Connor McGovern and The Cursed Internships

AT LONG LAST at least now I can give people a bit more of an answer when they ask ‘so what are doing now?’ – a question that has thankfully morphed from the ceaseless ‘so what have you got planned next?’ before I graduated. But while so many of my peers have ended it up in actual job things, it seems a sizeable chunk of us haven’t, and use this time of unshackled liberty and educated-ness to travel and sew memories from the money they have saved or garnered from various sources. Sadly I’m not one of those people, and join the equally sizeable chunk who embark on a journey of interning.

OK, not quite beaches in the Philippines or volunteering in Brazilian favelas, I know, but interning has a good side. I was especially lucky to secure an internship at a media company through a friend’s sister after uni, which in turn has turned into a three-month job. My colleagues are marvellous, I’ve always got lots to do and am learning things at the same time. But for every one person enjoying their internship as much as me, there are bound to be a dozen others selling themselves to get somewhere in the world. It’s an occupational curse that never seems to break for us poor millennials. So why do we do it?

Well, it’s obvious isn’t it? We’re familiar with the old chestnut of ‘no experience, no job; no job, no experience’. So it seems internships are the solution to this most vicious of circles. Why not work for free? Suits the employer, suits the desperate-and-ambitious-young adult. Yet there comes a point, aspirations and convenience aside, that practicality and morality wander into play. Luckily my internship covered most of my costs, but a lot of them don’t. Interns are humans too, and need to pay for things, including getting to the job, clothes for the job, eating at the job, getting home from the job, and having a life outside of it, too.

I was recently looking for jobs internships in Spain, and I was contacted about a subeditorial role at a company in Barcelona. Lots of tasks I would be responsible for, lots of skills I had, 40 hours a week – but I was reminded at the bottom of the page that it was an unpaid position. The list of tasks was as long as the scream I let out in horror – the working week was no different to anyone else there, and I’d be living in one Europe’s pricier cities. And I was to be paid nada for it.

I wasn’t once the editor-in-chief of Tatler, I know that, but I have something good to offer, I said to myself, and to be paid nothing for a full working week is, frankly, taking the piss. I lament the situation to a friend, who, too, has been interning, running around a company’s corridors for next to no remuneration, and we decide it’s some kind of contemporary slavery. Exaggerated yes, but a lot of the time interns are tea-fetchers and paper-filers, awkwardly on the edge of inside office jokes and sat in front of a computer that the woman on maternity leave used to have. There’s little obvious reward except the distant glimmer of an embellished CV for most. It’s not so bad if you’ve bagged an internship at a top bank in Canary Wharf; they command £40k-a-year pro rata salaries but, à la Lord Voldemort, interns will have to give over a large fragment of their soul in return. While media types don’t quite get mentally whipped as much as investment bankers of the future, that’s not the point – if it’s a good internship, our time, effort and skills are used all day, and some money in return to make that easier would be very helpful.

As I helplessly watch another £26 wriggle out of bank account for the day before getting on the train to London, I try to reassure myself it’s all worthwhile. Of course it is, I’m getting great experience in the industry I want to work in, building connections and honing my skills. But at the same time, I’ve now done several unpaid internships, and now I have to spend half of the small sum I earn on a train, with little left from after university, and watch my bank balance deplete and deplete. It gets rather deflating. This plight isn’t forever, thank God, and it could be a lot worse, but it makes me wonder when the ‘internship phase’ will end. When will I get to a point where I have enough ‘experience’ to get a job? When will those people in Barcelona with that perfect-sounding internship stop thinking it’s OK to make ambitious adolescents work a full working week for months for free?

Elusive experience is to interns what blood is to vampires, it seems. It is golden, highly prized, and the more you get of it, the stronger and stronger you get. While I don’t quite see myself as Dracula, I don’t quite see myself as an intern forever, either.

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