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Should I do a placement/internship?

Many university courses offer the opportunity of undertaking a placement/internship. The question for many is then whether it is worthwhile undertaking a placement/internship (henceforth internship).

On the whole it makes sense to do an internship because the vast majority of employers like to see some form of work experience on a CV. Even if you are an A-star student, without some work experience the employer is running a risk employing you as you have not been ‘tested’ in the real world of work. This leads to the first issue you need to bear in mind when deciding to undertake an internship:

For example, if you already work evening and weekends in a bar or as a waiter/waitress then what is the point in signing up for an internship as a waiter/waitress (I know plenty of people who have unwittingly done this)?

This leads to the next crucial point: if you are going to undertake an internship make sure you get in writing from your employer an outline of the work you will be expected to do. There are many unscrupulous employers who see interns as cheap and motivated labour. They promise managerial positions and end up providing the unwary intern with manual jobs.

One of the key benefits of undertaking an internship is getting your foot in the door of a company you consider working for when you graduate. The internship gives the employer the opportunity to get to know you, and for you to get to know the employer. Similarly, if you are not sure about where you would like to go in your career then and internship could be a good ‘dry run’ for testing out a potential career. Bear in mind though, to get a flavour of a particular job you don’t need in most cases an entire year!

Should you be paid for your internship? In my opinion the answer is an unequivocal ‘yes’. The internship provider is making use of your labour – not just any labour, labour of an intelligent and motivated individual. Employers often argue that they are giving you experience and that they have to train you and that they are therefore investing in you (and that they do not therefore have to pay you on top of this). There is some truth in this argument, but I am pretty confident in arguing that the benefits of your labour outweigh the cost of training you. After all, the majority of interns hit the ground running and contribute to the operations of the employing organisation straight away. Many employers exploit the fact that graduates are desperate to find work and will do almost anything to get a foot on the employment ladder, even if this means working for free! (This obviously also has ramifications for social mobility – who can afford to work without earning anything? Furthermore, some employers charge interns for providing internships!).

So, returning to the question of whether to undertake an internship, the answer is a guarded ‘yes’. In most cases it does make sense. Just make sure you get the right internship for you. Otherwise it could turn into a complete, and expensive, waste of time!