As soon as I decided that I wanted to be a journalist I realised two things. One: I would need to be in London. Two: I would need to work for free. I knew that internships would be essential for my CV, I knew these would mainly take place in London, and I knew I would probably not be paid for my time.
I began my internship story at 16. Using the money I had saved from my part-time job, I traveled to London and stayed with friends of friends whose homes I couch surfed between. I realise I was very fortunate – not everyone is so lucky and there is no way I could have afforded to stay in London otherwise or to pay the fare for the two hour commute from my hometown. At the weekends I got the train back to Dorset so I could keep up my Saturday job, heading back again on Sundays.
When I applied to university there was only one place for me: London. I saw the student loan that would come with studying there as my only way of affording to live there and to do more internships (because one apparently is not enough – I was being told that in order to stand out I would have to do more and more of these placements).
I am now in my final year of university. When I graduate I will need a full-time job, and it goes without saying that in order to pay my bills and afford to eat, it will have to be paid. Yet I am astounded by the amount of unpaid roles I see advertised in my industry, and by the assumption that if you really want to succeed, you should be prepared to work for free. It has been an eye opening experience. I have always worked hard, first at school, then on my internships and finally at university. I believed that hard work was the key to success, but I have come to see that in the current system wealth, in fact, is often the most important factor on your CV.
Some of my placements I would count as work experience, and for these I wouldn’t expect to be paid. Especially when I was 16 and just starting out, these placements were my way to observe what goes on behind the doors of a newspaper or magazine. But on a lot of my placements I was doing real work that contributed to a profit making company, work that a paid employee would have to do if the interns weren’t there. The more interns I speak to (because nearly all of my friends and peers have done unpaid internships), the more stories I hear of unpaid interns keeping industries running.
Internships have been my gateway into a world I would have had absolutely no access to otherwise. A country girl from Dorset doesn’t get to interview Rupert Everett and attend London Fashion Week by staying at home where the job opportunities are close to zero.
I decided to join Intern Aware’s campaign to try and give young people the experiences I have had regardless of their background, and in the hope that in the future hard-working graduates will not be asked to work for free.