My first, and until now, only article for the Huffington Post was two years ago and proved a contentious one. In short it suggested that unpaid Internships are OK. I know.... I am now aware, as I'm sure the rest of you are, that this is most certainly not the truth. Since writing that article I have completed over 14 unpaid to barely-paid internships in three years, scattered across the disciplines of art, media and fashion. Anyone else working to get their foot into these arenas will nod their heads sagely when I say there is no shortage of such 'opportunities'. I have held off writing again on this, or anything even closely related, due to the Stepford-esque and highly embarrassing piece that I wrote then, and for anyone who read it, and will subsequently read it now, I apologise. I leave it up as penance and for the wry comment left at the end which simply states 'This is like a black man condoning slavery!'
So why return to the scene of the crime? I write because now that I am full to the brim with the notion of internships and have sufficiently, in my opinion, sold my wares for free long enough to warrant a full-time, paid position, another issue (of many admittedly) presents itself. Employers are more than willing to take on as much free labour as their ship can hold, they'll pack the office to the rafters with eager young helpers on £5 a day travel expenses and have you sat in the corner on a laptop you brought from home to reach true efficiency. Yet, as another graduating year reaches the shore of industry, it's finding a port that's open that is the problem.
For the last two months I have been interviewing consistently. I appreciate for many that that in itself is a success to celebrate, especially in my chosen field, until you see the dedicated folder I have for rejections and the excel sheet I keep of ongoing applications. However, a worrying trend is emerging. Many job specs, most noticeably within Media fields from Journalism to Marketing, have started to request 'ideas' alongside the standard CV and cover letter combo. Like an ogre at a bridge, three ideas are the toll you pay to be in with the chance of securing an interview. 'Please send three ideas for stories....', 'We have read your CV and would like you to prepare a presentation outlining ways to improve strategy for our client...' and so on.
Whilst more must be done to set ourselves apart from our competition, a memory from my very first lecture at university revisits me each time I come across these demands - 'Never give away your ideas for free'. Simply put, I mistrust this practice for the hundreds of applications they must receive, teeming with ideas, where they go and how they are used from there is hardly difficult to imagine. 'Like taking candy' comes to mind. Our ideas are our livelihood in the creative fields, to have to trade them for even the remote chance of having a face to face is manipulative and frankly too close to bribery for my taste.
So what instead should employers be asking for? I myself am a recent convert to Ideastap.com. A simple resource for jobseekers in the creative fields, it has an impressive jobs board and live briefs with companies it collaborates with. In addition, they have a responsive and well designed portfolio interface, encouraging its members to fill their profiles with the kind of work employers want to see. From there you simply share the link and watch your viewer count rise. From here we can mobilise what this generation knows best; the speed and accessibility of the web. Establish an online presence, reach out through more niche arenas and diffuse your work in areas where your dream jobs will be likely to inhabit. This form of proactivity is the kind that should be encouraged by employers, we should be judged on our merits and our productivity, not on who is willing to sacrifice the most. I recently emailed my alma mater to ask that they stop advertising unpaid internships. They consented and the quality and breadth of opportunities has actually risen because they dared to suggest their graduates were worth more. Now we need a vote of confidence from our prospective employers too.