I get on well with my friend’s mum, but friends can still disagree, and the subject often leads to a heated debate. The problem is, she thinks I’m too good for unpaid work. She believes that I am worth more than £0 a week, that I can learn quickly enough to warrant a paycheck in an entry-level position. There is actually a part of me that thinks she just wants me to bring home some money so I can move in with her son, and get him out of her house (finally) – but I am certainly not too good for an internship; and if it's the right internship, neither are you.
For 3 months, I get next-to-nothing for my living costs and survive on rice and peas, which is lucky because I love rice and peas. If it wasn’t more than €5 for a pint of Guinness in Ireland, I’d probably live on that too. I put in long hours every day, and I have been given enough responsibility to feel real stress at work. I have been placed in accommodation which is outdated and dark; from my bedroom window, I look out onto a brick wall, and the kitchen smells of cheese.
All of these complaints are completely inconsequential.
An internship is still worth it.
Because nobody is paying me to come to work, there is no obligation for me to stay in one set role or position, and I am completely free to pick and choose what I want to do, what I want to learn, and what skills I want to be able to write on my CV (because let’s face it, at this stage that’s your main aim too).
I arrived as an editorial assistant at a publisher, keen to learn the ropes, but became a copywriter, commissioning editor and typesetter, and am going to leave with two books under my belt, both of which I have edited and promoted. What paid role can you fall into at Random House, Hachette or HarperCollins which will allow you to slide so seamlessly between one job and another? If you don’t know which exact role would suit you within an industry, start an internship and try-before-you-buy.
More importantly, the fact that I am unpaid means that nobody cares if I mess up. I am not a risky investment for my employer. I am allowed to make mistakes. I will do things wrong. But the mistakes I make here during my internship will not follow me into the real world; this is my nursery slope, my trial run. This is why employers like interns, and it is your secret weapon.
But the biggest pleasure in working for free is the warm altruistic feeling I get when from working for free. My boss is grateful for everything. Nobody minds if I’m a bit late, or if I take a morning off to sit at home and try and get Kate Bush tickets. I’ll get an absolutely fantastic reference.
It is this torrent of pleasure which makes me sit at the dining table smiling as I eat my rice and peas. It makes me skip down the riverfront to my office each day. It places a tear at the corner of my eye when I sip my bi-weekly pint of Guinness, and I smile at the distant dream of a paycheck – but I don’t need it now. I’m happy.
Of course, a paid internship is even better. Get one of those if you can.