I feel angry at myself for being seduced by the apparent security of a well-established company. This is my experience of graduate job and internship hunting so far.

I have spent the past few months applying for graduate schemes, internships, and general paid work. I cannot begin to tell you how frustrating and demoralising this experience has been. Door after door has been quietly shut in my face. The lowest point so far has been getting rejected from Asda. What is my degree worth, if I cannot even find employment in a supermarket?

Whilst unpaid internships are illegal, there are ways of bypassing the pesky problem of paying interns a living wage. I have noticed that a lot of internships from smaller companies provide expenses-only renumeration, such as £10 per day for travel and food expenses. This does not cover the amount of time spent at the company workplace, the time spent doing additional work at home, the bills, the rent, unexpected costs. This is exacerbated, if like me, you live in London. My search for a job has forced me to acknowledge that there’s a lot of dishonesty out there. Companies know that young people are desperate for experience. Yet the luxury of being able to work for little to nothing can only be afforded to the few. In 2017–18, there were 2.32 million students enrolled in higher education, and a cumulative 14 million graduates in July to September 2017. That’s a lot of competition. My sister (who didn’t go to university but has had a full-time job since leaving school) can’t understand why it’s so hard for me. “You’re graduating this year with a degree”, she told me. “It shouldn’t be this difficult”.

I recently applied for a prestigious internship at a company that catered to an elite clientele. There were warning signs that I feel I missed due to the company’s dazzling website and impressive credentials. The internship posting never stated the duration of the internship, nor the rate of pay. My error was overlooking these important details as I assumed — wrongly — that such a well-founded company would obviously take care of its interns. Despite the glossy PDF that was sent to me after my application was accepted, my experience has been underwhelming. My telephone interview lasted six minutes — not the fifteen minute slot booked — and I was not FaceTimed, even though this was specified. This may seem like a minor fault on the company’s part, but it is not. It is disrespectful. Do they appreciate the time and care I took to make myself presentable for them? Scrubbing my nails? Ironing my shirt? You may be thinking, ‘It’s foolish to expend that much energy for a face-to-face interview over the phone’. My reply is: we are told to go the extra-mile if we are to succeed. But if only I had not wasted my time on a company that only saw me as free labour. I felt proud when my interviewer informed me that 300 people had applied to this position. I’d been contacted! My hopes were raised. The glaring red flag was when they didn’t offer me the stated internship, but gave an alternative:

“Would you be interested in a position that has all the benefits of a paid internship?”

Now often when your intuition tells you something is wrong, it’s because it usually is. Ah, that word ‘benefits’. It carries so much promise, and yet I realised after I hung up that it meant that I was not going to paid. And instead of feeling unadulterated joy at finally getting somewhere with internships, I felt deflated. And re-visiting their website, I saw the warning signs that I had previously missed. They offered a ‘remote program’ alongside the internship, which is what I had been offered. I cannot help but think that this internship never existed. It was just a honey-trap to ensnare talent, for no cost at all. When I asked if there was a contract that specified the duration of my role, I was told that:

“We won’t be signing the contract now, but provided you create enough quality content, we can promote you to working as a freelancer with us.”

I feel angry at myself for being seduced by the apparent security of a well-established company. I know my worth and I am determined to stick with it. I have reached points where I feel as though my self-respect has hit the floor: I applied to an unpaid ‘internship’, that was offering £60 of socks as payment for managing the company’s social media channels for a month. Even for this, after a few emails back and forth, I was duly met with silence. This application was driven by desperation as my need to gain experience is strong. The process of being rejected, ignored, and taken advantage of has only made my resolve unshakeably strong. I am worth money and I am worth the time it takes to invest in me.

To companies who choose not to provide a living wage for their interns: this is unacceptable. You are exploiting a workforce that cannot afford to be exploited — there is a lot of talent that you may miss out on because there are many- like me- who will not be taken advantage of. Graduates from creative and humanities-based backgrounds should not be pushed into a situation where they have to decide between finding a menial job to survive, or an internship that pays nothing just so they can gain experience.🔷

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(This piece was first published on The Blog!)

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UG English Literature, Queen Mary University of London. "Get stewed: Books are a load of crap."

London, UK. Articles in PMP Magazine Website