The topic of internships is something that has been talked about a lot recently. In a time where unemployment, especially amongst young people, is a real problem, internships sometimes seem like the only way to gain some of that oh-so-coveted experience. And if you want to work in a particularly popular field, it seems internships are the only way in (something I think a lot of wannabe journalists will attest to).
But here’s the problem so many students and graduates are facing: most internships don’t actually pay you any money. If you’re lucky, you’ll get your travel and maybe even lunch covered, but other than that, you’re on your own. Paid internships exist, but are hard to come by, and in an effort to gain experience/get your dream job/just to do something other than be unemployed, you might find yourself working for free.
Personally, I think all internships should be paid positions, at least at the minimum wage. If you are working, you should be paid for it. But, for now, if you choose to do an unpaid internship, make sure it’s a good one. I happen to be on a brilliant unpaid internship right at this moment. Sure, I WISH I was earning some money, but at the same time I don’t feel like I’m being used for slave labour at all. I haven’t once had to make any coffee, and I’m learning and gaining so much that I feel I’m getting a lot more out of it than just something to put on my CV.
So what makes the perfect unpaid internship? My current internship has a great development programme: we’re encouraged to create our own personal project while we are there; we have intern development days where we talk about what our future plans are, and how to try and secure ourselves a paid job in the field we are interested in. We are given a lot of responsibility, offered tons of training, and have frequent meetings with our Intern Development Manager, so we are getting constant feedback on our work. It’s wonderful to feel completely supported and included in the company.
Although I am still adamant that paid internships should be the way of the future, I definitely wouldn’t discourage anyone from taking on an unpaid internship if your circumstances allow it. Just make sure it’s a GOOD internship. You’re giving up your right to a wage, so you need to make sure that you are going to get what you need out of it. Internships shouldn’t just be something where you get to do all the boring work while desperately hoping to at least get a good reference at the end of your time there. In lieu of a wage, you should have the opportunity to learn new skills, develop existing ones and receive support and guidance.