There has been a lot of discussion regarding Internships and Work Experience in the press. Recently the Taoiseach announced 5,000 internship positions filled, with the expectations that this will bring the participants significantly closer to full time employment and where possible encourage organisations to keep the staff they have recently acquired.
I have recently completed an internship as part of the JobBridge Scheme set in place by FAS. I began work in Career Consultants, a career transition firm (ironically enough) and part of the Cpl recruitment group. My internship took place through JobBridge and I was made permanent a little under 6 months later.
With this in mind I thought it would be useful for those prospectively and currently on internship/work experience to share my experience of the process, both the positives and the negatives.
My initial impression of the Job Bridge scheme was less than enthusiastic. The scheme itself seemed reasonable, though I had recently returned to education and completed a Masters degree. As you can imagine an internship was somewhat less than the Gold and Silver I had expected to be heaped upon me as I marched into the offices of Multinationals and began to shape the global economy.
However I was in a similar position to many within the jobs market, my qualifications were there, but my experience wasn’t. I had completed a business degree in 2008, just in time for the global economy to collapse (timing is not my thing) and had subsequently followed a career in Theatre Project Management, so had no office experience whatsoever. This had proved my tripping point throughout a number of interviews.
On the recommendation of a close friend who vouched for the company I submitted a CV and was called in for an interview. A few days later I returned for a second Interview with the Director and we agreed a start date. Too good to be true, I thought.
I was right.
This was my first negative experience of the JobBridge. Due to the terms of the scheme, I had to be unemployed for 3 months in order to be eligible. I was unfortunately only unemployed for just over 2. This put me in the awkward position of being unemployed, but not quiteunemployed enough. I had asked at the social welfare was there any way they could simply move the forms forward as it was essentially a few extra weeks drawing the dole pointlessly, but to no avail. I had considered turning up with rags and my form in a bowl in a similar vein to a Charles Dickens novel but decided against it.
Luckily my employers were very understanding and we came to an arrangement that suited us both, and a few weeks later I started my first day as an intern. I had a solid education and a sharp suit, and walked in with all the confidence of someone who knows it’s only a matter of time before he is found out as a fraud and appropriately ridiculed.
Happily my fears of ridicule and pointed sticks (don’t know where that particular fear came from, the mind is a funny thing) were unfounded. From day one it was understood that while I was competent, I was still an intern, and that any questions I had or issues I was not clear on would be addressed. With this in mind I set myself to learning everything I could about the business and what was expected of me. It was by no means easy, however with a good support network and training I was on my feet and productive reasonably quickly.
One thing I should mention at this point is the money. And yes, it’s not great. The typical dole allowance plus 50 euro is about enough to live on but that’s it. I wouldn’t expect to be buying expensive clothes or taking any holidays, however it’s enough to cover your expenses during the week and some social life at the weekend. All things considered, I found I had enough to cover my living expenses with a few quid for going out. This may change with different people and circumstances, however I found it was quite liveable.
The important thing to remember, however, is that the pay isn’t really what you’re there for. Working as an intern is a chance to learn or improve skills, gain some new and useful contacts, and hopefully make an impression that will earn you a full time job. Even if the company isn’t in a position to employ you full time, ideally you will leave with a number of new and marketable skills, and an employer reference that will sell you. Ireland is a small place, and you would be amazed how far a solid recommendation can go.
It wasn’t all easy however. I had never worked in front line staff before and had no intention of doing so, feeling myself and the general public had an unspoken agreement. You leave me alone and I’ll leave you alone. A few short weeks after I arrived I was participating in a Careers fair and would be asked to put together some material, which was easy, and talk to prospective customers, which was not.
Arriving at the venue, and not staying on the bus driving around in a circle until someone asked me to leave (plan B), was difficult. Crowds of people were shuffling about looking at various prospects, with yours truly hovering around our stall like some sort of sharp-suited imposter.
Eventually the moment of truth arrived and I had to deal with a customer. A pleasant Indonesian woman asked me about our services and I responded, explaining what we did, supplying a brochure and a complimentary pen. No slip ups, accidents or uncontrollable weeping.
During the following weeks I could see the change in my own behaviour. I went from being someone who was afraid to answer the phone to diving across the desk like a deranged lunatic in order to ensure I had caught it before 3 rings (ok, well that didn’t technically happen…but I’m really good on the phone now).
There are, of course exceptions to these experiences. I had a very positive and productive internship, however there have been many accusations that positions have included “Managing consumer goods in an FMCG environment” (stacking shelves) and various other glorified terms for petrol pump attendants and other positions that provide no real value to the intern. These should of course be avoided, the authorities notified and where applicable they should be named and shamed.
It is only right to see these occurrences as one side of the coin. On the other side an internship while not being perfect is nonetheless a very useful way for jobseekers to get a foot in the door in a company. For people who have little experience in an industry (such as myself) or have been out of the jobs market for a while it can be a useful and rewarding experience.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this piece I’m currently finished my internship, and will be beginning full time employment immediately, with an increased confidence in my abilities and excited about new challenges and career progression. I was extremely lucky in that Career Consultants were a fantastic team to work with and have gone to significant lengths to employ me on a permanent basis. Now if I can just get through the next six months without being found out…