Internship: Too much for too little or unique experience to gain?

Internships are becoming increasingly important. A difficult economical environment means students face unprecedented challenges as they look to start their career. An internship helps a student get their foot in the door and provides employers with fresh meat. It seems that everyone is happy. However, the terrible accident that happened in City (London) to young intern Moritz Erhardt, 21, who died after reportedly working 72 hours in a row is the reason why businesses might start paying more attention to the way they treat those at the bottom of the ladder. Knowing that a lot of AEGEEans had the experience of working as interns, we kindly asked for the help and asked them few questions in order to know more.

Oksana Siruk( AEGEE-Kyiv) had a one month internship in Kyiv, Ukrainein the law firm. Oksana agrees that HRs are real challenges for interns: «I had two interviews and two tests. The first interview was with an HR – manager and it was about my career desires, aims and, as usual, why I have chosen this particular firm. At the end of the interview I did a test on my legal – language skills. The second interview was with a lawyer – chief of my future potential internship and after that interview I got a long task to be resolved at home during the week. All the tasks were real cases, with which lawyers in this company deal every day».

Despite the fact she was not even paid for the job she did, the future lawyer has no regrets: «I think, it was worth it, because I got a useful working experience. At the same time, I think, that unpaid internship should have some limitations in time. For example, unpaid internship for three months seems to be too long».

Having his first internship in «Tentlabs» (Eindhoven from february 2010 till june 2010) as a mandatory part for all bachelor students at the University of Applied Science, Maikel Wagemans (AEGEE-Eindhoven) did not even have a real interview: «This internship was at the company of a teacher of mine who asked me after one of the lectures whether I was interested in a particular project which was going on at his company. I never had difficult interviews or whatsoever, not even for a part-time job that I did next to my studies (the interview lasted 10minutes and half an hour later I signed the contract, starting the next day). But that might be because there is a higher demand for employees then are available in my field of study (Electrical Engineering)». Working for a small company Maikel could handle all the tasks: «The amount of work was determined beforehand as the project was bounded and it should be an equal amount of work as for regular employees, who would need the same amount of time. You know that you’ll always work a bit more toward the end since you want to finish things. Since it was a small company (less then 5 employees) the atmosphere was pretty informal. I received a key to the office and the alarm code so that I could get in, even when other employees were not there or leave late if necessary».

Having this type of internship is great – seems you have all the reasons to prove that you are worth something, to know more about the specialization I had chosen and even get hired by the company. «Being hired afterwards would be more based on the way you get your work done (the approach and way of thinking, and they will recognize it if there is a learning curve), and your personality. If you fit in the company and you are not such a lazy ass who thinks working is for other people, you have a good chance of being hired afterwards. Companies know that students do not have that much experience, and experience grows while doing a certain task. So it is their job to invest in the future, an internship is a good method to get to know each other.» – explains Maikel. Talking about the accident in the City, London, Maikel is confident that apparently it is/was “normal” for interns in a bank to work their ass off and prove themselves: «Since the whole economy is still unstable, banks are searching for the best fresh meat (graduates) to hire afterwards, if they hire new economic students at all. Now from my own experience, there was never pressure laid upon me by a company or external factor. The fact that I want a good grade for my final work is the way I put pressure to myself. In my current internship I have been working more hours then necessary, but I will compensate later by taking a few days off.»


Vicky Nikolaou (AEGEE- Piraeus) was so lucky to get an internship in the Netherlands, working in  a logistics company from October 2012 till July 2013 and she also thinks that there should be a line not to cross: «I think its normal that every intern wants to prove themselves but this doesn’t mean in any case that interns need to work to death. I have fallen in this trap too, working 7 days per week with no day off or sometimes without even a lunch break. The thing is no one really demands this from you. I realized that it is not okay to sacrifice your life in order to prove your value. Taking responsibilities and being committed should always stay in reasonable frames».

But it also happens that working as an unpaid intern could be a lottery ticket. One girl from Kyiv,Ukraine, who kindly asked not to be mentioned by name, and the company she worked in (one of the famous Big Four audit and accounting firm) revealed that in her country bosses might hint that in case you do the entire job and work really hard you can take a coveted spot. Unfortunately, to 70% of the interns is said that there were not enough efforts from them and after working for 2-3 months they got fired. And the vacancy for new victims who are ready to work for free opens again.

As everything on Earth, internships have their pros and cons. For many people it was a great opportunity to get to know more about the field they chose and understand that they made a right choice, for others it was a complete disappointment. Anyway, there are no doubts that opportunity only knocks once, so maybe it is better to think twice before saying «no»?

Written by: Anna Pykhtina, AEGEE-Kyiv

Thank you to the pictures to Alexandr Smailikov