‘Internships’: what do we actually mean? An overview and some top tips.

Despite ‘internships’ being well established in the US (think ‘Ugly Betty’ or ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ for examples of fashion industry interns/internships) it’s only within the past few years that the concept has caught on in the UK. Internship usually refers to a short-term opportunity for someone new to a particular industry (e.g. school leaver, graduate) to complete paid or unpaid work experience, perhaps with some training, to allow them to get experience in order to move into a ‘proper position’ within that sector.

However, there is no definition of an ‘intern’ under employment law and a recent search reveals that ‘internship’ covers a wide range of opportunities including:

· Placements open to people from a range of backgrounds e.g. http://www.thersa.org/about-us/internships

· Summer placements offered by graduate recruiters for first and second year degree students to secure work experience with them e.g. http://www.santanderukgraduates.com/interns-retail-banking-management.php

· International placement opportunities e.g. http://www.aiesec.co.uk/students/go-global

· Short-term unpaid placements for charities or other types of organisations: http://supportus.cancerresearchuk.org/volunteer/internship-scheme/

· Fixed term employment opportunities, paid work placements or projects designed to help graduates into their first graduate post e.g. http://www.step.org.uk/step_graduate.aspx or http://www.keele.ac.uk/internships/forgraduates/availableinternships/

Whilst there are clearly good quality ‘internships’ (including paid opportunities) where interns are well treated and receive good quality experience and training, which helps them move forward in their career, cases where interns (often new graduates keen to get into competitive areas of work such as publishing, media, fashion or politics) are denied their rights to the minimum wage and used as unpaid labour, have been highlighted by the media – for example:

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/francesca-mitchell/internships-exploitation-discrimination_b_2775482.htm

http://www.cityam.com/article/big-bad-business-exploiting-eager-interns-free-labour

Top tips:

To help you navigate the myriad of opportunities called ‘internships’ here are our top tips for students and graduates thinking about internships:

· Paid internships are generally the norm in areas such as management, finance or HR: try contacting organisations directly to find out when they open for applications

· Familiarising yourself with your rights as an intern will help you make an informed choice about unpaid internships- many students and graduates are unaware of the legal requirements for employers to comply with minimum wage legislation

· Carefully check what internship opportunities actually involve (pay, duties, time commitment e.t.c.) – ring and speak to the employer if necessary – think about how you’ll benefit from the opportunity before applying.

· If you decide to accept an unpaid internship, decide how long you’ll stay there and stick to it. A few weeks should provide an employer with enough time to see your potential.

· Ring universities within your local area to see whether they have any programmes offering placements/internships: many will offer good quality opportunities to graduates in the local area – even if you completed your degree elsewhere.

· Look beyond ‘household names’ when considering opportunities: smaller less well-known organisations will often advertise paid entry-level jobs e.g. via the The Gov.uk jobsearch site– working at this level will allow you to build up ‘hands-on’ industry experience so you can move on.

· Contact your University Career Service to discuss opportunities/various options for getting into careers which interest you: many students and graduates find it helpful to discuss their ideas and perhaps generate new options or alternatives they hadn’t previously considered.

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