Should I do an internship?

As the recession bites, employers are becoming less and less willing to take a chance on inexperienced jobseekers. This has led to a Catch 22 situation for young people. It’s impossible to get a job without experience, and it’s impossible to get experience without having got a job. Internships exist to fill the gap. But...

Last year, 33% of all graduate jobs went to people who had already interned with their future employer. Good internships give applicants a chance to find out what their chosen industry 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 more permanent basis. In many industries they are essential, with it being near impossible to find a graduate job without one.

Unscrupulous employers are taking advantage of the high number of young people looking for work and are exploiting jobseekers by refusing to pay interns for the work that they do. This is unfair, excludes people who can’t afford to work for free, and may often be illegal.

Where employers think so little of their interns that they refuse to pay them the minimum wage, they fundamentally devalue the experience for all concerned. Instead of investing energy and time training and developing the intern’s potential, when pay isn’t offered, employers often adopt an unhelpful ‘easy come, easy go’ attitude. “There were five other unpaid interns in the office with me” says Faye, who worked for an events company for free. “Management just told us to sort the post and answer the phones and didn’t really care about whether we were learning anything”.

Even worse, because the majority of internships are based in London, many young people who want to get on the career ladder are left out because they can’t afford to work for free. The cost of a three month internship could easily reach £3,000, money that many simply don’t have.

Internships are great, but exploitation isn’t. If you want to want to make sure that you are getting a good experience, but aren’t being ripped off, there are some easy steps that you can take. Firstly, search for internships that pay at least the national minimum wage (£6.08 per hour). If your employer is paying properly, they are much more likely to take your development and experience seriously. Secondly, if you see an unpaid internship that you’d like to do, write to the employer and explain why you want to work for them but why you can’t afford to work for free. When confronted by the facts they may well agree and admire your initiative