With all the talk about graduate programs, vacation work and other opportunities at the moment – you may be thinking that now’s the time to find yourself an internship. Internships, either paid or unpaid, can be a great way to gain some professional experience and create network connections with others within your industry before you finish university.
Internships are becoming more commonplace in Australia, and many universities now require students to undertake an internship as part of their coursework. Completing an internship can be beneficial in many ways, and some students complete multiple internships throughout their degree. But not all internships are good experiences. There’s a murky side to internships, particularly unpaid internships, and it is important to think it over carefully – and find the right fit for you.
Here are some questions to ask yourself when thinking about doing an internship:
Is the position within your industry and relevant to your degree?
Yes: This could be a great way to gain real-life experience, professional feedback, and to build your professional network with peers in your field. If you’re lucky, it may even transition into full-time work once you graduate.
No: Simply applying for the sake of having something on your resume is not an effective use of your time. You’re unlikely to learn relevant skills or make connections that will help you find a job in your industry after graduation. Being unqualified may also mean that you’re left doing meaningless work, or acting as a glorified gopher – which is usually a waste of your time and effort.
Does it comply with the Fair Work Act?
Yes: Generally paid internships will comply with Australian working standards, but it’s still important to check and ensure everything’s above board. Unpaid internships are more open to exploitation and so it’s important to be careful and use some common sense. If in doubt, just ask yourself if the work you’re doing is usually completed by paid employees? If so, you should be getting paid for it.
No: If the position requires you to work long hours without compensation, or pay a fee to the company, then it is likely that it doesn’t comply with work standards. In this case, it’s important to report this to the Fair Work Ombudsman so that other students don’t fall into this trap.
Is there a catch?
Yes: Often things look too good to be true and it’s important to trust your gut. You might be happy to pay for your own insurance or work unusual hours – but then again, you might not. Maybe they require you to do a lot of travelling but there’s no compensation for your travel expenses – some of these things may technically adhere to Australian working standards but are still not fair to you. You don’t want to start an internship only to run into a nasty surprise later on – so read everything carefully.
No: That’s good! But still read through the job advertisement and contract carefully to ensure you haven’t missed anything. It’s also a good idea to do your research and ask the company important questions such as what tasks you’ll be doing and how much commitment’s involved.
Can you afford to do it?
Yes: It’s important to consider whether you have the support and the financial backing necessary to undertake an internship. An unpaid internship is sure to take up a lot of your time and, if you work, it’s likely that you’ll have to sacrifice some of your paid-work time. Family support and/or a healthy savings account can be instrumental in completing an internship with the least amount of stress possible – so take some time to think through whether you have the resources needed to support yourself.
No: This doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t do an internship but you will need to plan extensively and ask yourself whether it’s valuable enough to be worth your time. If it’s not feasible then look for alternative ways to connect with industry or see if there’s a unit connected to your degree that offers a practical placement with industry.
An internship can be a really rewarding experience, and can tell you a lot about yourself and your future career. To see what internship opportunities area available head online to sites such as UniHub and Seek or do some of your own research and reach out to companies to ask if they have room to take you on.
Stay vigilant, and find yourself an awesome internship today!