Internships can offer graduates the chance to gain hands-on experience in their chosen profession. However, most internships are unpaid, and often interns are expected to pay for their own travel or food expenses, which can be expensive.
In order to break into highly competitive industries such as law, politics, finance, PR, TV, radio or journalism it is likely that a potential candidate will begin by working either unpaid or for travel expenses only – lunch may be included. While graduates often do a few weeks of unpaid work to gain beneficial experience, many employment experts believe it becomes exploitative when firms expect interns to work for a number of months, unpaid. However, remember that gaining experience, contacts and skills will enhance a CV or resume.
Nevertheless, the number of people doing internships is growing, and many employers expect candidates to have completed at least one internship in the profession of choice.
Students are often advised to consider internships abroad, as this will show prospective employers that they are able to cope in a foreign country and have experience adapting to a new culture or way of working. Volunteer programs are also a good way for graduates or students on summer break to develop new skills and improve their CV or resume.
Many companies will provide comprehensive training and may offer an intern who impresses paid employment following the internship. However, in other cases interns are used by companies to cut costs, as they know when one intern leaves another will take his place.
For many graduates and students, the pros of doing at least one internship outweigh the cons. However, before embarking on an unpaid internship the intern should ensure that a legal contract is signed, stating clearly what the role consists of. It is also important to research the company and what the internship offers before applying, and if possible, speak to people who have completed an internship at the company to gain a more objective view of the experience.
Requesting Feedback Following the Internship
It is always worth asking for feedback after the internship, as this will help interns learn what their strengths and weaknesses are and could help to build confidence. If the internship was a good experience, it is also worth asking supervisors if they will provide a reference, as this could help when looking for paid employment in a chosen profession.
Dealing With a Bad Internship Experience
If interns are unhappy in an internship, they should not be afraid to speak out they should explain clearly to the supervisor what the problem is and outline what they expected to gain from the experience. Good communication between the intern and the supervisor is vital, and often this will show employers that the intern is keen to learn and wants to play an active role.
If interns finish an internship feeling it went badly, they should first critically review what went wrong, as this will help learn more from the experience ensuring mistakes are not repeated in the future. A critical review of an experience will also help the intern move on positively.
Pros and Cons of Doing an Unpaid Internship
The following are positive reasons for doing an unpaid internship:
- The chance to gain hands-on experience. This will help when interns are applying for paid work as they will now have experience.
- A chance to make the CV or resume stand out. Doing an internship shows that the candidate is passionate and determined to succeed.
- The opportunity to network and make contacts. Many jobs are found through networking and word of mouth.
- Some companies do offer excellent intern training programs and can result in a fast-track promotion.
- The chance for the intern to discover if this is the job they really want to do. The intern may realize following the internship that they do not want to do the job as a career. Discovering this before spending money and time on expensive training or education is important.
- An opportunity to learn new skills. School education can only teach so much, the world of work is very different.
- Employment is offered. An intern who displays good skills and is hardworking will be noticed.
There are some negative aspects in an unpaid internship as follows:
- It is unpaid. The intern may need financial support from friends and family, or will need to save money working part-time.
- The intern may not be allowed an active role. Because of the nature of the work in many internships, the intern will not be allowed to take part in actual work.
- The intern may not be offered training.
- The internship is not what the intern expected. The reality of the internship is less exciting or interesting than expected.
- Employment is not offered. Interns should not expect employment to automatically be offered following the internship.
Remember to get the most out of an internship a degree of effort and professionalism are expected. Work hard, look smart and accept that everyone will start at the bottom.