A Graduate’s Guide to Internships
By Orla Loughran Hayes
These days, getting a professional job after University can be a challenge. According to the Higher Education Statistics Agency, in 2015 60,000 graduates were in “non-professional” jobs six months after leaving University. This means that instead of pursuing that dream career they had envisioned when filling out the UCAS form, many graduates instead found themselves stacking shelves, or waitressing. With statistics like this, it is easy to see why so many graduates, such as myself, have turned to internships as a way to break into a professional career.
While internships may offer hope for employment, my personal experience of them has been a negative one. More often than not, they have felt like modern day slave labour, as opposed to work experience. It makes me wonder; where do we draw the line between a helping hand and downright exploitation?
One internship, I completed at a major household magazine was particularly disappointing. They had me ferrying parcels all around London the majority of the time, and at one point asked me to go to and from the dry cleaners to drop off and fetch the Publishing Director’s laundry. Other tasks consisted of inputting data, handing out post, and making tea. Not a single task required me to use a brain cell. My degree level education was not necessary, and I certainly could have done the placement if I was back at primary school. How they considered it to be ‘work experience’ in preparation for a professional journalist career is beyond me. I’d say it would be more appropriately termed as preparation for a job as a housekeeper. Since it was not a learning experience for me, it was only useful in terms of putting the publication’s name on my CV. In my experience, it is also often a constant push to get a reference for these placements. While I had dedicated three weeks of my personal time to do banal tasks for free, they seemed to lack five minutes to write me a personal reference.
"Where do we draw the line between a helping hand and downright exploitation?
I’d say that the most awkward part about being an Intern is the fact that you have to maintain a subservient front at all times. Complaining about anything is entirely out of question. The risk of jeopardising job prospects lingers in your consciousness. You are forced to maintain an unnaturally enthusiastic vocal tone and forced smile, no matter what. You have to accept and revel the fact that, in their eyes, you are a laundry collecting, tea making, order abiding, second-class citizen.
Although my internship experiences have left much to be desired, I would still consider them to be a worthwhile way of increasing job prospects, and so would recommend them. However, my advice for young people taking up internships would be to do some research beforehand. Read reviews online and ask the company what types of tasks you will be expected to do. Make sure that your expenses will be paid, and get a written agreement that they will give you a reference once the internship is completed.
Frankly, I think that the government needs to introduce regulations to ensure that internships are a learning experience rather than a way for companies to exploit young people. Perhaps Interns should be made to fill in a form after the placement, writing what tasks they were asked to do, and officials should keep an eye on the nature of the tasks completed.