Archive for August, 2011

Photocopying and parties with the stars- internship at a media company

After my college graduation, I began my three month internship at a high profile media company. My job description was very general. The main tasks included going through the newspapers every morning and composing folders of all newspaper clippings related to the company and delivering them to the heads of each department. I also wrote numerous press releases for upcoming shows and series, but I often found myself jumping in for other people when and where needed. Sometimes this meant updating the press website, uploading pictures and rewriting press releases. At other times I updated the contact lists or made photocopies and ran various small errands.

The majority of the employees are in their twenties or early thirties and the atmosphere in the company is very laid-back and relaxed. Every Friday they throw themselves mini-receptions on the work floor. Everyone pitches in and two or three employees go out to get the booze and snacks. Around 5 pm everyone stops working and it’s time to start socialising! Work is sometimes discussed, but the majority of the time the conversations are about their personal lives and an absolute favourite is of course, ‘who’s doing who, where, when and how’.

The company lacked any form of hierarchy.  Everyone knows who the big boss is, but no one seems intimidated by him or any of the heads of the various departments. Jokingly insulting each other happens on a daily basis and I even witnessed the head of the department and one of the VJ’s re-enacting a scene from “Celebrity Death match”. The throwing of things (including full beer cans) across the room and into ventilators is considered extremely funny. Being in the middle of a scene like that, is like finding yourself in the middle of a ‘’Jackass’’ episode. The jokes told most often by the male colleagues, were always extremely vulgar to the point where they were sickening. One of the compny’s VJs, particularly enjoyed pulling down his pants and flashing everyone around him.

The contact between the colleagues of the Press office was anything but good. For a communications department, there was very little direct communication. Despite sitting right next to each other, all communication was done through email and issues or questions were never presented straight up. Despite the internal rivalries and horrific backstabbing scenes in the Communications department, there were also some great experiences.

I was able to attend the Kids Choice Awards and the TMF Game Awards, as a backstage crew member. These were amazing experiences and allowed me to see how such huge events are run from behind the scenes, backstage and inside the press rooms. Also very exciting, was when a Belgian rock-band came to play in our cafeteria and everyone was let off early to attend this private mini-concert. This was not the only time celebrities came to the office. Pop and rock stars were constantly walking in and out of the studio and it was not uncommon to find oneself face to face with the artist of the week.

Another great thing about working for the company is all the free goodies you get to take home, from simple key chains and stickers, to hats, t-shirts and bags, just to name a few. They were also incredible at organizing parties and everyone who’s anyone wants to be seen at these events. As an employee, you are of course also invited to these parties as a V.I.P. The amount of financial and time investment that goes into these events is simply amazing.

Looking back, my three month internship, allowed me to experience both the positive and negative aspects of working in this industry. I met new people, I experienced new things, I had to learn to deal with new situations, but most of all I believe it was a valuable experience, in that it gave me a chance to learn a lot about myself and what is that I am looking for in a future job.

Internships are for the rich

We got this email from a non-intern- priced out of her chosen industry’s employment market…

Simply put, I believe internships are only a viable option for people from high socio-economic backgrounds. I cannot afford to do free work and I will be made to suffer for it as an employer will value the 3 month admin internship one student has completed, over my 2 years of paid employment in a retail environment, just because they could take the time and money to do it in the first place.

The counter argument may be that an employer will recognise my hard work and dedication anyway? However, in my experience companies demand specific kinds of work experience. You don’t get experience if someone does not give you a chance to learn but you guessed it, they won’t give you that chance without previous experience. Thus, I expect, this vicious circle continues to haunt many other young people like me.

My friend managed to get an internship in the heart of international politics, Washington D.C. I was of course very proud of her but at the same time envious she could afford it in the first place. She will have the edge over any other competitor in future job applications having had this fantastic opportunity, whereas I, being a mere political geek and fanatic, will probably get yet another rejection email. Or I may get ignored completely as “due to high demand we will only respond to applicants requested for interview”. A thoroughly sad and pathetic image of me eagerly refreshing hotmail for months on end as I remain totally nonethewiser comes to mind.

Companies like hiring free workers, (Well that’s no surprise) but the idea of free labour is absurd. However, our government is allowing them to get away with it! Even Nick Clegg has been criticised for getting an unpaid intern. (Come on Nick, haven’t you done enough to make young people dislike you?!) If a company needs the manpower then they should pay for the labour and not fob it off as ‘work experience’. Shame on them.

So to shape all my ranting into some discernable argument, internships are a way for companies to get free admin done and as a result, employers now give it a status on a young person’s CV that those that cannot afford to work for free, are penalized for not having.

The price of an EU mouse

Internship at the European Parliament office (The Hague) - no wage or expenses paid:

My whole life I dreamt of working for an EU institution, so when I was offered an internship at the European Parliament, I was absolutely thrilled. It was unpaid but I couldn’t have cared less. I was convinced that this was going to be the stepping stone to a great career…

My main task as ‘an eager-to-learn intern’ was the collection and selection of newspaper clippings related to the EU. There is a very specific procedure to follow: At eight thirty in the morning, over a cup of coffee and the latest gossip, the employees read the Dutch national newspapers and note down which articles refer to the EU. One person then photocopies the articles, which are in turn cut out by the intern. Articles that are too big have to be cut and pasted on an A4 sheet of paper and then the lot is photocopied again. The intern then takes the stack of photocopies and selects the ten most important articles, which are placed in order of relevance. The other less relevant photocopies land in the trash can. The selection is checked by a third person and after authorisation the intern puts the selection through the scanner. Next the intern takes the photocopies to a fourth person, who then sends them by email to the relevant parties. The whole process takes two and a half to three hours.

A funny anecdote from my time at the EP was my acquaintance with a mouse, which allowed me to experience the highly bureaucratic procedures involved in important decision making…

The EU mouse was an ugly, dirty little creature that seemed to enjoy the company of EP employees, as it happily ran around the work floor. One of the employees decided to collect information with regard to the various possibilities available. It was extensively discussed at the office meeting the next day and most employees agreed that something ought to be done about ‘the mouse problem’. The EP contacted the Bureau of the European Commission to discuss the best possible procedure to follow.

Later on in the week I received an interesting email, which informed me that the company hired to clean the office, was also qualified to remove mice and would be willing to do so. Great! Finally I would be able to sit behind my desk again, without frantically looking up every five minutes in the fear that my space would be invaded by the mouse.

The mouse probably wasn't this cute

Except it wasn’t quite that simple…. The cleaning company had up until that point only been employed to clean and thus their contract said nothing about removing mice. Therefor before the company could begin their work, they were asked to make an offer, specifying the exact costs of this little mouse to the EU. Brussels had then to be informed of the ‘problem’. Not only did they have to be informed, but they also had to give authorisation to employ this particular company and ensure it all fitted within the budget. They would then send a confirmation of approval to the EP in The Hague, who in turn would be able to contact the company and inform them that they were the lucky ones who were authorised to remove the mouse.

Today the EU mouse still runs around the office, enjoying his European freedoms and privileges, while behind closed doors men and women in suits are discussing its future.

Interns should get what they want or else walk out

An anonymous contributor sent us the following article – the title might have unpleasant connotations but the intern in question is talking about getting a positive experience that will boost your CV…rather than a flat screen TV

As a complete nobody hailing from the arse-end of Nowhere, I empathise with those looking to do an internship, particularly those looking to get into journalism, public affairs and politics.

The principle of getting up in the morning and doing a full day’s work, often for protracted periods and for the sum total of zero pence is now so firmly entrenched in our economy that companies will factor in interns and rotate them as though they were permanent staff. The employer knows full well that there is no job for the poor sucker at the end of it, but the prize is dangled before them anyway. It can be soul destroying. But, done right, interning can also be fantastic. Allow me to elaborate.

 After graduating from university, I took on a piss-poor admin job. My boss was, to coin a swear, a knobjoy and the pay was appalling. Happily, the business folded and I found myself gainfully unemployed. With a few pennies (though not many) set aside, I decided I had nothing to lose and, accepting the dire state of the jobs market for mediocre arts graduates, threw myself into interning.

I haven’t eaten since, but I’ve met some genuinely lovely people, proved that I can dress myself, and gained experience that simply wouldn’t have been open to me if the internships hadn’t been there. That’s not to say, of course, that the experience hasn’t wildly differed with each employer. As with the real world, there are both terrible employers and fantastic ones, and the lot of the intern, in my view, rests on the understanding and dedication of the employer in making your time worthwhile.

My first internship was a two-week stint with a national newspaper. As I’ve said, I’m no one of any note, so a place on a paper seemed like a dream. I knew I would bankrupt myself, but it seemed too good an opportunity to turn down. Told to turn up in ‘smart casual’ and to ‘read up on my current affairs’, I expected to enter a professional working environment filled with vibrant, enthusiastic staff ready to make use of my in-depth knowledge of politics and forensic analytical mind.

 In reality, of the one and a half weeks I spent there, about three hours were spent doing anything of use. I didn’t have a desk, any tasks or indeed any kind of introduction to the permanent members of staff, things often seen as prerequisites for, y’know, helping a company in any way. I loitered like a cheap whore around the desks of writers I’d previously admired and fired out plenty of suggestive e-mails seeing if my services were required. Alas, it was not to be, and with each expenses-unpaid day I felt less and less like a human being.

Yet, while it would be easy to sob into my Tesco-own cereal (we interns dream of Jordan’s Crisp) about this state of affairs, I actually found the whole experience empowering. Seeing a disorganised sinking ship of a paper laid bare before my eyes shattered a certain myth in my mind about journalism. The knowledge that I was still young, (reasonably) clever and qualified and that this particular paper had stuck two fingers up to my offer of free labour, felt perversely liberating. As each wasted hour on Twitter ticked by, I figured it was actually their loss. In the end, I stopped turning up to the internship. No one even noticed I’d gone, while their inability to remember my name means I still get a reference, and don’t look back.

My next internship was definitely a gamble. But by financially ruining the people I love, and through a combination of putting on a posh voice and exaggerating my limited achievements, I somehow wound up as an intern for an established radio station. The new internship felt less like an extended, demeaning tour of an office and more like an actual, useful work placement. I was still earning nothing, but from day one I had a gut feeling that I would come away from the experience immeasurably more employable. Unlike the paper, I’d been sat down to a formal interview, been given a desk, a proper company e-mail account, responsibility, training and, heaven forbid, I was treated like a colleague rather than a massive inconvenience.

Within a week I knew the names of everyone in the office and they even knew mine. They respected my opinions, answered my questions and gave me serious responsibilities, not just menial tasks to keep me occupied. I got the genuine sense they understood the bargain we were making; as a graduate, I was ready to work hard for them, provided I wasn’t being taken for a ride.

 Let me be clear: in an ideal world, employers would risk taking on unproven graduates with raw potential. They’d spot your talent and invest the resources in training you up to be the best you can be. But we don’t live in that ideal world. We live in an economy where more and more graduates are competing with each other for lower and lower paid jobs. That’s an awful reality, but it’s reality nonetheless.

As an intern, what you really need to remember is that you are an equal partner in the experience: you owe them nothing, and the real reason that you’re doing this is for your own career. If you’re ignored, undervalued and treated like dirt by people, walk out. You will lose nothing but a few days, and your confidence will actually grow. If a company wastes your time, throw a spanner in their works and waste theirs.

If, however, a company seems willing to nurture your potential and is willing to take advantage of your generous offer of free labour, providing you with proper advice, the occasional dressing down and a glowing reference then, even if they can’t offer you a job, the whole experience will have been worth a punt.

 Nobody wants to work for nothing, so my simple advice would be don’t. If you’re making yourself skint, make sure it’s worth your while in other ways, and remember that not all internships are the same.



Interns Anonymous

We want this website to be a forum for interns to share their experiences and discuss the ethics of unpaid employment. Most importantly, we want this site to be a place where YOU can tell us your story.


Interns Anonymous accept no responsibility for the contents of the blog, comments or any other content on this site that is posted or provided by third parties. This website is designed to act as a forum for interns to share experiences and opinions about their work, therefore, we will not censor opinions we do not agree with. The opinions stated in blog contributions do not represent those of Interns Anonymous. We disclaim all liability for such content to the fullest extent permitted by law. If you have any queries please email us.

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