What should I expect from a good internship?

Internships vary enormously. You should expect at least:

  • Pay – you are entitled to at least the National Minimum Wage – and expenses if appropriate.
  • A contract. Interns involved in performing meaningful work that should be paid for by employers are also entitled to a contract setting out all of their statutory employment rights and the terms of the internship. (See workSMART’s Interns’ Rights section for more.) 
  • The chance to learn valuable work skills and gain useful experience. Having a well-regarded employer on your CV is all well and good, but it only goes so far if you spent all your time there making tea and being the office dogsbody. Don’t be fobbed off with general duties, because being involved in hands-on work is why you applied for the internship in the first place. Talk to your manager about opportunities to develop genuine vocational skills. Is there a specific project you can own or be given a dedicated role in? A good employer would also allow and even encourage you to take advantage of any in-house training courses available. 
  • Sensible working hours. Certain sectors, such as media, fashion or finance, have a reputation for working staff long and hard, leading to stress and burn-out. For ambitious interns keen to impress, it’s very tempting to work excessively long hours. But it’s a dangerous habit to get into and not a good way to get ahead in the long run. Depending on your employment status, it’s very likely you have legal protection against overwork. If your employer is pressuring you to work longer than you are happy with, you are absolutely entitled to say no.
  • To be treated with the same respect as any other member of staff.
  • A reference upon completion of the internship.

It’s important that you know what it is you're taking on before starting an internship. Speak with the person who is going to be managing you and clarify their and your expectations from the outset. Discuss the work you will be carrying out with them to be sure that it will give you the skills, opportunities and work insights you need and meet your aims for the internship as a whole.

An employer that values interns will also provide a company induction and assign a suitable mentor and/or supervisor to provide guidance and feedback on their work.

Unfortunately, not all internships are all they are cracked up to be. See the TUC’s Rights for Interns campaign to tackle exploitation of interns.