As many students and graduates are looking forward to starting an internship in the next few weeks (and some are interning already) I thought I would give an honest account of being 'The Intern'. Straight from the horses mouth, so to speak.
Coming from someone well-practised in the unpaid internship, I have to say first of all, that they are a brilliant way to get a foot in the door. Internships will help you to build up a contact base that you will keep re-visiting in the years to come.
So - The Big Question. To be paid or not to be paid? It’s an incredibly difficult position to be in as a new graduate – you’re ready to start making some money for the use of your hard-earned skills... But a publisher often wants to see someone who has real life experience of working in the industry before employing them. Thus: the ideal situation for most is to be a paid intern. Don't close your browser yet!
You have the right to be paid minimum wage for your time and a decent publisher will pay you - however there are some companies that really are too small and just don’t have a budget for interns. That’s where it’s up to you. Some will see the benefit in doing what you can to get the experience that will lead to employment. On the other hand, if no-one makes a stand for their right to be paid, then paid internships will be harder to come by. The best thing to do is try and secure an internship whilst you are studying (this is offered by Stirling and Edinburgh Napier University publishing courses). This way you will have that all important experience under your belt that will allow you to ask to be paid for your work as a graduate.
If you're like me and (you like doing things the hard way) you're making a move into publishing from another field and you'll know it's not easy. I have worked two unpaid internships. One was for a decent-sized publisher which had a strong annual turnover, however paying their interns wasn't a priority. This publisher took on an intern every three months, 12 months a year, to work 3 days per week in a front of house role - with many responsibilities. You can decide how much they valued their interns, but it was my first internship and I was grateful for it: it opened the door for me. My second saw me working from home, part-time, for 9 months in a role with much more responsibility (9 months is a long time, but I really loved what I was doing). I decided to finish up however, when I felt it was no longer offering me anything new.
It’s important to not feel so grateful that you are taken for granted. You can ask if they would like you stay on for payment, and be brave enough to leave when they say they can’t. You can’t work for free forever.
A lot of people will be happy to work for free. If that’s you, then be prepared. There's a risk you will be ‘The Intern’ who is there to carry out the mundane tasks that no-one else wants. However! If you are keen and can show you are willing to learn, and offer ideas - then hopefully you will be given some real work to get your teeth into. Be warned: respect for 'The Intern’ can be sparse when you work for free. It’s OK to remind people your name is not ‘The Intern’, and that you are generously donating your time and skills to the benefit of their business in return for gaining solid experience that you can take with you into future employment. If you are good at your job people will notice.
Onward! My third publishing role was a paid, part-time job at Floris Books, for a limited period of 4 months over the summer. From day one I was a member of the team, contributing ideas, having my own workload and being involved with events. I received dedicated training and feedback, and was frequently asked what skills I wanted to learn, and what would be valuable to me in moving on to permanent employment. It was a two-way street from the off, and it made every bit of difference. Finally! My faith is restored. (Any publishers with interns reading this may want to take note.)
The good news is the number of paid internships are on the rise. People are waking up to the fact that our graduates are going into the world - and being told they can’t gain employment without the experience that no one is offering to pay them for. These graduates are educated adults, with
skills and knowledge that are essential to business development and growth. And they are being cheated out of fair payment for their work.
In the last couple of years there's been a bit of a buzz in the media over the ‘unpaid internship problem’ with specialists the industry like Suzanne Collier demanding that publishers start paying people for their work. It proved to be the catalyst for an onslaught of media coverage on the rights of the intern. This discussion is still rumbling today - a simple Google search on intern rights turns up a plethora of articles discussing the situation both in the UK and around the world.
So if you are about to take the plunge remember - it is your right to be paid and it's your right to be vocal about it. If you do decide to go for an unpaid internship give them all you've got and make them notice you. Keep asking questions, offer ideas, and be nice! Being friendly and approachable will make people even more keen to offer you tasks and to engage with you.
More importantly it will make them remember you!
*You can have a further look into employment rights for interns here https://www.gov.uk/employment-rights-for-interns and check out Suzanne Colliers Book careers website here www.bookcareers.com for helpful careers advice.
**if you haven't already joined, check out the Society for Young Publishers - there are committee's in London, Oxford, the North & Midlands and Edinburgh (I'm the social media officer here - see my page) We host monthly events and networking opportunities for young publishers. Our Edinburgh committee will be hosting 'The Intern' event in the next few weeks so keep your eyes peeled! It's a great chance to hear about internship success stories in publishing.