An intern's guide to self-protection

An internship can provide many opportunities but it is important to know your rights and ensure a structured program is in place.

Handled well, an internship can get you a foot into the door of your chosen industry, or even land you a job on the spot.

On the flipside, it could just mean hours of mind-numbing photocopying or filing – or being used (illegally) as free labour.

Here's how to protect your rights and make the most of the opportunity.

Paid or unpaid?

Generally speaking, an unpaid internship will be shorter in length than a paid one, and you'll be mainly learning rather than doing the business' work for them.

"The person who's doing the work should get the main benefit from the arrangement," says a spokesman for the Fair Work Ombudsman.

If you're undertaking a paid internship, you can expect to receive the award wage.

Be in the know before you go

The most important thing for a would-be intern is to ensure there's a structured program in place that focuses on training and skill development, says Rebekah Gilchrist of the Australian Internship Industry Association.

"It comes down to making sure that you do have all of the details set out prior to entering the internship," says Ms Gilchrist, who notes that all parties should sign a contract before kick-off.

If the company doesn't have an internship contract available, try and find a sample template online.

If things aren't going the way you think they should during the internship, have a calm chat with your supervisor or speak to your university or internship provider, Gilchrist suggests.

Finish strongly

"In theory, certainly at the end of the internship, the goal is that the candidate should be market-ready," says Ms Gilchrist.

If there's no job going in that company, make sure you connect with those you've worked with via LinkedIn and ask the boss for feedback and a reference.

Employers or interns seeking advice can visit Fair Work or call the Fair Work Infoline on 13 13 94.

This article was originally published by the Sydney Morning Herald on 23 October 2015. This article represents the views of the author only and does not necessarily reflect the views of AMP.


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