It's a familiar situation to many of us. You've just graduated from University and it's time to find a job. However, these days it's not so simple as firing off a CV or two to a recruitment consultant. The reality is that thousands of new graduates are queuing up for the same openings. And the majority are prepared to work for free to try and gain valuable experience, the kind which they hope will lead to a full time job of their dreams.
When an intern starts out at a workplace, they're generally looking to learn useful skills, gain real experience of the job (and not just making tea), and find a path that they wish to take in their future career. They'd also like a bit of respect, and some form of payment would be good too. Sadly, these things aren't always forthcoming.
I was shocked to read about the terrible experiences of several interns in this eye-opening piece by Tanya de Grunwald. All too often, these interns were full of enthusiasm and excitement when they entered the workplace, only for this to be 'beaten out' of them by unreasonable employers and staff, horrendous hours and working conditions and a lack of fulfilment and basic decency from all sides.
In the article, we read about how one individual spent months fetching dry cleaning as an intern at an advertising agency, only to discover that they were no longer required when they saw interviews being held... for their position. There are also tales of interns helping out with the boss's daughter's dissertation, working from 9am-2am, having lunch breaks described as "poor form", and being criticised in front of the team, behind their back. In all these cases - and plenty more - the intern was barely paid a penny, often there was no salary whatsoever.
This situation is clearly unacceptable. And the irony is if the intern had been properly treated and given meaningful work to do, they could actually have been an asset to the employer rather than a nuisance. By getting interns in, you've usually got a bright, young talent on your hands; an individual who's willing to work hard to impress. By not tapping into this talent, you have to consider that a waste.
It's just not right to treat people like this, and I feel strongly that they should always be paid. At World First, we always pay our interns, and we plan their stay with us so they get a genuine feel for the company. Some like it so much, and we like them so much, that we've since offered them full time jobs. A fact that I'm enormously proud of.
Our interns are given full inductions and given tasks that will help them decide whether an industry like ours is for them. They're made to feel part of the team, and get to enjoy the perks of working here.
Yes, they take their turn to make the tea, but they never get sent to pick up anybody's dry cleaning or told that taking a lunch break is "poor form"!
I believe unpaid internships should be banned altogether. By not paying their interns, it's all too easy for employers to not try and get the best out of them, instead leaving them to drift without support, guidance and stimulating work to get on with. Or the opposite could be true - where the intern is worked really hard without any remuneration. This is to take advantage of an individual - an unethical practice - and it needs to stop.
But it's not just up to the employer to give interns a fair deal. When looking for an internship - or a job - it's up to recent graduates and other young jobseekers to think more proactively. A competitive jobs market means that the tried and tested methods cannot be relied upon to succeed.
By being bold and going straight to MDs or CEOs, and demonstrating their enthusiasm, willingness to learn and great personality, they'll be giving themselves a real chance of getting work, rather than relying on more traditional means - applying to graduate programmes at FTSE100 companies, looking for work at graduate fairs or via recruitment agencies.
Candidates should be doing things like going through the Fast Track list of the fastest growing companies in the country. Contact the right people directly with a glowing CV and sparkling covering letter and you might be surprised by the response. We are always looking for new talent and I'm sure we're not alone.
The talent is out there - it's up to employers to put it to good use, and put a stop to the unpaid interns scandal.