Internships: Good or bad?


Internship has become shorthand for cheap labour in many companies and some industries. There are countless stories of well-qualified graduates working for free over many months in the vain hope of gaining paid employment.

But before the credit crunch, internships were structured programmes of temporary work and some sectors still do see long term benefit in paying for work experience placements.

Here advocates and detractors put argument for and against contemporary internships.



A smart way for company and potential recruits to get to know each other

“Our summer work programmes helps us identify the most able UK undergraduates in advance of the annual graduate recruitment drive,” says Sarah Shillingford, former graduate recruiter at Deloitte.

The management consultancy sector offers jobs to between 75-90% of their interns. And a benchmark for one financial services quango is that 10% of staff should come from internship or graduate programmes.


Opportunity to inject fresh thinking into teams

“The business wants young talent and fresh thinking in its teams. It also provides opportunities within teams to grow soft skills like managing and mentoring people,” explains Dave Gartenberg, HR director at Microsoft UK. And it’s clearly been successful as the Microsoft intern programme has been running for over five years.


Opportunity to hire the best and test training within an organisation

Sectors that take internships seriously, (such as financial services) will often offer training as an inducement to get the best candidates.

“Training will build on sessions designed to teach core skills such as presentation, IT, report writing and an introduction to regulation. Interns are mentored throughout their stay” says Vivienne Man, former graduate recruitment associate of the Financial Services Association.


Investment for the future sends a strong brand message

“Internships offer incredible value to both the individual joining the company and to the employing organisation.  But it’s important to define at the outset what an intern will be doing as internships work best when recruits are assigned to a particular project or department,” says Victoria Winkler,  a learning, training and development adviser.




Internship as a source of free labour will damage your reputation

Rufus Cassidy left fashion house Alexander McQueen because it was obvious there was virtually no chance of getting a job there. He says, “They would have been happy for me to continue, but I just couldn’t afford to go on working for nothing. I had already done five unpaid fashion internships elsewhere.”

Interns who may be happy for this arrangement at the beginning may get jaded and delver poor work after a while.


Rich kids may not be the most talented

Internships are even starting to be put out to auction. Charitable fundraising site Bidding for Good auctioned off a one-month internship at Marc Jacobs for $4,000. Over at Charity Buzz, there are currently ten internships on the block including a one-day gig with Fox 2000 Pictures executive Jessica Goodman,  and it offers to help someone “get their foot in the door”.


Reputation is a word of mouth thing – people don’t forget

A public relations executive remembers her introduction to the world of work when she was asked to pay for work experience at an international advertising agency. “It was a very well known name and I was seriously tempted” she says. However she found work with another company that paid all members of staff for their labour as a matter of principle.




Internships are great if you treat your interns right

“Companies continue to exploit new graduates but it is a very short termist strategy,” warns Ruth Spellman, chief executive of Chartered Management Institute. Bottom line, “expecting graduates to work for free with no guarantee of work is just bad practice” says Spellman.


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