Are You Being Used? Internship and Work Experience 101

By Roisin Mulcahy

Congratulations! You’ve finally got that dream internship and your resume is about to get a whole lot more impressive. However, if you’ve got a weird feeling in your stomach that something isn’t right… you’re probably correct. We are here to tell you everything you need to know about your rights when it comes to unpaid work and what to do if you suspect you are being taken advantage of.

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[Source: “Internships” by UNSW.

What is an intern?

An intern is someone completing professional work experience as part of higher education or for training purposes.

The key to remember is that the work completed must be done for the benefit of the intern, not the company or business hiring. The Fair Work Australia website explains all the legal information you need to know before commencing an internship. A previous post discusses these nuances if you want some more clarification.

How long is an internship?

Before you begin your internship, you should make sure there is a clear start and end date. If there is no end date, you may be at risk of being used by the business! You should also make sure your workplace is flexible because you don’t want to fall behind with your studies. Fortunately, most companies offering internships are very understanding when it comes to students and exam periods.

Some internships could be full time for one month or you may go to your internship once a week for 10 weeks. Just make sure this is clear before you start and that you’ll be able to balance your internship and university commitments!

Do you get paid?

It is recommended that all interns are paid at least minimum wage, however more often than not, they are unpaid. If you’re lucky and your internship is paid, make sure the company has all your bank details and sticks to a payment schedule! Make sure you get all your pay slips too.

What do you do at an internship?

All companies are different, but all your tasks and responsibilities should be in line with the relevant profession. As an intern, you may be given the opportunity to complete various activities as part of a learning experience or skill development. You should make sure that the work you are being asked to do is not something that would usually be done by an employee. If you’re asked to do work that could be easily done by the company, the company may be using you for free labour, especially if it’s not relevant to your learning!

So, what do you get from it?

Many universities require students to complete professional work experience as part of their course through work integrated learning subjects. These are a great opportunity to gain experience in the area of work you are interested in, offering a chance to ‘dip your feet in the water’ before you graduate. Another benefit is that the company you are interning with will often write a letter of recommendation or give you accreditation once you complete your internship. These are a great addition to your resume, so don’t hesitate to ask for one!

There are so many benefits to doing an internship but you have to remember that you have rights! Don’t let a company use your skills or make you complete tasks that have no benefit to your career. Good luck and start applying!

Check out FairWork for more information on unpaid internships and their helpful factsheets

[Header Image CC: “Archive Files” by Samuel Zeller CC-0].

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