An unnecessary evil

This is a post from  graduates need not apply, with a video he recommended as well: 

I’m lucky. One of my mother’s best friends happens to be the editor of a national magazine so, primarily down to begging, I am currently in the middle of a two-week stint as an intern. 

This is definitely not the norm in the world of work. Not only is there the huge element of competition, but also those crucial six letters “unpaid,” which immediately throws the proverbial spanner into the works. Most graduates simply cannot work for free.

You can split graduates roughly into two categories, those who have moved back to the family home, and those who are living independently. For those living at home, unpaid internships can be doable given parental support (that’s how I’m surviving); no rent, bills, or high living costs, but for those who are not living at home, a lack of money entering the bank is simply impossible. On top of rent, bills and living costs some internships do not provide for travel costs; which, depending on where you live (London commuters know what I’m talking about), can make an internship financially impossible. My peak-time all zone travel card cost me £48 last week, a huge chunk of money for a graduate working for free. Luckily (I’m lucky after all) my travel costs are covered by my company. For those that aren’t as lucky as me however, this is a horrible situation.

For a lot of graduates, there is financially no way that they can take on an internship, leading them into the perpetual catch-22 situation; I don’t have any experience to get a job but I can’t get a job to get the experience.

The length and type of internship can also be an issue. I currently have a friend who is on a year-long unpaid internship (with travel expenses) at a major Opera company, and hopefully, by the end of that year they will have obtained enough experience to be able to apply for a paying job within that company. However, the reason that they are able to survive on this internship, is through the support of their parents. 

As well as the financial impact long unpaid internships can have on an individual, there is also no guarantee of a job at the end of it. My parents tell the story of a friend of the family who, having left university, started a nine-month internship at a recording studio, unpaid, with no expenses. At the end of that nine-month period he was not offered a job, and was simply sent on his way. He had worked for nine months, completely free of charge, and were able to get rid of him because they were well aware that there were plenty of other people who would happily work for free, as opposed to someone who had the experience and now needed a financial incentive to both stay with the business, and survive.

Some would argue that the blame can be shifted on us (graduates); that we should have been gathering this work experience during our summer holidays. But many graduates had to spend their summers earning money to pay their bills for their student houses, negating the “golden,” opportunity they have supposedly missed. Students are just like anyone else who don’t work; terminally short of cash.

Internships can be an immensely useful tool. However, the financial issues which plague them make them impossible for many graduates, especially those who do not live at home and are having to provide their own living expenses. As for me, I’m actually not sure how to describe them. I want to call them a necessary evil. But I’m not sure about the necessary bit.

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1 Response to “An unnecessary evil”

  1. 1 Edward the Guinea Pig 10/20/2010 at 10:41 pm

    Hi I worship your video, I’ve spend the last 3 weeks in a disgusting hospital in Croydon, only as an alternative to escape from my full time job as a costa slave in airport.

    I’m an arts graduate, I finally got to finish reading Donna Tart’s the Secret History, about a poor student gets a scholarship to study the Greek and Latinand finds himself seduced by prestige and self-destructive desires. I couldn’t think of anything more ironic.

    I’ve already submitted a entry to a graduate website, where someone was discussing the difficulties of being an unemployed graduate, but I thought I would include it here again, as it may be helpful to others.


    I agree with everything you’ve written. After graduating in 2008 with an arts degree I was fortunate to a thousand in back tax and made the slightly ill-prepared decision of taking a gap year in Australia, after 5 years of study without a holiday I thought I deserved it.
    Finding work in Austalia however, without proper work experience besides the hotel and bar work I’d been doing since college, proved to be a difficult and costly challenge since most employers are reluctant to employ travellers beyond a tempcasual basis. I returned the following year in even greater debt since I had had to resort to borrowing money from my parents and using credit to pay my way. I returned home, dispirited and ambivalent, assuming it would be easier to get work, as I could now apply for Graduate jobs without a visa.
    5 months on I’d emailed hundreds of employers, newspapers, production companies and temping agencies looking for internships, professional roles or office assistant jobs, and have had some success in several interviews for marketing jobs but in the ratio of applications to interviews it was still pitifully disproportionate.
    It seems I’d arrived home in the middle of recession when graduate unemployment had reached 940,000, and unemployment figures were 8 million (I could have misread, so don’t quote me).
    The job centre is probably the most depressing place on earth, and it seemed utterly ludicrus that I was a graduate and had studied at a good university and written essays discussing Freud, postcolonialism, cultural nationalis and globalisation etc, and somehow I couldn’t get a job in call centre or office work because I didn’t have experience or qualifications in accounting or IT.
    I think you find youself in a surreal Kafka-esque no man’s land of being underqualified for most gradjobs and overqualified for minimum wage jobs. Eventually, regretably, I managed to find a casual job with a Costa Cafe at my nearest airport, who I discovered were happy to take on absolutely anyone regardless of experience or suitability due to the low pay, long hours and sometimes stressful working conditions. Now I’m working alongside the 16-19 age bracket and doubling as a supervisor for an employer that chews through the staff with little thanks for your hard work and humiliation. I’m 28, and it’s bewildering because the only reason I went back to college and then University was to avoid the situation I find myself burdened with.

    I’ve actually resorted to medical trials as I way of clearing my overdraft and helping with my debts, and being in a hospital bed gives you time to apply for better jobs and complete online applications. You can earn up to 3,000 for 2 weeks isolated study, but at the same time it does feel like I’m wasting my time and would rather be training or interning somewhere developing my skills and progressing.

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