‘Congratulations! You have been shortlisted’ — these are the five golden words anyone chasing a vacancy wants to hear whether the position they stalk is for a job or an internship. So after applying for a writing internship with the travel and student experience company GVI, I had to hold back the bubbles of excitement to actually finish reading the email — and thank god I did!
Any novice or professional will know that writing is a tough industry to break into. With so many potential avenues to follow and so many other people doing exactly what you are doing, it can be hard to find your voice. This, paired with the general benefits of interning (transferable skills, networking opportunities etc.) made the writing internship advertised by GVI seem like it would be a great opportunity; so I did not hesitate in applying when I came across this Facebook advertisement:
If you look up the definition of an ‘internship’ one of the first to appear states: ‘the position of a student or trainee who works in an organisation, sometimes without pay, in order to gain work experience or satisfy requirements for a qualification’. A second definition reiterates that an internship may be paid or unpaid and is based on the exchange of services for experience between the intern and the organisation. Nowhere, in both my personal definition and indeed a basic Google search does paying an organisation to give you an internship appear. This is why after thoroughly reading the email I had received from GVI — ‘Volunteer Abroad’ — I was so shocked, as it seemed to be suggesting that I should pay them £1000 pounds to be their intern. This detail, you can see, does not appear in the above advertisement.
I decided I would send them an email to query this. Partly to cover myself in the event I had gotten this wrong and partly (I admit) because I wanted to highlight to someone in the company how ludicrous the suggestion was. This is the response I received:
Unsurprisingly, I opted to be ‘excluded’ from their list of carefully selected applicants due to my reluctance to pay for services which I believe should be included in an internship. The basis of an internship is that the intern is taught and mentored, so to be asked to pay for something which in my opinion you are entitled to receive was not something I was willing to do.
The internet is not short on evidence documenting the challenges faced by young people today. After years of racking up debts to be followed by the arduous task of finding a graduate job, it is no surprise that young people are understandably desperate to do everything and anything that might further their career. However, I maintain — whether you are a graduate or a business owner — that this is not the right way.
Unpaid internships are often criticised, with many believing that they take advantage of young people who are desperate to begin their careers. Lord Holmes, a Conservative peer in the House of Lords, is currently spearheading the campaign to ban unpaid internships having deemed them as exploitative and damaging to social economy.
I have my own opinions on this, but have long since accepted that we need to ‘pick our battles’. I can make my peace with unpaid internships, but I draw the line at employers asking their interns to pay a fee. When you create an internship that places financial restrictions on applicants, your internship becomes a product you are selling. So to GVI Volunteer Abroad I say this: thanks but no thanks.