Be picky

Not all internships are the same and you need to make sure that the one you pick is the best for you. A good internship pays at least the national minimum wage, is advertised publicly and interviews candidates. You should have a designated manager, a variety of tasks and receive feedback. When your internship ends, you should be given a reference.

Know the law

While there’s no legal definition of an intern, the national minimum wage law says that anybody who qualifies as a worker and is 21 or over must be paid at least the minimum wage. When thinking about your internship, ask the following questions:

  • Do you have set hours and responsibilities?
  • Are you contributing work that’s of value to your employer?

If the answer to these are yes, and the placement isn’t part of your course or your employer isn’t a charity, then it’s very likely the company is breaking the law in letting you work for nothing.

Keep in mind, that even if you don’t mind working for free, you don’t have the right to waive your wages, even if you say you’ll accept experience as payment.

Always have a back-up plan

While interns hope that each placement will be their last, lots of internships don’t turn into jobs. This means you need to have options for when your internship ends. Even if you don’t have a job lined up, try to get another internship in place before you finish you current one so that you have something to go to.

Know when to leave

It’s always flattering when a company wants you to stay. However, you don’t want to hand around too long if you do take them up on the offer, to stay, three months should be the maximum you stay in one place. Don’t extend your internship if it’s unpaid unless you can negotiate a proper wage.

Seize your moment to negotiate

As the end date approaches, make time to speak to your manager about the possibility of a job following your internship. If you feel that they brush you off, talking about budgets or mutter about seeing in a few months, make it clear that you’ve enjoyed working there but that you’ll be looking at other options and you anticipate to be leaving on the agreed date. This will make your intentions clear to them and give them the option to counter offer, if they wish to.

Prove your worth

You know what you bring to the table, but they don’t. Prove that you’re reliable, efficient and upbeat and they’ll remember you. Take the opportunity seriously and let them see what it would be like to work with you. If your work load dips, create work for yourself and they’ll be impressed with your initiative.

However, don’t put pressure on yourself to do more or be more. Find the balance of proving that you can bring something but not burning yourself out.

Claim what you’re owed

If you do end up doing an unpaid internship, you can claim back your money later. This still applies if you agreed to work for free at the time. You can do this by contacting Intern Aware for more information.

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