Whether you’re a recent university graduate looking to fill out your CV a bit or you want to start working for yourself for good, you’ll need to decide whether freelance work or an internship could help you more. Though the two are regularly confused they’re very different and each comes with a unique set of employment rights and regulations, which can sometimes help in making your decision. If you’re a bit confused about the differences though, here’s our broken-down guide:

Being a freelancer essentially means that you’re self-employed. One of the key differences for self-employed individuals is the ability to decide as and when you work – you set your own work hours and work to your own timescale. A lot of people assume this means you can put your feet up for most of the day, but you will need to exercise some degree of control over your work hours, otherwise you’d never get anything done! Most freelancers have their own work hours that they stick to, the only real difference is that they can easily amend them if they need to nip to the shops or pick their child up from school.

Another thing you should know is that, if you’re unable to complete the work due to prior or unexpected commitments, you can hire your own replacement. Similarly, if you need to an extra pair of hands to get the job done you can always hire a helper.

If you’re a self-employed freelancer you’ll need to complete a yearly Self Assessment Tax Return and pay your own tax contributions. You can work for as many people as you can manage at any one time and these are often referred to as your ‘customers’. If you’re completing work for a company though you won’t become part of it during the work-period and will remain a self-employed individual.

As a freelancer you will have pre-arranged fees for work carried out. You can choose whether this fee is up for negotiation or can set it as a non-negotiable rate.

One of the biggest differences between an internship and freelancing is that, as a general rule, the work is unpaid but it offers up a chance to gain some real on-the-job experience. Here are some examples of internships:

  • School work experience – these usually only last a couple of weeks.
  • Degree placement – also known as a placement year, an industrial placement, or a sandwich year. These placements have been officially organised by your university, can sometimes last up to a full academic year and most often comes with a salary.
  • Internships – also known as graduate placements, summer internships, or gap years. Companies usually offer them to university graduates and they can be either paid or unpaid.
  • Volunteering – this is a form of internship and is most often unpaid.

One of the biggest issues with internships is the question of whether it should be paid or unpaid. Many people believe all interns should get the National Minimum Wage (NMW) at the very least, but a lot of interns are more than willing to work for free if they get the relevant experience they need.

To make sure you aren’t being taken advantage of, ensure you clarify whether the internship will come with a salary before you actually start work, and get it in writing if possible. Interns don’t have contracts though, so be wary. As you get further into an unpaid internship, keep asking yourself whether the benefit still outweighs the need for a salary – if you are gaining valuable experience you will probably want to stay, otherwise it might be time to seek proper employment elsewhere.