I've just completed a Bachelor's in Web Design & Development and have been casting a wide net for employment opportunities, including internships, paid and unpaid. I was contacted by one company (offering an unpaid opportunity) that is getting started and needs to build a launch site. In order to select the proper candidate, they've asked that I submit design mockups for what will ultimately be a very visual and animation-heavy site.

What is raising some alarms for me is that the more I dig into the internship, this just sounds like free labor. If my mockups are selected as the best (I'm up against two other candidates), I will come on as the sole designer/developer of their site. Based on the site they gave me to review as an example of what they are looking for, this is going to be a lot of work, and is frankly a bit beyond my skill set. When I applied, I assumed that there would be an established developer to assist with the project and help me build my skills (as I always thought some part of internships includes on-the-job training, since normally it would be supplementing/replacing an academic course).

Is this typical of an internship with an up-and-coming company, with the possibility of future full-time work? Or is this just spec work, a way to get a free website? I've never had an internship, so don't feel qualified to judge.

  • Is the internship under contract for this job only? Is there a contract at all? Sounds like spec work. Have you researched the company? How did you find out about this? Did your college set this up such as a careers service?
    – user9447
    Commented Feb 28, 2014 at 17:51
  • I believe a contract would only be issued after the intern is selected. The mockups are essentially a test project to determine who will follow through on the design/dev of the site. This was set up through my college's career advisor. The contact I've been speaking with is a co-founder whose partner (whom I have researched) has had several successful ventures in the entertainment industry, though the current company doesn't yet have a web presence, hence the launch site they are trying to develop.
    – JAKatras
    Commented Feb 28, 2014 at 18:33
  • 1
    good lord - run away! now!
    – benteh
    Commented Feb 28, 2014 at 18:48
  • I wouldn't do a single design till a project is present and it does sound like spec work. What are you going to do if you do this and they come back and want revisions?
    – user9447
    Commented Feb 28, 2014 at 19:22

1 Answer 1


Sounds entirely like spec work to me.

Anyone asking you to do anything other than show samples of your previous work, is asking for spec work. There is never a call for the "do this job and if we like it we'll hire you." And there is never a call for creating a "mock up" of something unless you've already been hired or signed a contract.

No respectable employer is going to ask you to work for free before hiring you. That's not how ethical businesses operate.

Any employer or client can glean all they need to from looking at a portfolio of previous work, this is especially true if they can "view page source" for web projects rather than merely looking at screenshots.

The only caveat may be a development position requiring server-side scripting (which can't be viewed client-side) where the prospective employer wants to understand how you logically work through a problem. However, often this can be accomplished by questions or small chunks of sample code they ask you to write, not anything which would be overall functional.

Frankly, I'd pass on that "opportunity" to design a site for free for them.

red flag

  • • "I'd do it myself but I just don't have the time."
    – Ryan
    Commented Feb 28, 2014 at 19:04
  • Thanks for the input, everybody. I have a "diplomatic" email to draft...
    – JAKatras
    Commented Feb 28, 2014 at 21:55

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