I have found interning to be an extremely valuable, but difficult experience for someone of my background. I live near Reading, at home with my mother who is a disabled single parent living in social housing and my younger sister who is in her first year at university. I am currently the only person in my household who is able to earn properly. I am one of the unfortunate few whose parents are not in a position to support them while they intern. In fact, I have to help my mother pay her rent and buy food because she can’t afford it, and help out my sister with money for books and equipment. The concept of interning is alien to my family- they can’t understand why, with five A’s at A-level and a strong degree from a top university, I have to work for free. It is increasingly frustrating and demoralising for me to keep justifying it to them when we lack basic necessary household items such as a washing machine and a cooker.
Thankfully, at the moment I am able to afford to intern as a result of savings, compensation for an accident and so long as I work lots of shifts at my part time bar job. Although this means that some nights I finish in the bar at two thirty and get up for work again at seven.
So far I have undertaken two internships. The first of these was with a public affairs agency. The exploitation here was truly awful. I took this particular internship over another one which was paid because on their website there was an advertisement for a graduate vacancy. Once I started, I discovered they did not in fact have a vacancy. They felt that it looked good for ‘ business purposes’ if they were always on the look out for new staff. I had set hours of 8.30- 5.30 , but my travel expenses were only covered from zones 1-6 so I was forced to pay for a peak time train ticket to London which cost me £400 a month. One day I actually had to phone in sick because I was waiting to be paid and I couldn’t afford the train fare. As I was so broke instead of buying lunch, I would indulge in their biscuit collection, until one day they commented on how many I ate and stopped buying them!
The company survived on interns and without them would have needed to employ two maybe three more members of staff. The number of interns actually outweighed the number of paid staff four to three (small company). Three of us were on short- term intern contracts but one girl was there for a year! Every time one intern left a new intern was already lined up to replace them. I couldn’t afford the socialising that comes with interning, when everyone else from the office would go for drinks after work, I could never afford to go. I must admit, in terms of practical work experience I feel that I gained a lot from this placement because paid employees were so few and far between we got real challenging work. However, I could have at least been paid all my travel expenses and lunch. That would still have been much cheaper than minimum wage! Oh and a leaving gift wouldn’t have gone a miss- it was me that ended up buying the ‘thank you’ card, for them!
I’m currently doing my second internship with an MP in parliament, which is SO much better. I get all my expenses plus lunch and the researcher that manages me is wonderful. He used to be an intern himself, he has structured my placement and is always on hand to offer help with CVs and covering letters. It’s no problem at all if I need a day off for an interview or any other reason. However, I know that this is not the case with all parliamentary internships, I have been very lucky. I would advise anyone considering interning in parliament to try and get the low down on the attitude of the MP to their staff and the office workload. I don’t know if this internship will lead to a paid job, but I have my hopes pinned on it.