Since this website began, we have seen some shockingly brazen behaviour by big name brands, when it comes to their treatment and payment of their interns. But this one will take some beating.

Graduate Fog has discovered that — the UK’s most-visited job website — is advertising a whopping 46 internships within its own company, paying well below the National Minimum Wage. When questioned by Graduate Fog, Reed have failed to apologise or provide an adequate explanation for their actions.

Most of these positions – with job titles including ‘Internship-Receptionist/Administrator’, ‘Internship-Secretarial & PA’ and ‘Internship-Executive Assistant’ – sound like proper jobs which should command a proper wage. In fact, remove the word ‘internship’ from the role title and in each case you have a much more accurate description of the position’s responsibilities.

Want to see the job ads for yourself? Scroll to the bottom of this post

The 46 ads for unpaid internships within Reed are in addition to hundreds of unpaid internships with other companies, advertised on, one of the biggest recruitment companies in Europe.

What Graduate Fog finds most shocking is that the people at Reed are trying to make out that – in taking on unpaid workers to fill what look like legitimate roles – they are somehow helping the UK’s young unemployed. One job ad – for a ‘secretarial’ position within Reed Hospitality, based in south west London – includes the following statement:

Within Reed, we have considered how we can help improve the current unemployment situation and, as a result, we are introducing internships aimed at:

a. giving opportunities for job seekers to gain valuable work experience;

b. creating a learning experience for job seekers, who will be provided with a structured training programme and on-the-job coaching within a customer facing role;

c. providing a unique opportunity for a job seeker to potentially gain permanent employment – in particular, with Reed or with one of our clients.

Yet this full-time internship pays just £92.50 per week – well below the NMW (which should be around £237.20 for a week’s work).

Worryingly, 119 people had already applied.

I am deeply concerned to see that a company as large as Reed appears not to have grasped that unpaid internships are a solution to absolutely nothing. Graduates need proper, paid jobs – not endless ‘opportunities’ to work for free in order to gain yet more experience. So I wrote to them:

From: Tanya de Grunwald
To: Reed
Date: Tuesday, 7 June, 2011, 17:24


My name is Tanya de Grunwald and I run a website for job-seeking graduates, called Graduate Fog.

By far the biggest issue among my users is that of unpaid internships. We believe that they exploit those who do them and exclude those who can’t afford to do them. We think they are becoming longer and longer, with less and less chance of a job at the end of them. We believe it is a myth that unpaid internships lead to permanent, paid, entry-level jobs – in fact, we believe that unpaid internships are now replacing these paid opportunities. In short, we believe that unpaid internships are solving nothing for young people – in fact, they are making things worse. I would also like to refer to you the cases of Keri Hudson and Nicola Vetta, both of whom successfully sued their employers who refused to pay them for their work as interns.

I am writing to you because I was extremely disappointed to see so many advertisements for unpaid (or low-paid) internships on, which I had always understood to be a responsible and respectable recruitment company.

Of the hundreds of internships we found, 46 were within Reed itself and paid well below the minimum wage (£5.93 an hour). The travel and lunch expenses offered did not come close to matching this amount.
One of these was for an ‘internship – receptionist / administrator’ and another was for a ‘admin / secretarial & PA’ internship. Another was for an ‘Internship / Executive Assistant’. These – and that 43 other ‘opportunities’ we found – look to me like proper jobs which should be paid. As I understand it, these employees would fit the legal description of a ‘worker’ and are therefore entitled to be paid at least the National Minimum Wage.

I will be blogging about this within the next few days and would like to include a response from Reed. I would therefore be grateful if you could answer the following questions (by email, so I have your responses in writing):

1) Is Reed aware that the National Minimum Wage in the UK is £5.93 an hour? Can you explain why these 46 vacancies pay far less than this, when the role descriptions make clear that proper work is expected of these employees?

2) When Reed advertises roles that pay less than the minimum wage for third parties (I have also found many of these), do you take a fee for doing this? How much is it?

3) I see you are working with Inspiring Interns, promoting their clients’ internships on Could you clarify whether the roles advertised are paid at least the National Minimum Wage? In particular, the role Spanish speaking Marketing and PR FMCG internship looks to me like it should be paid at least the minimum wage. (In the ad, the salary is stated as ‘negotiable’)

With many thanks in advance for your help clarifying this matter,

Tanya de Grunwald

PS. I have also seen advertisements on for jobs which seem to be paid commission-only, like this one. Can you clarify how you feel this fits in with the National Minimum Wage Act? Thanks again.

A few days later, Reed wrote back:

From: Reed
To: Tanya de Grunwald
Date: Friday, 10 June, 2011, 13:19

Hi Tanya,

Please see below comment from Reed in response to your queries relating to job adverts and Reed’s internship scheme.

Martin Warnes, Managing Director of says: “ is a job board which carries advertisements for over 100,000 jobs at any one time from more than 9,000 recruiters. Currently employers advertise both paid and unpaid internships on, which many people report have given them valuable work experience, especially at such a tough time to be looking for jobs.”

Ian Nicholas, HR Director at Reed, said: “Reed has developed a voluntary internship programme, which enables individuals looking to gain valuable insight and experience into the world of work the opportunity to do a placement of up to 12 weeks. This programme is entirely intern-led, with the individual specifying the amount of time they would like to spend with us each week and a tailored approach to ensure that we give them the opportunity to learn and gain experience in their areas of interest, as well as access to mentors across the business.

“Our internship programme is governed by strict guidelines and we are currently investigating the advertisements that have been identified. The programme is firmly focussed on developing talent and helping interns to identify and secure employment in their chosen field and has already resulted in more than 100 of our interns finding full time employment.”

Kind regards

Is it just me – or did they totally ignore most of my questions? I wrote back:

From: Tanya de Grunwald
To: Reed
Date: 10 June 2011 14:12


Thanks for this response. Just two follow-up questions:

1) Are you able to expand on what is meant by “we are currently investigating the advertisements that have been identified”? Have these advertisements been taken down? Will the application process be put on ‘pause’ until you are clearer on how these placements might fit with the NMW laws? I am pretty confident that you will find that whether the intern ‘volunteers’ to work for free is irrelevant as the current legislation stands. Or can you offer an alternative interpretation of the law?

2) Is Reed prepared to commit to reviewing its policy on advertising unpaid internships? If so, please let me know when you will be announcing findings of this review, so that I can keep my users up-to-date.

With many thanks again,


Reed replied:

To: Tanya de Grunwald
From: Reed
Date: Tuesday, 14 June, 2011, 10:04

Hi Tanya,

Thanks for your patience yesterday — here’s the comment below.

Kind regards

Ian Nicholas, HR & Training Director at Reed Specialist Recruitment, said:

“Our internship programme gives individuals the opportunity to learn and gain experience in their areas of interest for a maximum of 12 weeks. We have strict guidelines in place to govern the content of our internship programme and we work closely with all of our managers to communicate this guidance. We have removed the adverts in question from the website and have strengthened our procedures to monitor all adverts that relate to our internship programme.”

Impressed? No, neither was I.

Reed has failed to explain why they feel the workers who take on these internships are not entitled to the National Minimum Wage (Wouldn’t you think they’d have access to a few employment lawyers who could clarify this?). They have also failed to clarify whether they make money on finding candidates for unpaid (or low-paid) internships for their clients. And they have failed to answer questions about the nature of their work with Inspiring Interns – or how ‘commission-only’ jobs fit with the NMW legislation.

Wouldn’t you expect better from one of the biggest recruitment companies in Europe? I would. Shame on you, Reed.

*Is Reed taking advantage of desperate, young workers?
Should one of the biggest recruitment companies in Europe be running ads for unpaid internships – both within their own company and at clients’ organisations? Are you disappointed by their response, when questioned? Would you hope that a big brand like this would lead the way in treating young workers well, including providing fair payment for their work?

Decide for yourself! Here are screenshots of some of the ads:

Intern receptionist:

Intern executive assistant

Secretarial admin internship:

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