Things to consider before taking an internship
Taking on an internship can be a positive first step towards entering the creative sector; it’s a good option for those who wish to learn, to acquire skills, to make connections, and to explore a possible career. However, the quality of internships vary widely. Some organisations give serious consideration to their internships and feel a strong responsibility for the training and development that their interns receive. Other organisations are less organised, and see it as an opportunity to fill a position that might otherwise be a paying job. Finding an organisation with a good reputation, which is respected in the industry and which you trust is important.
Questions you should ask yourself before accepting an internship:
- What am I hoping to get from the internship: new skills, good connections, an insight into a particular sector? Is this organisation well placed to offer me these?
- What are the chances of there being a job for me at the end of this internship? You might decide this for yourself based on your knowledge or research into how many staff the organisation employs, if their income or funding is generally on the increase, if this is their first time hiring an intern or do they regularly take on interns (if the latter, how often have they hired an intern at the end of the process?)
- Is the organisation respected and widely known in your sector? If yes, then completing an internship will look good on your CV. Potential employers in the sector may know the Director of the organisation and will respect their opinion (and, therefore, will respect the Director’s opinion of you). If no, what else are is the organisation bringing to the table?
- Is it an individual rather than an organisation that is offering the internship? If yes, be wary, do your research, find out exactly the terms of work and make sure they’re giving as good as they’re receiving. Will it be a fair exchange of work for experience?
- Will the company pay me minimum wage or a fair stipend toward travel and costs?
- If not, can I get paid for my work as an intern through a CE Scheme of Jobbridge equivalent?
- Have I worked in this kind of organisation before? If so, am I just killing time before I find a job? Is there a more productive way to spend this time?
- Is the organisation going to appoint a mentor who I will work under, learn from, answer to?
- If not, am I being given lots of responsibility and free reign to prove myself as an independent thinker or doer (and is this what I’m looking for), or am I just a dogsbody for the organisation?
- Once I begin the internship, am I going to feel resentful if I become aware the employer is getting more out of me than I am from working with them?
- Would I be better served by taking my own initiative and setting up my own organisation, festival, event, company and learning from that experience? Am I experienced enough to do this yet, or would becoming an intern in a particular company give me the experience required, a better knowledge of the industry, and an insight into what is actually missing or needed in the industry?
- Would I be better served by taking the time to upskill and improve my chances of getting a paid job instead? If yes, what skills does the industry that I’m interested in working with most need or value at the moment?
Try to answer these questions honestly and work out if an internship is still the best option for you. Try to work out if there is anything specific you want to get from the organisation offering an internship and ask for it directly.
Visual Artists Ireland’s Guidelines
Visual Artists Ireland are the representative body for visual artists in Ireland. They have a lot of experience both advertising and offering internships, and have given much thought and consideration to creating these guidelines for employers offering internships, outlined below (see also: http://visualartists.ie/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Internship-Guidelines-January-2014-0.0.pdf)
Definition of the internship
An internship should:
provide a valuable supported learning experience; provide mentorship; allow an individual to develop or enhance skills that are applicable to their chosen area;
ensure the development of interpersonal work relationships; enable the candidate to learn good work habits such as communication, time and project management skills;
offer networking opportunities that will lead to paid employment or help to further the intern’s career in other tangible ways.
An internship is not Volunteering, Student Placement, Apprenticeship or Work Experience.
A Internship MUST be offered with the following Written Agreement:
- Each intern should be provided with a contract / letter of understanding outlining the role and responsibilities within the organisation that will be allocated to the intern. A same checklist is provided in the Guidelines.
- An intern should be provided with a defined role and job title.
- An internship should be short term and ideally between three and six months.
- Many interns have some experience and qualifications that would be advantageous to an organisation.
- An internship should be either the first experience of a role or an advancement from a voluntary position. In order to achieve this supportive and advantageous internship; one which will provide a meaningful experience and enhance an interns employability in the future; there should be a clear set of achievable objectives from the outset. These include transparency on day-to-day activities and responsibilities and clarity of progression within the organisation (if applicable). In general all interns should be given a level of responsibility that will further their experience.
- Interns should be recruited in the same way as regular employees of an organisation, with proper consideration given to how their skills and qualifications fit the tasks they will be expected to undertake.
- Recruitment should be conducted in an open and transparent way to enable fair and
equal access to available internships.
- Before the intern starts, a written contract should be put in place defining the intern’s working hours, the length of the internship, the intern’s goals and their obligations.
- Any training the intern will require for their role should be planned in advance. This plan should be shared with the intern on their first day. The training should include a health and safety induction tailored to the individual organisation.
- Organisations should ensure that there is a dedicated person(s) to supervise the intern and conduct regular performance reviews. This person should provide ongoing feedback to the intern, be their advocate and mentor during the period of the internship, and conduct formal performance reviews to evaluate the success of their time with the organisation.
Payment & Duration
- Where possible the intern should be paid the National Minimum Wage. At the very least Host Organisations should cover necessary work-related expenses incurred by the intern: travel to, from and during work. This will ensure wider access and allow people from varied economic backgrounds to access internships.
A detailed personalised reference should be provided at the end of the internship.
Health & Safety: The Host Organisation must be fully compliant with current workplace health and safety and all other legal requirements.
Garda Vetting: The Host Organisation has responsibility to ensure that the appropriate process is applied to placements that require Garda vetting. Interns must agree to comply with requests for Garda Vetting where necessary.
Annual Leave: Interns are entitled to all Public Holidays and 1.75 days annual leave for each month they participate in an internship.
Sick Leave: The maximum cumulative sick leave permissible over the course of an internship is five working days over a three month internship; ten working days over a six to nine month internship.