Internships offer an invaluable foothold in the industry of choice – but differ considerably depending on whether they are paid or unpaid and what type of organisation is involved.
Here at KISS, we firmly believe in the value of paid internships. Most of our internships are for three months and some of our interns have gone on to be offered a permanent job at KISS. They’re a great way to recruit people coming out of sixth form or university, particularly if their studies have not been directly related to PR or marketing. Internships give new entrants an opportunity to work across different departments while deciding if a career in a creative agency is right for them.
But some organisations expect interns to work for free or for ‘expenses’ of around £10 a day. A 2014 survey by the Sutton Trust found that about a third of internships aimed at graduates were unpaid. Unpaid internships are not illegal per se, but anything resembling a proper job – ie regular working hours where the intern is doing actual work, as opposed to work shadowing – is on shaky ground legally, as workers in this situation should be paid at least the minimum wage. There are some exceptions to this: students undertaking placements are not legally required to be paid, nor are volunteers working for a charity.
So why would young people undertake unpaid internships? For careers that are difficult to break into, an internship can open doors that can otherwise remain stubbornly shut. In book publishing, for example, so many people seeking entry-level positions have done an internship of some sort that it can put you at a disadvantage if you haven’t.
Internships can range from anything from a couple of weeks through to several months. The work involved will typically include work shadowing, admin tasks and sometimes more business-critical frontline tasks. Crucially, they should offer something that will look good on the intern’s CV. An intern who is unpaid, or paid expenses only, and ends up doing admin tasks all day long should seriously question the value of that internship.
Jade Taylor-Salazar has been working in publishing for five years, but found it hard to get her foot on the career ladder after finishing an MA in politics. She ended up doing two internships, one for an intergovernmental organisation, the other for a publishing company, before landing a job with the second organisation she interned for.
“Finding a job after uni was really difficult, and after a few months of mind-numbing temp work, while being knocked back for interviews due to my ‘lack of experience’, I realised I was going to have to do something to set me apart from the crowd in the eyes of potential employers,” she says.
“Pursuing an internship seemed like the obvious choice – for me this came in the form of a temporary placement in south-east Asia, but there are no end of companies out there offering opportunities to graduates. Starting out with an internship really helped me to find my feet after university and ultimately helped me to decide on the route I wanted to go down while searching for a permanent job. It supplied me with the much-needed experience all employers want.”
And of course, I’m thrilled that here at KISS our own recent interns were both offered full time employment with us following their internship. Laura Sans Duran worked with us for a year before relocating to the USA and Theo Pepper currently works with us as an AE across a broad range of accounts – learning everything from brand articulation and messaging through to web development and content writing.
It’s a sorry state when the internet is awash with tales of internships gone wrong, so my advice to interns is to try to ascertain beforehand what sort of work they will be undertaking and make sure it will be of value to them before signing up. At KISS we will continue to remain committed to our internship programme, as education is one of our core sectors of expertise. And we love the perspective interns bring to agency life!