students to avoid unfair internships.

  3. zach says:

    I’m very happy to read this information, thank you for setting up this blog!

  4. Sofya says:

    I am doing my 4th internship.

    During my studdies (holidays)I did 2 internships of 3 months each.
    And I worked as sales assistant or waitress or office assistant on the week-ends or holidays since I am 17 years old.
    After I graduated I could not find an entry level position in my field so after seraching for 6 months I accepted to start with a new internship. It lasted 3 months and after that my boss offered me a part time position payed 40£ per day…
    I tried to find a full time entry level position but could’nt so I applied for an internship (that could lead to a full time position as they really need someone!)again in a big company. It it is supposed to last 4 months. I am working from 9am to 9pm or 10 pm and I work as a shop assitant on saturdays and sundays to earn some money. My parents are helping me for the food. I have a bachelor degree and speak 3 languages but I feel like shit.
    I don’t even know if they are going to offer me the “real job” at the end of my internship but I know already how much they pay for an entry level position after 6 month internship: 1200£ /month. And you work more than 10 hours per day and on weekends.
    Sometimes I feel like hanging myself to Big Ben or something similar…
    Good luck to everyone!

  5. ExIntern says:

    Hi Sonya,

    Thanks or sharing your experience. You face the very situation created by the lack of law enforcement: despite being qualified and facing a need for your skills in the market, you can’t find a paid job because the supply of labor is not regulated, which leads to a race to the bottom. It is certainly not easy at the individual level. It’s good that you talk about your experience and make people realize that it can be trying to enter the job market after years and years of study and internship after internship. The situation is not fair and many people are doing something about it. Good luck!

  6. Danielle says:

    I appreciate your support in attempting to stop unfair internships, but I have to take issue with one thing. You state that the difference between an internship and volunteering is that one is for not-for-profit and one it for for-profit. Not really. Volunteering is a voluntary service given to an organization. Requiring community service for law-abiding citizens so that the citizen can simply do such economically imperative things like graduating from high school or college is very much unfair and, I might add, unconstitutional (see 13th Amendment). Just because it is done for a non-profit does not make it right. Who’s to say what is a necessary service to the community? I am sure Pharoah thought building the pyramids was pretty important. Come to think of it- those monuments are still making a positive economic impact in that area. But does that fact make what happened not slavery? And I want to add that not all non-profits are benevolent entities. We now have enough non-profits in the US for every man, woman, child, and infant to own about 2.5 of them. Why? Because they are very much for profit, despite their tax status. My father once spoke with a woman who stated that her dream was to make enough money from her non-profit so that she could effectively support her family on the money she made from it. She was very proud of that statement. Those who hold actual jobs in the non-profit world earn almost twice that of the average salary. So, if a student is forced to do menial labor for this organization, work that is debatable as to whether it is necessary or important (providing yoga mats to starving people in Haiti, for instance), with the employees supervising them making, on average, $70,000 per year, this is not exploitation simply because the BUSINESS claims to be benevolent? I don’t think so. That is not volunteering. That is involuntary servitude. It is immoral, it is illegal, and it is absolutely not volunteering. Now, if you, of your own volition, decide to provide free service to such an organization with no threat to your educational, economic, or social well-being whatsoever? Yes, THAT is volunteering- because it is voluntary- the root word of volunteering. And you should have the right to volunteer for anything you want to do- it’s your life. But requirements- let’s not kid ourselves here. Please join the movement to end those requirements as well. I promise you that these issues are one and the same.

    • exintern says:

      Hi Danielle – Thanks for your thoughtful comments regarding the difference between internships and volunteering. All I will add is that the idea that something is “voluntary” is not as clear cut as it may appear. The interns may not be forced by regulation or physical coercion to take an unfair internship, but they face a situation where their career is at stake if they refuse to get in the game.

      • Danielle says:

        I absolutely agree and want to clarify my first post. I was stating that ALL involuntary service, whether that provided to a non-profit or a for-profit, is, in fact, still involuntary servitude, inadmissible under the law, and, in my own opinion, immoral. I was stating that in order to really call it volunteering, it must be VOLUNTARY. Internships can also very much be involuntary and remain involuntary even if they are coerced as opposed to actually forced. Lying to an intern about what he or she can expect in the internship itself or job prospects once they leave is involuntary servitude. Requiring it as part of a degree program (as I am very unhappy to find out I was coerced into) is involuntary servitude, whether it is called an “internship”, “community service” (which is something that should either be voluntary or forced only upon criminals who have been proven through a fair court to be guilty), or “volunteerism” (which should always be voluntary and is factually incorrect to call a required anything “volunteerism”). I also feel that one must be compensated for their service in an internship in some way. If it is to be through education, ALL tasks given to the student need to be educational and training, or through one hour of service/ one hour of education. If this is not available, a fair wage for the services provided should be paid along with temporary health/ accidental death insurance. And I find it repulsive that ANYONE should have to pay for an internship in any way. I am currently being REQUIRED to do an unpaid internship in which no learning will occur (I am a psychology student and I will be raking leaves or stirring coffee beans- my choice, they say) and am required to not only pay my way in regards to transportation and health insurance for the time I am there, but also pay the normal rate for three class credits when there is no educational purpose and the teacher is only verifying paperwork. Why? This is involuntary even if I succumb to signing their required paperwork suggesting that it is voluntary. I understand this is a college, and some may say I chose to go there- but if it is the only one that will accept my previous credits in my direct area, is it really voluntary? When I apply to an $8/hour job and am told I am overqualified, and when I apply for a salaried sales position I am told, “come back in a few months when you have your BS”, is it really voluntary? Sorry for my rant- it is just that I am considering quitting with only one semester to go because I detest being taken advantage of. And one more thing businesses- do not take advantage of this downmarket in order to acquire free service. A student should never be expected to do multiple internships with no job in sight. If you cannot afford to pay an employee- don’t hire one! Allowing someone to work for you without something in the means of compensation is, at best, exploitation and, at worst, theft of service. One person put it like this- if you have to question whether it is exploitation- IT IS! So, yes, I agree coercion is still involuntary. I was simply trying to point out that community service requirements or the ridiculously worded “volunteer requirements” are still involuntary servitude, no matter how benevolent the foundation suggests that they are. Volunteering is just that- voluntarily providing service to a foundation that you believe in or would like to support with the anticipation of no compensation to be provided, including compensation in the form of a school requirement being fulfilled or of eschewing your own existential guilt. Anything more is involuntary servitude. Okay, I hope that was more clear. So, please consider also voicing your support for the anti- community service requirements movement as well. I think when you do some research on it, you will find that they are two sides of the same coin. Thanks again for your time!

  7. Danielle says:

    Oh, two more things
    1) unpaid internships that require students to do jobs that are other-wised paid positions, are ruining the economy further
    2) sorry for the ridiculously long post. I promise I don’t normally attempt to hog comment space- I just wanted to be clear.

  8. taiwo adesanya says:

    Does the duration of an internship training( 3 or 6months), determine if a student will learn all dat he/ she is supposed to?

  9. […] yes I understand. Doing work for free is unfair. Big corporations are using loopholes in the law, it is unethical, it is wrong, etc. […]

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