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11/2/2015 5:57:16 PM

Should you take an internship?

These days, climbing the career ladder isn’t as straightforward as it used to be. Gone are the days of finishing school to start a job you wouldn’t leave until retirement. The twenty-first century jobs world is dynamic and transient… and tough. Although we’re currently in the grip of a national skills shortage, with employers crying out for suitably qualified candidates, the dreaded ‘E’ word - experience - still prevents many capable and ambitious applicants from gaining a foot on the ladder. If you suspect a lack of experience is standing between you and the job you want, it might be time to consider an internship. Be warned, it’s not for everyone but it could make a huge difference to your career prospects.

What is an internship?

Think of an internship as a cross between volunteering and a work placement. Yes, we know what you’re thinking: ‘you don’t get paid for either of those things’ and, in many cases, the same is true for an internship. Therefore, this might not be the ideal solution if you have a mortgage and family to support but for recent graduates or school leavers it could be ideal. Like a placement, an internship is an opportunity to gain some valuable life and work skills in your chosen industry. Like volunteering, not only will it look great on your CV, but it may help you decide exactly what you do - or don’t - want to do in life, as well as open career doors that an impersonal job application might not.

Is it right for me?

Before deciding whether or not an internship is right for you, take a look at some of the pros and cons.

The Pros

Variety is the spice of life

If you’re lacking experience, an internship offers an opportunity for you do ‘a bit of everything’! This is particularly useful if you are quite new to the world of work as you will be introduced to roles and departments you never knew existed. For those of you who have a fixed idea of the role you want to pursue an internship will give you the chance to gain job specific skills, a prerequisite of many job applications.

Access all areas

An internship gives you access to people you might not otherwise get to meet, it’s a chance to learn from the best in your field. Perhaps you’ll discover an aspect to your chosen career that you weren’t previously aware of. A takeaway of your internship will be to develop the new skills needed to do the role properly and become a more appealing applicant.  

Not only will you be able to ask lots of questions about your chosen career to the people who do it day in day out but you’ll also have an opportunity to put yourself on their ‘radars’, so to speak. Make a good impression as an intern and they might just remember you when a job vacancy arises in future.  

Find your niche

With internships, you’ll be placed in a variety of different departments which will help you understand where you fit into in the professional workplace. For example, if you spend twelve weeks in the marketing department and then twelve weeks in PR, you’ll notice a difference in their purpose that might not be apparent to ‘outsiders’. If you’ve always considered yourself a marketer an internship might prove that you’re actually better suited to PR. This saves you future heartache and stops potential employers making a bad hire out of you - win win.

The Cons

Money, money money?

This issue may actually be resolved as there have been talks about whether unpaid internships are legal. However, for the time being, it is acceptable to undertake an internship for up to a year and receive no pay and, sometimes, no money for expenses either. For all the pros, this is the reason most people don’t pursue internships and it’s understandable why. If you have a family to provide for it’s just not feasible, despite the huge future career potential an internship can offer (however, if you have family who can support you through an internship then the future payoff could be well-worth twelve months of belt tightening).  

Legal work is defined by working set hours and by being allocated a defined role, rather than just observing other people work. An intern is exactly that: an observer. Interns shouldn’t be given an individual workload or job when the intention is for them to ‘shadow’ staff members. Any internships demanding you undertake a set role should entitle you to National Minimum Wage.

General dogsbody

Internships can be frustrating. It’s sad but true, you may not be thought of as an equal member of staff, and in some cases employees will treat you as a general dogsbody. Just look at the way they’ve been portrayed on TV and in the movies - forever being sent to buy coffee or being lumbered with the menial jobs no one else wants. The stigma associated with internships can make it difficult for you to shake off the label and show co-workers your individuality and ambition.

Tales of the unexpected

The experience of an internship can be unpredictable at best. Yes, this can be a good thing because you get to observe a wide range of different roles in your workplace but it can also be deeply unsettling. For instance, you can be taken off a project at a moment’s notice, a project you’ve had valuable input into, and put into a department you don’t enjoy. You can end up working unsociable shift patterns or alongside people you don’t get along with, just because the business needs to plug a gap. Our advice? Take on an internship and expect the unexpected.

For the right person an internship can be a fabulous opportunity that leads to something spectacular. Just make sure you go into it with your eyes open: be ready for a challenge, remain flexible and don’t take traditional internship prejudices to heart. Give it a shot and we guarantee the skills you acquire and the people you meet along the way will prove to be invaluable rungs in your career ladder.  

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