Making internships work for you

Students and graduates are often caught in a Catch 22 situation when looking for work. It’s impossible to get a job without having had experience, and it’s impossible to get experience without having had a job. Internships exist to fill the gap.

If you’re looking for a career in the creative industries, where internships are essential for getting a job. This guide is here to help you work out how to get the best internships for you and how not to get ripped off.

An internship is short term job with a focus on giving young people the chance to gain skills and knowledge. Where internships work well, the intern contributes to the company, is paid for his or her work and picks up great experience that may lead to a job.

Employers want to know that the students and graduates they hire are passionate about their industry and ready to get started on day one. Last year, 33% of all graduate jobs went to people who had already interned with their future employer. Good internships give students and graduates a chance to find out what their chosen field is like, and more importantly, let them get a foot in the door. They give employers the chance to find out whether the interns they’ve picked are worth hiring on a permanent basis. In many industries they are essential, with it being near impossible to find a graduate job without one.

What’s the problem?

Whereas in the past, many organisations in the creative industries had dedicated training programs, these have now largely been replaced with internships, which offer a lower chance of future employment and many of which are unpaid. This creates financial barriers for students and graduates who want to enter competitive industries where interning is essential. By some estimates there are over 130,000 young people working as interns in the UK at any one time.

The London School of Economics estimates that it costs £1,000 to live each month in London. With most internship lasting for over three months, this makes it difficult for many to afford to get the experience that they need.

This sometimes leads to a situation where talented, hardworking young people miss out on the opportunities that they deserve because they can’t afford to work for free.
Furthermore, while most internships offer great opportunities which help young people progress in their career, some don’t provide a good experience.

Interns should have the opportunity to learn about their place of work, be given advice about how the industry operates and get to do interesting tasks that will help them develop their skills.

This guide is aimed at helping students get the best experience possible on their internships and making sure that no one gets exploited while interning. By following some simple tips and tricks, you can make sure that you make the most of an incredible opportunity and don’t get ripped off!

Do interns have a right to be paid?

If an intern is doing real work, they are entitled to be paid at least the National Minimum Wage. It is impossible to sign away your right to be paid the minimum wage, the employer has a duty to pay it and if they don’t, they risk a criminal record and a fine.

If an internship is paid, it shows that the employer is serious about your experience. Companies that are willing to part with their own cash are more likely to make sure that you learn the valuable skills to be able to contribute fully to their organisation.

On the other hand, if your internship is unpaid, it may mean that there is an ‘easy come, easy go’ attitude to your experience. Unpaid interns are far more likely to be stuck making tea and photocopying whilst learning little. A recent study from the USA showed that 60% of paid interns were offered jobs after their internship, compared to only 36% of unpaid interns. It’s not illegal for you to do an unpaid internship, but seeking out a paid one may well lead to you having a better experience.