Think before you intern

Here are some important questions you should ask yourself before you embark on any kind of unpaid work experience (excerpted from the Precarious Workers Brigade's excellent guide to surviving internships). You can book here for today's event with PWB, in which we'll be talking about how to ensure that internships genuinely contribute to your career development. . 

Many internship guides will advise you that if you want to be successful and gain experience in the arts, all you need to do is to get the right internship. You should think first however, about whether an internship will actually be the best way for you to get what you want, to gain the skills you need, and to participate in building a culture you want to be part of. Here is a checklist of things to consider before you set out

a What do I hope will be the outcome of my internship? Am I expecting a job, a reference, or to ‘get discovered‘? You might want to consider that most internships do not lead to jobs in the same institution, but can often simply lead to more unpaid internships.

b Have I investigated training courses that might give me the skills that I think I will gain from the internship?

c Could I gain just as much, or perhaps even more relevant experience working with my friends and selforganising some exhibitions, events or even setting up a new space?

d Am I interested in producing culture for commercial gain? For the public good? For changing society or for making culture everywhere and for everyone? Find an internship, an organisation, and work that will help you to achieve that!

e How will I fund my internship? What happens if I can‘t afford to do one? Some people will be able to rely on family help, others will rely on student loans, and others are forced to fund their internship through other part-time jobs. Is it worth it, or might there be another way to get what you hope to gain from an internship?

f If I am choosing an internship based on prestigious institutional name, have I really considered what experience I would actually like to gain beyond listing that name on my CV? Remember that interning in a more prestigious and sought after institution will not necessarily mean that you will get more interesting or relevant experience.

g Have I considered whether I want to take an internship simply to ‘get ahead‘, to gain advantage over my peers, and what that might mean? The effect that this might have on me and my community/ peers? Have I thought about whether there are alternatives to a competitive approach to working in the arts and cultural sector?

h Have I thought about how the choices I make early in my career might set up a pattern for how I organise and value aspects of my life and work into the future? If you accept terms that are not respectful to you early on, this dynamic can become normalised and therefore likely to repeat itself in various ways into your future.

i Have I thought about how the free work I might contribute to the cultural institution is not just for my benefit, but how it might also be propping up and supporting the very functioning of that institution? Have I thought about the implications of this? You may think that your role in world of culture is really small, but your valuable time, skills and passions are exactly what the sector relies on in order to keep running. 

Download the full Surviving Internships booklet here