Five signs your internship isn’t legit

December 13, 2016
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Interning is a controversial but fundamental right of passage for most students in Australia. But a lot of unsavoury businesses have caught onto the necessity of interning and are using the concept to exploit young and vulnerable workers by disguising free labour as “being paid in experience”. Ugh, even that phrase makes us cringe.

So how do you know whether your current internship, or one you’re considering, is actually a great learning experience or whether it’s a total scam in disguise? Well, here are a few signs that might tip you off to the fact of whether your internship is legit or not.

The level of interaction with your supervisor and co-workers

This might seem obvious, but if you work primarily by yourself all day and your supervisor or co-workers make themselves unavailable for questions, you’re probably being taken advantage of. The purpose of an internship is to provide training or real-world experience, which usually involves having a supervisor who checks in on you and monitors your progress.

If your supervisor just gives you a mountain of things to do for the day and leaves you to your own devices, it’s highly likely the company is using you as free labour. Remember that interning is meant to be about what you get out of the position, not what the company you work for does.

Whether you’re doing work that somebody should be paid to do

Under Australian law, if your internship role requires you to do work for free that somebody else should be paid to do, then your ‘internship’ is illegal – and, well, just plain exploitative. This could be creating and implementing a whole marketing campaign, working directly with clients or pumping out some seriously good material.

If what you’re doing could be considered a paying job at another company, it’s time to reconsider whether you really need the experience this internship is meant to provide for you. You’re a talented individual, you should be able to earn some dosh from those skills.

Whether or not you receive immediate training

Even if this training comes in the form of a manual (which it unfortunately does in many cases), you should be receiving immediate and extensive training as part of your internship role. Like I said before, interning is about training you in the ways of the real world and you should be the recipient of some hands-on guidance in order for your internship to remain legit. If you’re worried about not having enough training, first ask your supervisor whether they could explain some of the more difficult processes to you. If they agree, you’re probably fine and your company is not deliberately trying to rip you off. But if they don’t, or they make a big deal out of having to do so, your place of work might not have your best interests at heart.

The amount of interns a company has

While you might not realise this one until you’ve actually started at an internship, if most of the company’s workforce is made up of interns, there is definitely something suspicious afoot. After you’ve made the rounds introducing yourself to everyone, take a moment to run a mental check of the intern to paid employee ratio. If more than 50% of the office is an intern or an otherwise unpaid worker (and you’re not working for a charity or non-profit), your company is possibly trying to cut costs by hiring ‘interns’ as free labour.

If the job descriptions requires you to have an extensive amount of experience

Repeat after me: interning is meant to be a learning experience. If the description of your internship looks like it should be written on some form of ye olde scroll, it’s probably a trap. You should need minimal qualifications for an internship, since you’re going to be learning on the job, right? Sure, having a basic knowledge of coding or Photoshop might be necessary for some internships, but once job descriptions start throwing out phrases like ‘at least one year of experience’, it may be time to look elsewhere.

Shannon Coward

Shannon Coward is a third year Bachelor of Journalism and Bachelor of Arts student at the University of Queensland. She enjoys period dramas, doughnuts and a good nap.

Feature image: Giphy

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