Internships - Education or exploitation?

I did an internship myself. Agreed to work for the occasional slice of pizza. And it did lead me to full-time work... in just three days. No document shredding, data entry or coffee orders in sight. 

My internship was a farce, I was thrown in the deep end when my manager quit during my first week and I was thrust into a leadership position that included the words "National Manager". Suffice to say my internship experience was rather unique...

Since then, in positions leading to my time at Framework Melbourne, I have been on the other side of the fence, managing over 30 students and young professionals through their own internships. A Melbourne coworking space is actually a great place for students to learn from a range of people. I have regularly been asked and challenged on the question of whether interns really get valuable experience or whether they are just being exploited for free labour. Well for what it's worth, here is my advice on how to make the most of an internship:

FOR INTERNS

  • only send an application to a company you actually want to work for
  • don't be afraid to ask questions, no one expects you to be an expert
  • network where you can and always try to make a good impression
  • work hard, give your best and always ask for feedback
  • ask to keep a copy or get a link to everything you worked on for your portfolio
  • ask for a written reference from your supervisor at the conclusion of your internship

FOR EMPLOYERS

  • only take on interns when you have capacity to do so, they are a big commitment
  • interview applicants and review their experience, only take on suitable applicants
  • be clear with interns what their tasks will be from the beginning
  • challenge interns to work autonomously by giving them responsibility
  • try giving interns ownership of a small project, simply help plan and supervise
  • make interns feel a valued part of the work place, introduce them to the rest of the team

A good internship is not exploitation. It can provide valuable, real-life industry experience for the intern and some affordable help with junior tasks for the employer. Respect is the key. Respect for the employer and the professional standards the intern needs to adhere to. Respect for the intern who is giving up their time, often for free, in the hope of developing their practical skill set. And at Framework Melbourne they get a few games of pool and Street Fighter thrown in for good measure.