Internships: Great Experience or Pure Exploitation?

Graduating uni is really hard. Your education is over – the only kind if life you’ve known since you were five years old – and now it’s time to be a big kid and find a job.

Only problem is, these days it’s pretty bloody hard. In November of last year youth unemployment was 27 per cent, its highest since the 90’s, and a large part of that is made up of unemployed university graduates.

These days, Graduate Careers Australia show that two thirds of graduates can’t find a job within four months of graduating, so some find part-time employment while they job hunt, and some intern.

Internships are great to take on, both during and after your study, as a way to get your foot in the door and get that oh-so-elusive professional experience every job description asks for but many employers are unwilling to provide.

But as we know from urban legends and The Devil Wears Prada, there is a difference between gaining experience and being exploited for free labour. This has caused quite a stir in recent years, with some companies canning internship programs altogether as the result or fear of legal action. *Cough cough* Condé Nast/Ana Wintour.


Legally internships fall into fifty shades of grey areas, as both the intern and employer gain something from the situation. They get the work for free and you get the experience, contacts or even a job at the end of it. And let’s face it, there aren’t usually internships going at your local shopping centre tax accountant, it’s your high-profile industries and companies that are most in demand, so if you gotta work for free for a bit to get there, then why not?

In 2013 The Fair Work Ombudsman published a report on the topic, which outlines a lawful intern program as one which offers the participant an experience that they will learn and benefit from, not one that has them making coffee or doing work a paid employee would otherwise do. Anyone that’s ever done an internship will be thinking, “hold the phone, I did heaps of work at that place that the other paid employees did.” And to a degree you will, because how are you supposed to learn how to do a job without actually putting it to practice?

So before entering into, or even during your time as an intern, here are a few things to think about to decide whether you’re being a prince(ss) and need to take a shot of concrete, or whether you’re actually being exploited for free work.


Before you apply for an internship, learn how to craft the perfect CV


Do you need to intern?

Internships look great on a resumé, but aren’t always required. I studied Communications so it was pretty mandatory, but other industries aren’t so strict on this. Talk to people in the industry or maybe a career counsellor at uni to get a sense for the situation in your chosen field, but if the answer to this question is ‘no’, still consider whether doing one will get you a better position if you have some glowing experience listed above your part-time Macca’s job.

Do you need to harden the f*** up?

Most probably, yes. Lol, just kidding. But seriously, internships aren’t meant to be super cruisey, and as someone that has interns now I know that they can often be more hassle than they’re worth, so don’t go in there with the attitude that you’re doing them a favour.

You will be asked to do shit jobs, but they will give you experience and possibly a good story.

If it makes you feel better I once had to don the farm animal mascot suit of a certain brand of dessert and prance around Central Station in the background of an MX cover shoot being hugged and mooed at by random passers-by and homeless alike. And I ended up being cropped out of the picture they used.


Does the good stuff outweigh the bad stuff?

The aforementioned shit jobs will inevitably come, but if they’re coming thick and fast with no glimmer of hope in the distance then maybe you’ve hooked a bad situation.

If this sounds familiar, monitor the jobs you carry out over the course of a week, regardless of how many days you’re there, then classify the jobs into good and bad (not fun and un-fun, it’s about the value not the enjoyment). If the bad outweighs the good then maybe it’s time to move to greener pastures.

Who is getting more benefit out of this?

You need to balance the see-saw here, and as I said you’re not doing a company more of a favour than they’re doing you by interning for them, as you’ll inevitably ask stupid questions, make stuff ups and waste time before you get in your groove.

But as with the jobs list, weigh up how much experience you’re getting and how much weight this will carry when you go to step into the glorious world of monthly salaries, superannuation and annual leave.

And if none of this has been helpful whatsoever and you have more questions burning stronger than the fires of Mordor, visit or call the Fair Work Infoline on 13 13 94.


Image: Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson in The Internship