It seems as though our sense of entitlement really does know no bounds. For many, the concept of giving up a summer holiday for internships seems incredulous and unjust, a form of modern slavery if you will. The idea of spending time within a desired work place that we will hopefully end up in doesn’t just seem premature, it’s outrageous. We work hard for them and deserve the sandy coast of the Maldives and the sun beams of St Tropez. It’s only fair to spend three months trekking through South East Asia or tripping (perhaps literally) through Europe wearing nothing but ironic fabric trousers which frankly resemble nothing but pyjamas and were probably made in a sweatshop in Vietnam. We surely gain much more in Goa than interning at Goldman Sachs? Wrong. As enriching as this socio-political experience is there is nothing more valuable than experience in the field.
At university, we spend four years (give or take) maturing into adults who upon graduation will have to face the daunting prospects of actual responsibilities, actual accountabilities, actual jobs. Every summer, the internet blazes with the injustice of the internship programme. There is anger over long hours, little to no pay and the intense pressure put on budding interns. This concept is one with which we have to sympathise, but we don’t have to let it deter us. Long hours are just hours. It’s what happens when people actually work rather than go to the library all day to pretend to work for constant breaks to Taste. Little to no pay was there when you signed up and you could decide to get a paid job instead or indeed a wage paying internship. And the pressure put on by supervisors and directors is an effective way of separating the wheat from the chaff. Because we attend a high calibre university we immediately expect a high calibre job, but do we not remember the last days of school when all our tasks were actually focussed on work?
Remember waking before 9am and having a functional life? I doubt it. As for that intense work program? Last year Buzzfeed published a list of ‘horror stories’ about the realities of internships. The article was a leaked memo sent to all interns at Citi Group listing pieces of advice from a worker about how to achieve a successful experience within the company. The advice included arriving before your supervisor and leaving after them, always bring them coffee in the morning, always wear smart clothing. The most extreme advice was this: bring a pillow and put in under your desk so you can take naps. When I read these ‘horror stories’ I actually laughed. All the dread towards internships was blown off. This wasn’t a dark dungeon of torturous trolls spilling vitriol and hatred toward early 20 somethings. This was playschool. They encouraged napping, people!
Has anyone actually questioned why our holidays are so long? Weirdly, we don’t actually break up in May to take full advantage of budget flights to Zanzibar, the time is given to provide sufficient time to the academics of the university to research, write and publish their work. It’s a format to kick us out whilst they get on with the real work but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t either. In an ever demanding and competitive job market we have to stand out from each other. We will all have good degrees come fourth year because we are already here. But only some will know the interviewer or his well-known colleague by first name, only some will have shared that joke on England’s efforts in the World Cup, only some will have learned their distinct taste in coffee.
We devote so much of our time away from our major here in favour of extra-curricular activities. For every committee we sit on, motion we debate and article we write we convince ourselves that the time is worth sacrificing for the experience we gain and the effort is worth putting in for the profile it will build. Why is experience in an actual company so criminal? We should reject our embedded sense of entitlement and face the fact that we are not that special from the rest of the crop and realise the heavy competition we are yet toface. Suck it up and apply. And face it, even if you hate every second at Barclays, your friends will still envy you
When I look back on my lost youth through a haze of gin and deadline-related tears, the one golden sunshine-soaked file in my memory is thus: the neverending summers of school holidays. The six weeks where, without school or societal obligations, I dozed under the hazy sun upon the grassy fields of British summer. Running down to catch the ice-cream van and exchange precious pennies for a 99, the only dish in the world to make a Cadbury flake seem like a genuine treat rather than a disappointing snack. Sleepovers and secret dens, fishing and famous five, Pimms in the garden!
Or something like that. To be perfectly honest my summers were mostly spent either drinking cheap cider in the park or hiding out in a dingy shopping mall to avoid the rain, but you get the sentiment. Back in the day before we hit 16 and were tossed out into the world of temporary summer jobs, summer was a time for lounging, lazing, and driving your parents insane. For being bored and getting in trouble and the inevitable bollucking that followed. Even after hitting 16 and summers inevitably became marshalled by the dreariness of low skilled low paid work, at least you earned a decent amount of cash. Thus, my problem.
In our current ultra-competitive, cut-throat society, graduates are increasingly expected to have a whole host of extra non-academic work experience under their belts before they’ve even entered the world of actual work. It is no longer enough to have a CV filled with menial summer jobs, extra-curriculars, and solid grades. Applicants for even entry level jobs must also have experience in specialised fields, and the only way to get this experience is normally through unpaid internships.
The internship, once the domain of the ultra-keen, has now become the summer plan of most students. The lucky ones find ones that both cover expenses and pay a decent wage for their time, but most students end up doing these internships unpaid. A full time job, done for free (or at poverty-level pay) just doesn’t add up, at least in my mind. Recently it emerged that a UN intern was living in a tent whilst working at their headquarters in Geneva, and understandably it generated considerable outrage. If one of the most respected institutions in the world can refuse to pay its interns and get away with it, what is to stop the myriad of other employers offering internships from doing the same?
Unpaid internships create yet another barrier to accessing high-level employment, and unfairly favour students from wealthy backgrounds. In order for anyone to work full time without pay they must have financial support coming in from somewhere else, and in the case of students that is likely to be their families. Those without familial support simply won’t be able to take the internship, limiting their future career options. In my mind, this simply isn’t fair.
Internship culture has made us forget the value of summer jobs, and I think that is genuinely a shame. Working in a retail outlet a few summers ago was one of the best things I have ever done, and the friendships I made during my time there are ones I still value. The skills I picked up – shelf-stacking, intimate knowledge of Boots products, the ability to recycle a cardboard box in under 3 seconds – might not necessarily be useful to my academic work, but have benefited me as a human being. Being a waitress might not have been my favourite thing, but I learned patience, humility, and the value of respecting your restaurant staff. I don’t want to work in either of these industries in the future, but knowing I can gives me a great deal of confidence about my future employability, whilst the regular income gave me confidence in my ability to support myself without my parents. All of these are skills I wouldn’t have picked up in an internship.
Summer jobs aren’t the only thing lost to the relentless drive towards internships, with many students choosing not to spend their break travelling so as to fit in work experience. Travelling isn’t something that is accessible to all students, but to those who can afford it, it seems sad to lose out on an experience that broadens the mind and enlivens the spirit, simply to gain narrow experience in a narrow field.
So when the time comes around and you’re faced with the decision of whether or not to apply for an internship, I urge to give it a think. Are three weeks making coffee and filing worth giving up a potentially life-changing summer for? I personally think not, but the depressing thing is, I will probably be applying for one anyway.