My Experience as an Intern
Job hunting can be a demoralising task for any job seeker, but with unemployment so high and job opportunities so low, graduates without work experience are struggling. I graduated with a degree in History from the University of Sheffield in 2010 and struggled to find employment. Like many of my peers, I became frustrated with the lack of replies to job applications and the repeated response of either ‘too much experience or not enough’. As an alternative to permanent roles I began looking at internships.
Internships have become a necessity for many graduates in order to find permanent work and have been the subject of much debate in recent years, particularly with regard to pay. With many internships going unpaid there are fears that jobs in areas such as media, politics and the third sector in particular, are gaining a ‘middle-class stranglehold’, as only the wealthy can afford to intern (Zoe Williams, Guardian Online, 21/03/12). Furthermore, some have gone so far as to suggest internships are a form of ‘exploitation’, with companies replacing paid workers with interns who can work for up to six months unpaid and leave at the end jobless.
”From the very start of my internship I felt a valued employee of iSE.”
On the other side of the debate, there are positives to interning for graduates and there is no denying their role in developing people, offering them invaluable work experience. In the current climate it is difficult for graduates and other young people to enter into ‘white collar’ employment through any other means.
My experience of interning was quite the opposite of ‘exploitative’. I am just coming to the end of a six month paid internship with iSE (Initiative for Social Entrepreneurs) and I have been offered a permanent role within the organisation as a result. I am keen to highlight that the purpose of this article is not to suggest that internships should be a pre-requisite to employment, but rather that, when undertaken responsibly an internship can make a positive difference to both an individual and an organisation.
From the very start of my internship I felt a valued employee of iSE. Both a board member and the CEO were present at my interview and it was clear from the beginning that my role was important to the organisation. Since joining iSE I have been working on Shop for Change, a campaign to promote buying from social enterprise. This has involved:
- Social media and marketing training
- Compiling board reports and taking part in business development meetings
- Supporting the initiation and development of the Shop for Change Pop Up Shop
- Assisting with general office administration duties
- Supporting the management of both the iSE and Shop for Change websites and socia media accounts
”I think it is important as an intern to remember that you have skills that are valuable and not to feel that you are the only one gaining from the experience.”
The opportunities made available to me at iSE have been fantastic. I have been able to gain a lot of experience in a short amount of time and in the process, without wanting to sound clichéd, I have learnt a lot about myself and the way that I work. It has given me the chance to work in a business environment, in a situation where I can take on some responsibility but with the freedom to make mistakes and learn from the team around me. I think it is important as an intern to remember that you have skills that are valuable and not to feel that you are the only one gaining from the experience. iSE have been really great in making me feel a valued member of the team, giving me confidence in my own abilities and contribution.
From an employer’s view point, hiring an intern allows you to work with a new staff member who, has not been ‘affected’ by a previous business environment, will work enthusiastically and determinedly at any task and relishes all opportunities laid before them. This person is not unskilled either, but rather has a raw talent in need of nurturing. Paying an intern shows that you value their contribution to your business and this will undoubtedly be reflected in their performance and self-esteem, not to mention it will allow them to live independently.
My experience as an intern has led me to be an advocate of paid internships as a means for graduates and other young people to gain valuable experience and potential work. At iSE my internship has been well structured, with regular supervision meetings with my CEO to discuss my progress. It has been important to me that the structure of my internship has reflected my learning and development, so that I have been able to gradually assimilate into the business allowing my work to become increasingly valuable to its function. Structured in this way the next step into my new role feels a natural progression, not just for myself but also for the organisation.
My internship at iSE has allowed me to begin my professional career in the third sector, in a role that I could not have imagined of applying for six months ago. I have gained in both practical experience and confidence and my employer has gained a new employee, who now has prior knowledge of the business and who they know fits in well with the rest of the team.
The word ‘intern’ has perhaps become a somewhat tarnished word. However, from my experience at iSE, when handled with responsibility and offered as a means of growth not just for the individual but for the organisation too, hiring an intern can be a worthy investment for any business.
by Kathy Stein