We are unleashing a new feature on the website: the Interns Anonymous interview. Armed with a dictaphone and 10 minutes of spare time, we are interviewing past and present interns about their internship experiences. We kick off with an ex-headhunter who wanted a career-change in her mid-twenties. She turned to internships to get into the charity sector.
IA: Where does this story start?
I chose to have a career change earlier this year. I was advised that the best way to get into other organisations – having worked for four years but with no actual qualification to show for it – was to do internships…I was in a unique position because being an headhunter, they were all with my clients.
IA: So they weren’t advertised?
No, none of them were advertised, I just knew somebody there and I normally worked with the person I knew, in their team
IA: Where did the idea come from that internships were the way forward? Was it word of mouth?
That’s really interesting, I really don’t know, because I have a degree and have worked for four years and suddenly somebody said to me earlier this year- you should be doing internships. For me personally it was a great way to calm myself down in the run up to leaving a job that was very secure and financially sound- to nothing… The thought of just stopping a job in the run up to a recession is terrifying.
IA: You were very brave
Or stupid…depends how you look at it. So for me internships were more of a cushion initially and they turned out to be very good experiences and I’ve actually learnt a lot from them. But initially it was just to calm myself down, and to say to my parents…look don’t worry, I am leaving but I’ve organised these…because people are going to take you if you say you’re free and you’re only going to be there for a month
IA: Tell me about them?
The first one was in a public affairs agency. It was only about 3 weeks and it was quite difficult to get into, being a consultancy environment. I think it is difficult for an intern to do anything because you’re not embedded in the organisation because they’re working closely with clients…I was very much a witness there. I wasn’t asked to do loads, it was quite a disengaging in many ways. Quite exciting to see other people but I wasn’t allowed to touch anything.
The second one was very hands on working for a not for profit networking body in Westminster. They are used to having interns, so for them it was quite normal to have someone in this position. Normally interns worked 2-3 days a week.
They just trusted you to do anything- as much as you physically could with your day and it really helped that I was Monday to Friday with them because there was more consistency.
IA: And you worked set hours?
Yep, normal 9-5 or 6 o clock day.
IA: Did you sign a contract or get expenses?
I think I might have signed anything, and certainly I was paid sort of expenses and they wanted my P45 and stuff whereas the one before didn’t want anything as I was just an observer. With my third internship at an energy company they made me sign loads of forms about how I wasn’t allowed to talk about anything I was doing. They didn’t pay me anything during that time- but it was a much more formal – mainly because they’re so worried about leaks.
IA: So you weren’t paid at all…?
That was essential for them because they were making redundancies-they wanted it to be clear that I wasn’t replacing anyone.
It was a good experience- it was a total project. They had been talking for ages about redoing their website so they just said to me can you rewrite the website and think about the link. That was really fun from start to finish, and I just got on with it.
IA: And your last internship?
The final one was for 6 weeks at a professional institute. They gave me big projects, paid me expenses, and they really gave me interesting things to do. Lots of responsibility to run two big projects- one on low carbon technologies and one on a G20 summit that they were hosting and both of that was really cool, I would say my bosses were brilliant.
It was interesting because my peers were the difficult ones there. They were very confused that a 26 year old head hunter was doing a career change and they were boys and they clearly felt a bit irked that I’d been given some really good projects by the boss and I tried to assure them that I didn’t want their job and didn’t want to work there.
IA: And you feel much more confident with that experience behind you?
Definitely. I’d never seen how different organisations and sectors worked. From an energy giant to a not for profit – I found out I didn’t want to work in a big organisation, and I wanted a more entrepreneurial organisation.
I think they served a good purpose for employers who would see that I had been proactive and I did something. I really enjoyed it and I would say that my own network helped- they gave me really interesting projects and didn’t make me make tea.
IA: And funding the internships?
Headhunting was lucrative, I am in no way blind to the fact that I was in a privileged position. But I also made use of JSA. They were very understanding and allowed me to do work experience alongside claiming. It was a financial risk that eventually paid off.