Getting Paid Versus Exposure
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Photo by micheile dot com on Unsplash

Work Experience Versus Getting Paid

Kate Reilly James May 1, 2022

Does exposure actually pay?

In short, no. That’s it. That’s the article. Thanks for coming to my Ted Talk.

We all have to start somewhere and, until employers wise up and stop asking for five years experience coupled with a degree, masters and PHD in return for entry level jobs at £22k a year, we’re going to have to make some tough calls on progressing our careers. 

As a student I briefly worked for free in my field of study. I’ve seriously bigged it up on my CV. So in effect, I gained something along with the experience. However, in the same month that I sacrificed 20 hours a week to facilitate a festival, attended health and safety briefings, script workshops and provided creative copy for marketing materials, I also phoned home and asked to lend £50 for food from my mum. The experience boosted my CV, but it literally did not put food on the table.

Photo by Eduardo Soares on Unsplash

This is the trade off and striking this balance is also a learned skill. Internships need to be binned off. If you’re willing to dedicate time and effort to showing up, actively learning, carrying out tasks successfully and your efforts enable an organisation or business to grow, you deserve to get paid. Not expenses, no commission, but for showing up – in every sense of the word.

The media plays a part in the glamorisation of internships. How many films and programmes have you seen where the main character is pursuing a career and takes an internship? Making the tea, collecting dry cleaning and crashing hard in their tiny apartment after work – without getting paid. We’re looking at you The Devil Wears Prada. Yes the Chanel boots are a wonderful perk, but they go firmly back in the fashion closet eventually.

That said there are other, more wholesome examples. Will Smith portrayed the true story of Chris Gardner in the 2006 film The Pursuit of Happyness in which the main character, facing a desperate future for himself and his young son, experiences terrifying circumstances (including sleeping on a metro station bathroom floor and being hit by a car) to complete an internship in New York’s financial district. Spoiler Alert – He is incredibly talented and is indeed selected for a paid job (by a board of white men for whom progression within the industry is and always has been vastly different).

There’s an active narrative around ‘if you want it so badly, you make sacrifices’ with internships, suggesting that if you don’t work for free, you’re not serious. If you don’t make sacrifices, you won’t make it in the industry, or the oldest of chestnuts, ‘it’s an unpaid position but the exposure will be amazing for you’. Urgh, bore off. 

Look, if an organisation or business can’t afford to pay staff, it isn’t ready to hire or expand. There must be a model in place to compensate staff for their skills, expertise, time and effort. If the next cohort of students work for free, why would employers pay graduates? In short, you’re not getting paid. The cycle repeats every academic year which is why we have to say no and value our commitment, effort and enthusiasm. 

If you need exposure or something to rave about on your CV, do a good turn for a charity.

Write them a press release – content creation 

Go shake a bucket for donations – customer relations/service 

Help build their website – graphic design 

Promote an event – marketing and sales 

Run a social media takeover –  exactly that, social media management/creative content

Offer or respond to research – Insight assistance

There are so many ways to gain experience while supporting a worthwhile cause. It not only boosts your CV but also helps to build contacts which might come in useful in the future. Check out national minimum wage rates here and get paid!

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Kate is a Journalism and creative writing lecturer and sports journalist. From the BBC red carpet to Premier League PR via creative copy for Greggs, she is a modern April O’Neil with a passion for all things Comic Con.