The Recyclable intern culture

So you’ve left Uni and you want to find that perfectly constructed, soul inspiring internship made just for you? Think again.

This isn’t going to be a tirade of how bad internships can be, but rather a warning to those who are thinking of embarking on this laborious journey after Uni. One of the most frustrating aspects of graduating, that no one really forewarns you about, is the continuous struggle to find a worthwhile and rewarding internship. But how valuable are they? And do they ever lead to that dream job?

Well it all depends on the type of internship, what it entails and the expectations of your duties. My first gripe is that often I find internships that are erroneously advertised as an ‘Internship’ are actually a volunteer position tarted up to look more desirable than what they are. You should always expect a wage for doing a job, especially those (and I’ve seen many) with a very high standard job spec. Countless times I’ve come across so-called ‘Internships’ that pay nothing and expect everything. Gone are the days of being expected to just make coffees and ad-hoc, these are real jobs, with very real and sometimes unfair demands.


I once had an internship, labelled as a ‘Traineeship’ where I was basically expected to do the marketing and PR for this gallery unpaid. And it wasn’t just me, this particular establishment was run solely by interns and the manager (who I dare say paid herself). Incredibly I also spent a year of my life as an Intern at another gallery, holding out hope that it would eventually lead to a job, any job. I wasn’t fussy. But alas my efforts were not rewarded. I was particularly downcast about this one, not only because of the extensive time I spent working for free but the role itself was very hands on (sanding, painting walls, cleaning floors – that sort of thing). With a Fine Art degree I have had my fair share of prepping an exhibition space, so it wasn’t experience I needed but of course I carried out my duties to give myself every opportunity to get a job at the end. And you can’t be lazy. I constantly made sure I was on the radar of all the staff, took on extra work and was always giving them a gentle nudging reminder of my situation and my eagerness to gain a job.

Unpaid internships are never sustainable or condonable, and although I gained some experience to pop on the old CV it did little for my confidence, self-worth and ultimately didn’t get me a job. These types of internships (which sadly are the majority) really are for the rich and therefore elitist. Not only this but:

Unpaid internships cause social and economical issues in the country as a whole. Because not everyone can afford them, employers who host unpaid interns are actively furthering income inequality. Interns are often harassed by corporate employees because they aren’t protected by any laws that apply to paid staff.

Of course, employment rights come into it. As you’re not considered an ’employee’ even though you perform a specific job role you have no rights to holiday, sick days or company benefits. I had a rare paid internship recently that actually told me they couldn’t afford to pay me for a month, and to come back after when they would have some magical new funds in place. I was basically let go for a month without any warning, was out of pocket, and was left feeling deflated. This was somewhere I had worked for 5 months and had gained a rapport with the team. It was stark reminder that I was seen as ‘just an intern’ and had no rights in this regard. I’m sure this is common practice in the arts where funding is vital, but how could I say no, and not return afterwards? I needed the money and the opportunity to continue to something permanent.


This is where I believe Internships (especially in the arts) are heading, into this recyclable intern culture; Churning budding, enthusiastic graduates in and out of theirs doors to supplement their workload. If you’re not up for the challenge, there will always be someone else to fill your place – internships are not unique and rarely (if ever) they are catered with you in mind. That is the hard-hitting truth. It’s whether you have this mind set going in which will prepare for the joys to come (said sarcastically)

However, there is hope! Even though I would not recommend an unpaid internship, paid ones can sometimes lead to big and better things. According to a YouGov survey some 48 per cent of employers who paid interns regarded internships as an important means of recruitment. Compared to 32 per cent of businesses who did not pay their interns.


  • You do gain some valuable, transferable skills and hands-on experience in your sector.
  • One to one contact with potential employees. You can kind of scope out what type of candidate they are looking for in that sector, and use your experience to your advantage for future job interviews. Not only that but it’s also a great opportunity to make new friends and make some real connections with influencers, that you wouldn’t necessary get the chance to at an entry level job.
  • It looks good on your CV, especially if you have a solid amount of time for each internship. It will show dedication and a willingness to really commit to the area you’re passionate about. I would certainly recommend after your first internship to narrow the field of expertise you want to continue on, as this again will promote your eagerness to prospect employers that you want to make a career for yourself.

I’m sure there are more that could be listed but I can’t think of them! What I will say is don’t limit yourself, but don’t let employers take advantage of your fresh graduate status, and your budding eagerness to land a role. If you’re doing a job, and all the demands, expectations and stress that come with it, you should certainly get paid for that job.


Quote taken from Taboo News 

Image taken from the Telegraph

Other Useful Resources:

Intern Anonymous

The Plight of the Intern article

Intern Aware


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