The Big Debate: Internships versus Work Experience

The Big Debate- Internships versus Work Experience

Internships and work experience: a great way to get your foot in the career ladder and learn more about a particular role or industry. But what’s the difference between the two and what do you need to be aware of? Read on to discover the 5 most important things to consider when choosing an internship or work experience:

1. Pay

All internships advertised on Rise To have to be paid at least minimum wage. Work experience is unpaid – travel and lunch expenses may be covered, but make sure you check with the company first so you don’t get caught out!

2. Length

Work experience usually lasts a couple of weeks, any more than four and it will be classed as an internship. A paid internship is usually around 3 months but can last up to a year depending on the role and the company.

3. What you’ll be doing there

As an intern you’ll get direct experience of working in a particular role. This could involve getting stuck into a project, or supporting one of your new colleagues with different aspects of their job. For a work experience placement you would generally be given less responsibility, but should get on the job training and an immersive experience where you really get a taste of what a working environment is like and how a company operates.

4. The legal stuff

Officially there is no legal definition of an internship. Yet there are a number of tasks you could be given that determine whether or not you’re entitled to a wage. For example, if you’re unsupervised, are made to work long hours, or do work that would normally be performed by a paid member of staff, then you should be paid and could seek compensation if you’re not. Don’t just take our word for it. In 2013 Sony intern Chris Jarvis reached a £4,600 settlement with the company after they failed to pay him for a three month internship.

5. Exceptions

If an internship is run by a charity, is part of a University course, is a school work experience placement, or only involves work shadowing, then you are not entitled to the minimum wage. Employers should however, provide training to anyone who comes in to their business unpaid (e.g. teaching them tools, best practice and/or including you in meetings)

Hopefully things are now a bit clearer. Remember that internships and work experience are both great ways of getting relevant experience and useful contacts under your belt. Just make sure you get as much value out of the role as possible and are clear about what will be required of you (and whether this qualifies for minimum wage). 

Now you know the ins and outs of work experience and internships, you can apply for them here:


For further information on the employment rights and pay for interns visit these sources:

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