Australia’s competitive job market has made landing a job after graduation no piece of cake. As students, we try so hard to have an edge in the job market that we would do anything to gain experience through internships, paid or unpaid. We hope it will result in reference letters and glowing resumes that set us apart from the others.
In recent years, however, there has been heated debate over internship practise, and it remains a controversial issue. Are they exploitative or beneficial?
In the Sydney Morning Herald, Natalie James said that unpaid internships “should not move beyond merely learning and observing”.
But, if that’s the case, then would we learn anything by doing menial tasks like making coffee or running errands? While internships are still in the grey area, it is made even more confusing due to the lack of regulations. We often find ourselves in a situation where we do not know our rights and are often unsure of what we can reasonably expect or demand from prospective employers.
Then how do we decide if an internship is worth it or not? Here are some signs to help you identify a ‘bad’ internship opportunity.
Your employer makes you work full-time hours
It is advisable that you are aware that you are an intern. Interns are not supposed to assist with business output and productivity, nor should the employer gain direct advantages from your duties. Collen Chen, co-founder of Interns Australia, said to Right Now that ‘intern’ work should not be integral to the business, and the business should not gain more benefits than the intern.
Your internship is more than three months long
The point is to remember that placement is always a short-term arrangement.
You have not learned a new skill
Remember that internships are meant to give you practical work experience that you can’t learn in classrooms.
You are labelled “the intern”
Interns are at the bottom rank of workplace hierarchy. However, it doesn’t mean that you should not be acknowledged. You have your duties and responsibilities as other employees, just in different ways. Remember, you deserve to be treated as an equal.
Your internship has no clear goal
For you to develop your skills, your manager needs to discuss and establish clear goals at the beginning of your internship. These goals also need to be reviewed periodically and your performance needs to be reviewed at the end of your internship.
Your manager ignores your feedback
Interns deserve a productive learning environment. When your manager ignores your feedback, that means you are not valued as part of the team.
All you do is fetch coffee and make copies all day
Interns should have real responsibilities. You should not be assigned to only menial tasks that contribute nothing to your learning experience.
You don’t know who to report to
It is true that interns don’t replace regular employees, but you need to work under close supervision of existing staff. You need to know clearly who to report to. Interns need a manager or supervisor to work with closely, answer questions and give real world advice.
If you see some of these signs in your current internship, please do evaluate the value of your experience. While having an internship is better than none, a bad internship is not worth your time.
If you feel like you’re being exploited as an intern, and you feel like you are facing a problem, you need to stand up for yourself. Talk to your manager, talk to your supervisor, make a conversation with the HR rep or the internship coordinator. If that doesn’t work out, or you feel uncomfortable talking to them, seek assistance from your university’s careers service.
The Greek philosopher, Aristotle, once said, “For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them”.
Be it project management, be it barista skills, be it fixing that Xerox photocopy machine, we learn by experiencing them. However, it is our call to put an end to internships that don’t benefit us.