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The practise of hiring unpaid interns has come under increased scrutiny in the last few years, with movements to ban a system which harms Europe’s youth gaining widespread support.

When she started her internship, Zuzana Vaněčková was expecting a meaningful learning experience that would be useful for her career. Instead, this Czech student of adult education was relegated to making coffee for her employers. She felt that she was being exploited as cheap labour and describes it as a ‘depressing’ experience. At 23, Zuzana made a passionate speech before the European Parliament. This was the launch of the Campaign for Fair Internships, in which she plays an active part.

The Campaign is calling for basic employment rights for interns and demanding paid internships that provide a meaningful learning experience. In their manifesto, immediately signed by 9 members of the European Parliament, they call on Parliament to:

  • pay interns
  • limit the maximum duration of an internship to 12 months, and
  • draw up a learning agreement.

Terry Reintke, Co-Chair of the Youth Intergroup in the European Parliament, describes this #fairinternships campaign as an opportunity to send a strong message against the normalisation of unpaid internships. As she points out, some interns have to work under intolerable conditions, and only a few can afford to take up a long unpaid internship. The existence of such internships exacerbates inequality of access to paid positions.

Improvements have been made throughout the institutions, with the European Parliament ensuring that all interns of MEPs will receive a decent remuneration. This comes on the back of the European External Action Service’s decision to start paying all interns in its Delegations.

‘Institutions set the tone for the broader labour market,’ says Bryan Watkins of the Global Intern Coalition, a movement aiming to bring together intern movements from around the world, which has previously organised a Global Intern Strike. 

How can I avoid such internships?

There are many helpful sites which look to protect young people from being exploited in the workplace and strive to punish those who do not treat their interns in a fair manner.

Two prominent websites, Transparency at Work, and InternsGoPro allow former interns to provide reviews of their employer, and allow prospective applicants to gain an insight into the working environment. Both are supported by the European Institutions, with Transparency at Work co-funded by the Erasmus+ programme.

In addition, the Just Pay! campaign looks to pressurise organisations to only engage in paid internships through a variety of methods.

With the job market in Europe moving to a position whereby internships are a requirement for many to bridge the gap between education and the labour market, the pressure on institutions and organisations to abandon unpaid internships will almost certainly increase.


Short-term positions that offer on-the-job training are becoming increasingly popular avenues for entering the world of work. A successful internship, traineeship or apprenticeship can go a long way towards helping you to secure your desired job role. Here, we give you some useful tips to ensure you get the most possible out of yours.

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes

As an intern, trainee or apprentice, you are there to learn. Your colleagues will be aware that you don’t necessarily have as much experience as them, and you won’t be expected to do everything perfectly first time. Don’t be afraid to take on tasks outside of your comfort zone – taking initiative, getting stuck in and learning from your mistakes will reflect on you a lot better than reluctance to get involved for fear of getting things wrong.

Adapt to the company’s working culture

Watch how colleagues behave and adjust your own behaviour accordingly. What do they wear? How do they interact with one another? What kind of topics do they talk about in the office, and what do they avoid? Be careful not to forget, however, that many colleagues will have been working there considerably longer than you, or maybe working under contracts different to yours, so while your boss might leave the office early each day, it may not be acceptable for you to do the same!

Take advantage of training and qualification opportunities

If you’re offered training and qualification opportunities, take them! Many companies cover training costs for their staff to allow them to improve their skills and knowledge in areas relevant to their respective roles. Not only could this help you do your current job better, but it will also boost your CV and help you build your skillset for future career progression.

Offer to take on more tasks

If you’ve got some spare capacity, ask your colleagues if there’s anything you can help them with. Interns who are willing to do the small, mundane tasks as well as the bigger, more interesting ones are those that are the most valued, and the most likely to be offered a permanent position. If you’re told there’s nothing for you to work on, don’t use it as an excuse to be lazy – try to think of ways in which you could be helpful more generally. Do you have any ideas which you think could help the company improve? Perhaps you could write a template to help streamline a specific process, or create a booklet of helpful information for new employees? Demonstrating that you are motivated and creative, as well as genuinely invested in the company’s success, will enhance your colleagues’ trust in you and your abilities.

It’s not personal

If you’re new to the world of work, it can be easy to let yourself get carried away with questions like ‘What do my new colleagues think of me?’, ‘Did I do ____ right?’, or ‘What did ____ mean by that email?’. Remember that everyone is there to perform a specific job, and just because there might be conflict regarding deadlines, priorities and decisions, they are not (for the most part) personal and do not reflect what someone thinks of you as a person.

It doesn’t have to be forever

Over the course of your internship, traineeship or apprenticeship, you may find that the area or company you’re working in isn’t for you. This doesn’t mean that you have wasted your time, as figuring out what doesn’t suit you is just as important as figuring out what does. You will still have gained a number of transferable skills and experience which will most likely help you land jobs better suited to you further down the line.

We hope these tips will help you to reach your full professional potential!

In partnership with EURES, the European Job Mobility Portal.

An Erasmus placement is much more than just a break in another country. For many students, it is a positive, life-changing experience that equips them with new skills that improve their self-confidence, ability to make decisive decisions and feel comfortable with themselves.
This, in turn, has a positive effect on their finding interesting employment and higher positions with their employers. It even has an impact on their personal relationships, as many students find a partner while abroad.
The positive influence of Erasmus

Finding a scholarship is easier than you might think. Here are some tips on getting a scholarship, including what you should look out for in your application.

1. Start your search as early as possible

The earlier you start your research, the sooner you can get support. And don't be afraid of not finding suitable scholarships. Just ignore all the misconceptions about scholarships you might have and focus on your application. Because when you have supported you can focus wholly on your studies. Many organisations have one deadline per year. If you miss this you will have to wait another year before you can apply.

Creating a profile on only takes a few minutes. Once complete, you will be able to browse scholarships and funding options that match your profile. You should also check back regularly to stay up-to-date with the new funding opportunities that become available. Just log in at

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