Definition of internships:
“An internship is an official program offered by an employer to potential employees. Interns work either part time or full time at a company for a certain period of time. Internships are most popular with undergraduates or graduate students who work between one to four months and have a goal to gain practical work or research related experience.”
When executed the right way, internship programmes can serve as excellent kickstarters into your desired career path. They can provide you with invaluable experience and insider knowledge to strengthen your bank of knowledge, confidence and skill to propel you on your way.
But what if they’re executed in the wrong way? Some internships turn out to be little more than glorified slave labour and will see you do no more than all the ad-hoc tasks the staff on the payroll can’t be arsed with. Imagine spending 6 months at a placement only to come out the other side having learned how to make ‘the perfect peppermint tea‘ and nothing else.
This post serves as a breakdown of the various types of internships from the good right down to the ugly. There is a difference between a genuine, valuable internship and a company merely trying to cop free labour; you’d be surprised how often the two are conflated! Sometimes it’s not so easy to spot when a placement serves to benefit everyone but you until after the fact – so I’ve compiled this list of points and areas to consider when going for a placement.
- The internship provides you with the chance to learn new skills relevant to your career field.
- If they provide you with a mentor with the know how and expertise to help you develop and offer guidance.
- A friendly, supportive & inclusive team who are not only concerned about what your skills can do for them, but also give a damn about your growth and development too.
- *Pays at least minimum wage. (Certain tasks required by interns put them in the ‘worker’ category. A lot of interns are actually classed as workers due to the tasks they are required to carry out for the company. If you are classed as a worker, you have a legal right to be paid in the U.K – find out more about this here). Unless it’s a charity or NFP .
- Provides opportunity for growth within the company; leading into a permanent position.
The bad (or less…good)…
- While some of the daily tasks might bare relevance, some of them have you asking yourself; “Why am I being asked to do this?”. I.e: clearing up everyones green tea mugs and being a general “dogsbody”.
- Inconsistency. You feel unsure of what you’re actually gaining from this experience. No clue as to what purpose this is serving you as you’ve learned nothing new since you started.
- Indecisiveness. No one has given you a clear answer in regards to progression within the company, any training, hands on experience or anything.
- Offers to pay for travel (possibly lunch) only after you’ve been there for a set period of time. What happens if you don’t stay for the duration because you can no longer afford it? In effect you end up losing money to go to these placements and end up doing a bunch of tasks you’re supposed to be recompensed for. Don’t allow yourself to be short changed like that.
- Not inclusive. Treated as ‘the help‘ and not welcomed nor supported in any way, shape or form. It is clear you are only there to benefit them.
- After you’ve used your own money for petrol or top up your oyster to get there, you are now being told to become a skivvy. Set to carry out all the mundane, baseless ad-hoc tasks with not a useful opportunity in sight.
- You are paid absolutely nothing. Not even for lunch or travel. You are expected to go and ‘work’ and carry out the tasks their paid staff should be carrying out. Free labour.
- Expected to pilfer away your great ideas for the company to use for their own gain. Not offered any compensation for your time, energy and input.
- No chance for progression within the company, but also not helping you to progress in your career as they are not providing you with the support they said they would in the internship description.
- Expected to turn up 9-5 five days a week with no pay and no consideration for the fact that you are a living human being who needs to eat to survive. They would sooner have you drinking your own piss than dream to pay you the minimum wage they are LEGALLY supposed to.
There may be some instances where an internship provides you with effective training, mentorship and support – but do not provide pay. In a similar fashion, there may be internships that provide pay, but aren’t giving you what you need, or treat you like shit in the process – leaving you no better off than when you started. In all cases, you need to ensure that you are up to speed with your rights as an intern.
Some placements can prove to be extremely advantageous, whereas others choose to exploit the entire infrastructure – you need to head into these as fully informed as possible.
Below are some links to articles delving into the rights of interns in regards to requirements, pay and other contributing factors.