In recent years the concept of internships has been called into question by governments around the world as well as supranational organisations such as the International Labour Organisations. The qualm surrounding internships is this: many institutions misuse the concept to take advantage of the desperate student, for free labour.
The term desperate is used here because in today’s labour market it really does matter where you interned or whether you did so at all. Internships are becoming precious commodities, that only the privileged few can get.
It is important that this bleak backdrop is painted, as it will inform the approach you should be taking as you seek internships. Even before giving you tips on how to land the internship opportunity you’ve been coveting for so long, we should first take a look at what you should expect from an intern-master relationship.
What You Should Expect From An Internship
For you to get the most out of your internship, you should have clear and informed expectations. The following are some that we think are really important.
Firstly, you must understand that an internship is not a job. In essence, there is no employer-employee relationship between you and the organisation you’ll be interning for. I’ve seen sites that begin by saying that an internship opportunity is mutually beneficial both for the firm and the student because the student learns and the firm gets free labour. This should not be what you expect and is not the case at all.
“an internship should not give rise to an employer employee relationship”
An internship should be an opportunity for you to learn at the instruction of someone experienced in the field you seek to pursue. In a sense (and this has been held in several cases), an intern-master relationship is not mutualistic in nature. It is a sacrificial relationship in which the master takes time out to teach and instruct you. As such, if you’ve heard rumours that that your prospective organisation overworks its interns with minimal supervision, you should keep off!
On the question as to whether you should expect to be paid, the answer is not as straightforward. Australian law is still silent on the state of unpaid internships. In practice, most organisations will not pay their interns (to avoid an employment relationship from ensuing) but will give them benefits. In France however, interns are entitled by law to a lump sum after their internship has elapsed as well as some statutory benefits.
“If you’re doing an employees job with no supervision or instruction, you should be paid”
That being so, what you should be keen to look for is the conduct of the organisation. Where you have a supervisor guiding your every move and task, instructing and correcting you, then you shouldn’t expect to be paid.
However, as decided in the case of Vetta V London Dreams Motion Pictures, if you’re organisations has you doing work that a person with a determined position in the company should be doing, with no supervision, then it can be construed that an employer-employee relationship is present and you are within your rights to demand all the benefits of employees including pay!
Landing A Great Internship
Armed with the knowledge above, you are now ready to look for the best internship opportunity. Here’s what you need to know.
Firstly, the application. This will most likely be the first point of contact between you and the organisation. As such, you must present yourself well. Of course, what goes into the application is determined by what you’ve been doing leading up to it.We advise that you have a balanced life such that, you don’t place too much emphasis on grades and forget to do extracurricular activities like mooting and law clinic (if your school has one).
Secondly, it is indeed true that success in life is not always about merit, but making sure you place yourself in the right place at the right time. The point being made here is that you should make an attempt to form great relationships with your lecturers. Organisations tend to view recommendations very favourably!
Thirdly, the interview. Prepare yourself accordingly. You want to look well-groomed but not arrogant. That doesn’t mean that you should be up-tight, it simply means that this is the perfect opportunity for you to portray your soft skills.
Lastly, organisations are busy places so you may need to follow up. In fact, in some cases, this may work in your favour as it will prove that you are truly interested in the organisation.