Four ways to avoid getting exploited at your internship

January 14, 2016
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Interning is pretty unavoidable these days, and if played right, it can be an incredibly valuable experience. The key is developing savviness and knowing when the experience stops being an opportunity and starts being exploitation.

Don’t forget that even though you’re most likely not being paid, your time is still valuable and you deserve to get something out of the experience. Here’s how to do just that.

Choose the right internship for you

First up, where do you ideally want to work? Figure out the skills you need to get you there, and thus, where you should intern to gain the right know-how. You’re not getting paid, so the skills you develop and the experience you gain is your reward.

Be creative when selecting where you’ll apply. Look at the roles you’ll undertake, and see if you want to learn them. Even if the role you’re applying for isn’t necessarily in your dream industry, you have to gauge whether or not some of the skills involved will be helpful in the long run. Maybe you don’t want to be a marketing hotshot, but a digital marketing internship can make you a boss digital communicator.

Don’t waste time collecting meaningless internships to bulk up your CV. Unlike Tinder, this is serious, and there’s no point working for free unless you get something out of it.

Keep yourself in check

Once you’ve landed the right internship for you, make sure you’re going to get what you need from the experience. Brainstorm and think laterally, then jot down what you want. Maybe it’s a specific skillset that’ll help you land your dream job, or perhaps it’s a role with great networking potential.

Keep your goals close at hand and at the forefront of your mind. As you learn and experience more at your internship, update and revise your list. The key is to get as much knowledge and experience as you possibly can.

Whatever you want from your internship, having things down in point form keeps you on-track and will make sure you get the most from the experience.

Maximise your internship and don't waste your time

A lot of internships will be an illustrious mix of coffee runs and admin.

The value of your internship is really up to you. Be proactive and show you are keen to learn and that you want to do a good job. People will be more inclined to give you work if they think you care.

If, after this, the bulk of your time is spent remembering if that decaf skim latte was extra hot, then it’s time to get a little bit sneaky. Stalk the paid people and see what they’re up to. Ask around and see if anyone has more interesting work for you. Try and learn by observation, and see what tips you can pick up.

Develop an eagle eye for exploitation

Interning can very easily become exploitative. Interning experience can make or break your job application, but unfortunately, sometimes it can become a little unfair.

Don’t bother with internships that don’t have a timeframe, and don’t be afraid to ask about it in the interview. If they don’t give you a definite answer, don’t take it. You’re there for practical experience and not so the company or organisation can avoid hiring another person. Your internship should be fulltime short-term or part-time long-term. And be cautious of vague job opportunities offered as an incentive for you to stay longer.

However, if you’re a savvy and smart intern, you can maximise the experience and leave armed with a glowing resume.

Remy Varga

Remy is multimedia journalist based in Sydney. She likes gender, politics, international relations and is a keen enthusiast of Latin America.

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