The internship system is sorely abused these days.

There is, quite rightly, a growing campaign against the proliferation of unpaid internships. When employers know that they can get grunt-level employees to work for them, for free, almost indefinitely, it is hardly surprising that a lot of them are firing paid staff and replacing them with a rotating selection of young hopefuls. This is storing up all kinds of problems in our society, from creating entire industries open only to the wealthy and well-connected who can support their children while they work for free, to forcing people to rent for longer because they can’t earn enough to buy property.

So, unpaid internships suck, but what is truly amazing is that people are not only happy to work for free, they’re now paying to work:

“When Roz Tuplin graduated in 2010 she thought that a post-graduate degree in English Literature would be good grounding for a job in the media.

She knew she would have to gain work experience, but after a year of trying to get a placement, she has decided to pay employers £65 a day to let her through the door.

Ms Tuplin, 23, from Wirral, will be paying £260 for a four-day work experience placement with a TV production company in London.”

I don’t know what the dream job for Ms Tuplin is, although I hope she realises the oddity of getting a job to earn money to pay for a job which might get her a job to start her chosen career while her youth ticks away. But I can’t see a connection between having a post-graduate degree in English Literature and working in television. I’m not in any way an expert in these matters, but if I ran a production company, I wouldn’t be hiring someone who had an MA and a four day work experience placement to show for their five years of adulthood. I’ve never applied for an internship because I’ve never had time to do one – I’ve been continuously busy with education, volunteering, politics, activism and personal projects since I left school in 2007, and as I hope this website shows, my CV and employment prospects hasn’t suffered for it.

Another article on paying for internships has this horrifying story:

“Sheila Miller, Albuquerque, says her daughter, Amber, couldn’t find the internship she needed to complete her degree in emergency-management planning at a Texas university. To jump-start their daughter’s career, Ms. Miller and her husband dipped into the remainder of Amber’s college fund late last year to send her to Fast Track Internships, a Highland Village, Texas, consultant founded in 2005. For $799, the firm helped her polish Amber’s résumé and cover letter, identify 133 target employers and mail them all letters and résumés. Amber soon received 15 calls from employers and last week took an unpaid internship with a city police department, writing their emergency-response plan.”

And that, I think, is the heart of this strange new trend. If you are choosing to pay someone £500 to write your CV for you and find potential employers for your very specific and high-paying skills (over your own university’s free careers service, which has an active incentive to find you a job that looks nice in their statistics), when there are hundreds of websites that will help you to do the same for free, the problem is possibly not that there’s a tough job market, but that you’re boring. So boring, that not only will employers not pay you, but they don’t want you using up their air either.

A dead fish
Probably as boring as this fish that came up when I looked up images for internships.

I should point out that this is different from just being in a slow job market. Unemployment is rising across the world, and I’m the first to admit (read: bellow at Tories) that “get on your bike” isn’t an option when there’s 2.6 million unemployed and 500,000 job vacancies. But the really competitive internships are designed to get you into a career, not a job. A career that presumably, you want to do. A career that you have further presumably known you’ve wanted to do for some time (certainly to have taken a degree for it). A career that you have a passion for.

Why then, are you not already doing that career, and demonstrating to employers that you will not, as one friend put it “stick your hands together with the Pritt Stick”? I think anyone who has ever looked into making money online will know the emphasis that every single business site puts on blogging as a way of garnering attention for yourself, but that’s not necessary. If Roz Tuplin wants to work in media, why isn’t she making media? If she wants to make television, why isn’t she making television? My friend Jamie does, and sufficiently well they actually got a commission out of it. What looks better, internship or paid work?

If you’ve got £300 to spend on your own personal development, I suggest you spend it on something that will make you interesting. Buy a camera and tripod, rent an isolated cottage without internet access  until you’ve written that novel, start a charity, start a blog, start a business, join a club, do some volunteering, go woofing, move back in with your parents and refuse to leave until you know who you are and what you want to do. Fail if you need to. But don’t pay someone to let you work for them, it’s an insult to what intelligence you have, and don’t buy advice that’s available for free. If you really, desperately, want to work in a specific field, you should be finding ways to get into it right now, not depending on your work placements to get you a CV worth looking at so you might be able to get into it in the future. And if you don’t care that much, you should be leaving internships to people who do and get yourself a job with someone who is willing to pay you.

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