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Should I Intern First?

By: J.A.J Aaronson - Updated: 19 Apr 2012 | comments*Discuss
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The employment market is currently particularly difficult for jobseekers. Employers are unusually cautious about hiring new staff members, and competition for posts is very fierce.

In this environment it is understandable that those looking for jobs are also looking for ways to distinguish themselves. What do you do to make yourself stand out from the crowd? It is difficult to do this, particularly if you have little experience in the field in which you wish to work.

Internships are increasingly being used for this purpose. Many people believe that interning at a firm will help to improve their employment prospects. But is this really the case?

What is an Internship?

An internship is a temporary placement in a company. They can be of virtually any length, although internships in the UK are most commonly between three and six months long. They are generally unpaid.

These positions were originally designed to provide interns with valuable on the job training. They could therefore be considered similar to a short-term apprenticeship. Today, though, many firms offer internships simply with the intention of finding individuals prepared to work for free. Prospective interns should therefore choose their positions carefully.

What Are My Rights as an Intern?

All workers in the UK have some rights – although, given the way some interns are treated, this might not appear to be the case. Your specific rights will depend on your arrangement with the company in question, and your working patterns. Generally speaking, if you have a specified list of duties, and you are required to attend work during set hours, you will be classed as an employee. This gives you a broad range of rights, including the right to be paid the National Minimum Wage.

It is worth noting that the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development has recently suggested that interns who do not class as employees should be paid a ‘development rate’ of at least £2.60 an hour. These proposals have not yet been taken up.

Does an Internship Guarantee Me a Job?

The simple answer to this question is ‘no’. Generally speaking, there will be no guarantee of employment at the end of an internship. There are moves afoot to improve the rights granted to interns who work without this guarantee, but again these are yet to be taken up.

So why do people intern? In some cases, internships will indeed help to differentiate you from other candidates. Not all internships are offered simply because the firm wants someone to stuff envelopes for free; many businesses take on interns because they genuinely want to develop skilled new members of their workforce.

An increasing number of recent graduates are turning to internships as a way of getting a foot on the career ladder. If you are considering this course of action, you should speak to your university first. They may be able to suggest firms that offer reputable internship schemes.

Internships can be a great way of kick-starting your career. But you must remember that there may be no guarantee of employment at the end of an internship – so choose your position carefully.

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