An anonymous contributor sent us the following article – the title might have unpleasant connotations but the intern in question is talking about getting a positive experience that will boost your CV…rather than a flat screen TV
As a complete nobody hailing from the arse-end of Nowhere, I empathise with those looking to do an internship, particularly those looking to get into journalism, public affairs and politics.
The principle of getting up in the morning and doing a full day’s work, often for protracted periods and for the sum total of zero pence is now so firmly entrenched in our economy that companies will factor in interns and rotate them as though they were permanent staff. The employer knows full well that there is no job for the poor sucker at the end of it, but the prize is dangled before them anyway. It can be soul destroying. But, done right, interning can also be fantastic. Allow me to elaborate.
After graduating from university, I took on a piss-poor admin job. My boss was, to coin a swear, a knobjoy and the pay was appalling. Happily, the business folded and I found myself gainfully unemployed. With a few pennies (though not many) set aside, I decided I had nothing to lose and, accepting the dire state of the jobs market for mediocre arts graduates, threw myself into interning.
I haven’t eaten since, but I’ve met some genuinely lovely people, proved that I can dress myself, and gained experience that simply wouldn’t have been open to me if the internships hadn’t been there. That’s not to say, of course, that the experience hasn’t wildly differed with each employer. As with the real world, there are both terrible employers and fantastic ones, and the lot of the intern, in my view, rests on the understanding and dedication of the employer in making your time worthwhile.
My first internship was a two-week stint with a national newspaper. As I’ve said, I’m no one of any note, so a place on a paper seemed like a dream. I knew I would bankrupt myself, but it seemed too good an opportunity to turn down. Told to turn up in ‘smart casual’ and to ‘read up on my current affairs’, I expected to enter a professional working environment filled with vibrant, enthusiastic staff ready to make use of my in-depth knowledge of politics and forensic analytical mind.
In reality, of the one and a half weeks I spent there, about three hours were spent doing anything of use. I didn’t have a desk, any tasks or indeed any kind of introduction to the permanent members of staff, things often seen as prerequisites for, y’know, helping a company in any way. I loitered like a cheap whore around the desks of writers I’d previously admired and fired out plenty of suggestive e-mails seeing if my services were required. Alas, it was not to be, and with each expenses-unpaid day I felt less and less like a human being.
Yet, while it would be easy to sob into my Tesco-own cereal (we interns dream of Jordan’s Crisp) about this state of affairs, I actually found the whole experience empowering. Seeing a disorganised sinking ship of a paper laid bare before my eyes shattered a certain myth in my mind about journalism. The knowledge that I was still young, (reasonably) clever and qualified and that this particular paper had stuck two fingers up to my offer of free labour, felt perversely liberating. As each wasted hour on Twitter ticked by, I figured it was actually their loss. In the end, I stopped turning up to the internship. No one even noticed I’d gone, while their inability to remember my name means I still get a reference, and don’t look back.
My next internship was definitely a gamble. But by financially ruining the people I love, and through a combination of putting on a posh voice and exaggerating my limited achievements, I somehow wound up as an intern for an established radio station. The new internship felt less like an extended, demeaning tour of an office and more like an actual, useful work placement. I was still earning nothing, but from day one I had a gut feeling that I would come away from the experience immeasurably more employable. Unlike the paper, I’d been sat down to a formal interview, been given a desk, a proper company e-mail account, responsibility, training and, heaven forbid, I was treated like a colleague rather than a massive inconvenience.
Within a week I knew the names of everyone in the office and they even knew mine. They respected my opinions, answered my questions and gave me serious responsibilities, not just menial tasks to keep me occupied. I got the genuine sense they understood the bargain we were making; as a graduate, I was ready to work hard for them, provided I wasn’t being taken for a ride.
Let me be clear: in an ideal world, employers would risk taking on unproven graduates with raw potential. They’d spot your talent and invest the resources in training you up to be the best you can be. But we don’t live in that ideal world. We live in an economy where more and more graduates are competing with each other for lower and lower paid jobs. That’s an awful reality, but it’s reality nonetheless.
As an intern, what you really need to remember is that you are an equal partner in the experience: you owe them nothing, and the real reason that you’re doing this is for your own career. If you’re ignored, undervalued and treated like dirt by people, walk out. You will lose nothing but a few days, and your confidence will actually grow. If a company wastes your time, throw a spanner in their works and waste theirs.
If, however, a company seems willing to nurture your potential and is willing to take advantage of your generous offer of free labour, providing you with proper advice, the occasional dressing down and a glowing reference then, even if they can’t offer you a job, the whole experience will have been worth a punt.
Nobody wants to work for nothing, so my simple advice would be don’t. If you’re making yourself skint, make sure it’s worth your while in other ways, and remember that not all internships are the same.