How To Avoid Getting Screwed During Your Internship
"It's not worth giving away your labour if you’re not being treated fairly."
While internships can be irreplaceable experiences, it’s not worth giving away your labour if you’re not being treated fairly.
It sounds easy enough, but sometimes it can be hard to determine the difference between work experience and exploitation. Here’s a step-by-step guide to making sure your internship is unforgettable for all the right reasons.
Finding An Internship
Finding an internship can be really difficult. Sometimes it’s hard to figure out which internships are legit and which ones are going to ask you to do a bunch of admin work without really teaching you anything new and exciting.
My best advice here is to avoid advertised positions where possible. Start by asking people you know in your industry. If you don’t know anyone, start making phone calls and sending emails. If you can get an internship somewhere that isn’t actively advertising, you’re more likely to be able to direct your own learning.
Think about the reasons a company would advertise an internship: in most cases, there are already set tasks which they are relying on interns to do and often these tasks end up being grunt work. Most internships will have some amount of boring work involved, but you’re there to learn as much as you can. The bottom line is if a company needs paperwork sorted and data entered, they should employ someone to do it.
Setting The Terms
Speaking of payment, you probably deserve it. In fact, unless you’re doing the internship as a course requirement, it’s likely required by law that you be paid. Let’s be clear, being invited to industry events is not payment. Meeting ‘important’ people is not payment. Resume building is not payment. The promise of being hired at the end is not payment. All of these things are useful, sure, but compensation for an internship comes in only two forms: academic credit or actual money.
For the sake of yourself and your peers: set clear terms regarding compensation.
Accepting an illegal, unpaid internship may seem like a good idea at the time, but if you don’t value your labour, how do you expect anyone else to? Furthermore, it sets a precedent where only those who are well off enough to work for free are able to find internship positions. For the sake of yourself and your peers: set clear terms regarding compensation.
When that’s all sorted, make sure you have a main point of contact at your company who will be available when you need direction. In collaboration with them, write a learning contract that stipulates the type of work you will be doing and what you will be able to do by the end of your internship. In regards to ending the internship, make sure you know when that will be. The hope of being hired at the end of your internship means nothing if the internship goes on forever.
Making The Most Of Your Time
Unpaid or not, remember that as an intern you are valuable to the company you’re interning at. You’re providing labour, increasing productivity and bringing a new perspective. Don’t be afraid to ask for something in return. Make sure you’re getting regular feedback and working on all sorts of different things. Is there an important meeting happening today? Ask to sit in and take notes! Is there a new project that directly relates to your areas of interest? Ask if you can lend a hand.
Keep a finger on the pulse of what’s happening and don’t be afraid to speak up when you want to learn. That’s what you’re there for.