the world of interning

The Devil Wears Prada while somewhat realistic, is still far too glamourous

To get a job in the media, you need more than just a degree, in fact, sometimes you don’t need a degree at all, you need experience. Why? Because just like in The Devil Wears Prada “a million girls would kill for this job”, though it’s not exclusive to just women. If you think work experience and interning is “beneath you” and you think you will be fine with just a degree, then good luck, because there are thousands out there willing to work for free for the chance that they may someday land a job in the media. I know, because I was one of them.

In hindsight, journalism was probably not the smartest field to break into. I don’t live in Sydney, my parents don’t know anyone (well they do, just not the right people for my field, if I wanted to get into classical music, I’d be sweet) and there are millions of girls who grew up writing and dreamed of working for a magazine, wanting to be like Andy Sachs in The Devil Wears Prada or Andie Anderson in How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days. It also wasn’t smart because my name isn’t Andy/Andie. But nonetheless, it was something I pursued and you can read about that over on KiKi & Tea.

So what has led me to talk about the world of interning? I was reading about it in Good Weekend. In a brilliant article by Fennella Souter was looking into the ethical nature of internships. She said, in part:

Anecdotal evidence – and there is no hard data – suggests a growing number of Australian companies, both the reputable and the fly-by-night, are offering young people situations that look remarkably like a job but are termed an “internship”, “placement”, “work experience” or a “trial” … all unpaid. (We’re not talking here of such arrangements tied to an accredited course requirement, now known as “work-integrated learning”, although arguably those, too, are open to exploitation.)

What happened to proving yourself through interviews, resumes and paid trial periods? Workplace laws allow for a generous six- to 12-month probation period in which to dismiss an unsatisfactory employee. Where’s the risk for the employer?

On the face of it, internships look like a good thing: a foot in the door, experience at the coalface, some flesh on a skinny CV, a chance to showcase talent, network, etc. So sought after are they in the so-called glamour industries, kids are trampling each other in a stampede to work for nothing.

But what if young people are willing to do them? Does that make it all right? No, says Stewart, because you cannot agree to illegal arrangements, if that’s what these turn out to be. “And given that it’s not legal to volunteer to be paid less than the minimum rate of pay for a particular job,” he continues, “why should it be legal to put your hand up to work for nothing, assuming you’re not volunteering in the broader sense [e.g. charity work]?”

But even if some of these arrangements turn out to be legal, there’s another question. Are they just?

I would strongly recommend reading the rest of this article where it details that many have had to pay to undertake internships which sees them working a full time job for nothing. I have been lucky. I have not felt exploited. Some places were more helpful than others, but I rarely (though not never) felt that I was doing the work of a paid position. Heck, I would happily have gone to buy Mia Freedman a banana. I was the eager workie who would do anything and everything you asked and didn’t ask.

I am grateful for all of the interning experiences I have had. I gained invaluable insight into the magazine world that I wouldn’t trade for anything. But has it helped me in gaining employment post-uni? Not even a little bit. I can’t tell you the amount of times I was called about a position I had applied for and was met with “Wow Monique, you have so much experience, but unfortunately, it’s not the kind of experience we’re looking for”. I’m sorry, what? What more could I have done?

I interned at one magazine for eight months which involved me catching a train from Bathurst to Sydney and back once a week where I would work for free. On top of that, I was the Entertainment Writer and Sub Editor at my university magazine for two years. I took any opportunity I could to write for free. I interned at five more magazines, one over a period of three months, and I started a personal blog (which you are currently reading) and started contributing to Mamamia (albeit only once though not for lack of trying) and KiKi & Tea in an attempt to get my name and my words out there.

I love my job, I do. I feel good about the work I do and I absolutely adore the people I work with, but it is not a job in the journalism world. I work in the communications department of a non-government organisation. The work we do and why we do it is something to be proud of, but all the experience I gained from interning at magazines and all the money I spent to work for free have effectively amounted to nothing.

This is no ones fault and I am not bitter, it is unfortunately the state of the job market at the moment, especially in the media. But I can’t imagine how much harder it would have been if I had no interning experience at all.

Have you ever had to intern? Did you feel exploited? Did you love it? Do you think it’s necessary or is it taking advantage?

Picture Picture

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