Internships: 10 things every graduate should know
On an internship now – or starting one soon? Thousands of graduates apply for internships every year, yet few know the facts. Tanya de Grunwald, founder of graduate jobs blog graduatefog.co.uk and author of How to Get a Graduate Job in a Recession tells you everything you need to know.
1. Be picky
Not all internships are the same. A good one pays at least the national minimum wage, is advertised publicly - and candidates will be interviewed. You should have a designated manager, a variety of tasks and receive feedback and a reference at the end. If you're cleaning the fridge and nobody knows your name, it's a bad internship and a waste of your time.
2. Know the law
There's no legal definition of an intern, but the national minimum wage law says that anybody who qualifies as a worker and is 21 or over must be paid at least the minimum wage. Do you have set hours and responsibilities? Are you contributing work that's of value to your employer? Then, unless the placement is part of your course, or your employer is a charity, it's likely the company is breaking the law in letting you work for nothing.
3. ...even if you don't mind working for free
You don't have the right to waive your wages, even if you say you'll accept experience as payment. The minimum wage isn't just there to prevent those who do the jobs from being exploited - it's also to protect poorer applicants from being excluded from competing because they can't work for free.
4. Always have a back-up plan
Interns hope each placement will be their last but lots of internships don't turn into jobs - and having no options makes you vulnerable when your internship comes to an end. If you can't find a job, at least line up another internship to move on to before your current one finishes. Keep reading to find out why...
5. Know when to leave
They want you to stay? It's flattering, but interns often hang around too long - three months should be your maximum in one place. If your internship is unpaid (or expenses only), never extend your internship unless they offer you a proper wage. But you shouldn't really wait for them to take charge. It's a much better plan to...
6. Seize your moment to negotiate
As the end date of your internship approaches, speak to your manager about whether there is a job available. If they mutter about "maybe having some budget in a few months' time", say you understand and that you've loved working there, but you'll be leaving on the agreed date as it's time to move on to somewhere that can offer a real chance of a paid job (the internship you lined up before, see 4). If they counter-offer with paid work before you go, you'll have two options. If they don't, they never had any intention of hiring you, so you've lost nothing.
7. Forget about 'standing out'
Have faith that if you're reliable, efficient and upbeat, they'll remember you. Take the internship seriously and show what you'd be like to work with if they offered you a proper job. If it's quiet, create tasks for yourself - they'll be impressed if you demonstrate initiative.
8. Value your own work
Whatever you're being paid, don't assume that's all your work is actually worth. Yes, there are zillions of graduates looking for jobs, but your labour still has value. Running their Twitter feed? You're a social media consultant. Ordering stationery? You're an office manager. Those jobs usually pay proper money. Remember that - it's good for your soul.
9. Claim what you're owed
If you decide to do an unpaid internship, you can claim your money back later, even if you agreed to work for free at the time (yes, really). When you're feeling less vulnerable, contact the campaign group Intern Aware for more information.
10. Join the fight for fairer internships
The UK has the most active interns' rights movement in the world. And things are changing. Campaigners like GraduateFog and Intern Aware are working hard - but we need you to join the fight. The more of us there are, the louder we can shout. [And if you spot any unpaid internships on Monster, please report them by clicking on the 'Report this job' button to get the advertisement removed.]
Tanya de Grunwald is the founder of graduate careers blog graduatefog.co.uk and the author of How to Get a Graduate Job in a Recession. Contact Tanya via email or on Twitter @GraduateFog.
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