I recently started an internship that will last four months and so far so good. Internships can be great for both a person and a company. I have one friend in fashion who has done countless internships that have provided invaluable insights into what she wants to do. However, they have all been without pay and during these times money has always been a massive problem for her. If it is a very short internship, say one or two weeks, no pay isn’t too much of a problem. However, if it is for a long period of time, say three months, no pay can prove really hard for people. One can argue that internships such as this take advantage of the competitive nature of their industry and effectively use interns for free labour. Moreover, it only opens the door to those who can afford to not work for three months, leaving those in less comfortable financial positions struggling to find the experience needed to get a foot in their desired industry.
Another important aspect of internships relates to the work interns are given. Sometimes making coffees and teas for the office or doing basic jobs such photocopying is a part of the job. I had a long chat with my girlfriend about this and she believes that even doing menial tasks like this can help a person learn about a company and how it works. I agree that for a short(ish) period of of time simply doing tasks like this can prove beneficial so long as they continue to learn. However, I think to spend a long internship doing just this and very little else is a little unfair on the intern. Moreover, there’s only so much you can learn doing very little, thus, I think it is important for an intern in long-term roles like this to take on some shred of responsibility and positively contribute to the company.
These are the two main criteria that I would want internships to meet, although I understand people may have different views. In some companies people have had to jump through unpleasant hoops to get a full time job and feel that it is a rite of passage. Of course, these people are entitled to their own opinion, but I am not sure I would endorse the continuation of something that put me through heartache and boredom just for a rite of passage. Contrary to this view, my girlfriend has told me that these rites of passage are actually used to wheedle out the genuine, hard-working, interested interns from those with a false sense of entitlement. If this is the case, then perhaps these rites of passage are important and necessary. Moreover, I might be one of those with a false sense of entitlement – hopefully I’m not!
There is another aspect that I have thought about recently in the internship I started, but it is related to the relationship between employer and intern. The company I am working at have stressed that their internship is an opportunity for them to find out about me and me to find out about them. It is a two way street that serves as an extended job interview. Both parties should be trying to impress one another and promote what is important to them. I admired this view of an internship and think it is a great way to approach the situation.
Aside from their view on the relationship between employer and intern, I also admired the large emphasis the internship have on developing me and their other employees as people. There were twenty other interns on the course alongside me and for the first three days, we had various activities, tests and talks. Some were boring and others were bizarre. The tasks ranged from Chinese whispers to lunch with previous interns. However, one stuck out for me in particular and it is worth repeating for young adults entering the working world or older people thinking about changing jobs.
They simply asked us to think about three things that motivate us in a job. In essence, things that get us out of bed in the morning and make us or would make us want to work. Answers greatly varied and included the likes of money, achievement, people, power and contentment. Interestingly, no one’s answers were identical. What surprised me was how simple the task was but how hard it proved to answer. I would call this an exercise of critical self-reflection, something that I, and others, often try to avoid.
The exercise was certainly worth that strange feeling that arises from critically thinking about oneself. Now that I consciously know what motivates me it is easier to do two things. Firstly, I can now search for a job that is aligned with these three driving factors. For instance, one of my choices was contentment (I know it seems an obvious choice!) and I now know that I should really be looking for a job or career that contents me rather than makes the most money. Secondly, I can now approach tasks within a job with these three criteria in mind, i.e. I can angle how I work and what I work with to fulfil these motives.
In sum, internships can be a great way to understand a business and whether you would enjoy working in a certain role. I would recommend people try the simple exercise I provided above, it only takes five or ten minutes and you could learn something very important about your motivations. Thanks for reading and I’d be interested to see what motivates you so feel free to comment if you are comfortable with telling me!