Why Pay for It if You Can Get It for Free?


This weeks Creative Resource post may be a bit controversial in nature simply because it is a bit of a criticism. The subject is Unpaid Internships, something which seems to be increasing in popularity within certain fields. It seems to be a floating rumour, particularly in the design field, that everyone starts off being unpaid interns…that it is the only way to get a job.  A recent Globe and Mail article breaks down the potential damage this notion and trend can have on the economy. “Why should they shell out hard-earned cash to pay someone who will do the work for free?”
The article highlights many good points and even mentions that certain internships are being auctioned off to the highest bidder. THAT’S RIGHT, people have started paying employers to get hired as interns.

“On charitybuzz.com, a six-week internship at the United Nations has been bid up this week to $22,000. So far, working at Rolling Stone is worth $1,350 and a summer with designer Rebecca Taylor in New York is $1,000. (Proceeds from the auctions go to various charities).” 

Not sure if those internships are paid or not, but it still seems ridiculous.

The Ontario Ministry of Labour has a section which talks about the legality of unpaid labour. They outline 6 criteria which all have to be meat in order for the unpaid internship to be legal. They are as followed:

  1. The training is similar to that which is given in a vocational school. In other words, the work you are doing is similar to instruction you would get while in vocational school.
  2. The training is for the benefit of the intern. You receive some benefit from the training, such as new knowledge or skills.
  3. The employer derives little, if any, benefit from the activity of the intern while he or she is being trained.
  4. The intern does not displace employees of the person providing the training. Your training doesn’t take someone else’s job.
  5. The intern is not accorded a right to become an employee of the employer. Your employer isn’t promising you a job at the end of your training.
  6. The intern is advised that he or she will receive no remuneration for the time that he or she spends in training. You have to be told that you will not be paid for your time.

The truth is, and the Globe and Mail article also mentions this, that not all interships are bad. There are some that are designed to educate and  give experience to the intern. These sorts of internships are valuable and worth being “hired” for. Obviously it would make the financial situation a bit tights but that should not stop these sorts of internships from being offered.

What makes the unpaid aspect of internships hard to swallow is that most of them tend to take advantage of the intern without offering much in terms of experience or education. The idea really seems to be “why pay for it if some one is willing to do it for free.” Tisk Tisk is all I have to say to that.


Ok so lets say you do not want to work for someone. You are your own boss and do as you please. How should you look at freelancing your work for free, either to gain clients or exposure?  Well there is nothing and no one that can stop you from doing this if you chose to. Personally, I think freelancers should know the value of their work and value themselves enough to ask for it. It just seems more professional. That being said I have done free work in the past. In both cases I was very clear about what it would normally cost and that I am volunteering my time and work to support the cause.  In both instances the Graphic Design work was for fundraisers: One to raise funds for the Canadian Red Cross’ efforts in Pakistan after the 2010 flood,  the other a fundraiser to help support a women’s shelter in Ottawa. This was my way of contributing and it was my decision to do so.

There are tons and tons and tons of posts with information, tips and guides when it comes to freelancing, pricing and even free pitching your work. FreelanceSwitch has a post on this which I think is fairly stated and worth looking at. But there are tons…so just get on the google and read through some of them, they will paint a wide and colourful picture of the freelance world. At the end of the day this is a personal decision and no one can tell you what to do. However, keep in mind that when you work for free you are generally bringing down the monetary value of your work and your self as a designer/artist/photographer. It would be in your interest to get something really solid in return for your efforts and your work.

2 thoughts on “Why Pay for It if You Can Get It for Free?

  1. I completely agree with you when you point out that certain people are disadvantaged (you need to already have money to be able to work for free). I think unpaid internships can be good if they are mutually beneficial and allow the intern to do work outside the internship, but this is not how a lot of internships are structured. And many internships are paid, but poorly, and it’s often hard to jump from internship to job.

    I recently read a good article on “the permanent interns” – people who go from one internship to another, and I can definitely relate working in International Affairs.

    Here is the article if you’re interested: http://www.washingtonian.com/articles/people/the-age-of-the-permanent-intern/

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