The role of an "intern"

During interviews for placements, one line was usually brought up:
You’ve achieved a considerable amount of experience in such a small amount of time. 
I never know what to say to that.. “thank you”? Usually silence is my preferred answer but it doesn’t seem to matter how many places I can work with or for, the lines between an intern and a member of staff blur and your position, your role and your duties can very quickly become unclear. 
Where do you draw that line? 
Recently a number of debates have come about from interns, and companies that exploit them - offering them little to no pay and essentially ask them to photocopy and make coffee. I’m completely unsure of where I stand on this debate. As a student, I should be completely in favour of paid work experience. But to be honest, I’m all for voluntary too - just in small doses - part time helping out around the office outside of university hours or possibly a week to a month full time. Any more than that and I’d start to think you were a little over qualified to still be an unpaid kitchen maid. 
I’ve met several people with extremely hierarchical views where if you’re still a student, you are not qualified to have an opinion. That does wind me up. 
I've dedicated an entire series on here entitled The Best of Bournemouth showcasing some of the best, in my opinion, current students and graduates. Some of those people are truly amazing, and don’t get me wrong there are people at other universities too who will be included at a later date! 
Presumably these negative opinions of interns come from experience and it really doesn’t help when you get the occasional idiotic intern that does this:

At university, we were warned of the basics, some of which you’d hope no-one would dream of doing anyway... like the above. 
  • Don’t wear too much makeup.
  • Don’t wear low cut tops or short skirts. 
  • Don’t sleep with the boss. 
I have to say, I’d happily rock up in trackies with hair scraped back if it wouldn’t look distinctly unprofessional, although I did actually do that for one of my “experiences”, and reflecting on it, if it had been me in charge, I wouldn’t have been at all impressed.
One of the reasons I decided to complete my placement at BBC Worldwide was because in the interview they said to me “We treat our students as a press officer, you would not do anything we’re not happy to do ourselves.” And I have to say, to this day, that certainly appears to be true. 
But working at a seemingly “equal” position has it’s complications; I often find myself so focused on a project that I forget that I am actually an intern and I should still be completing minor tasks which, yes, to me may be less interesting and second priority but to those senior, is my job. Finding the balance is difficult. 
How do you do an outstanding job on your projects, brands or clients, be around those more experienced to learn from and make their lives easier with the smaller tasks such as coverage reports, coffees, photocopying etc. Prioritising is difficult. 
Don’t ever be afraid to speak to your line manager. It’s not worth you making the wrong decision, upsetting any colleagues, any clients, or yourself to get it all done. You also don’t want to be doing a crappy job because you’re trying to save time. As scary as it may seem, your manager is there to advise and guide you. 
A couple of companies I’ve worked with have had fairly loose policies on how my time should be divided or who in fact is in charge of that, whether it be yourself or your manager. 
Always check who has the final say over your time. 
A lot of these places, particularly agencies, have a knack of throwing work at the intern with little to no communication between themselves so they have no idea you have six pieces that need to be done - as everything does in this industry - “right now” rather than just their one piece. By just sitting them down and talking to them about your work load, you could find yourself with a much nicer day and to-do list. And do not ever be afraid to say “No, I don’t have time for that right this second, I can have it done by...” 
From speaking with peers, there doesn’t seem to be much in between; you can make the tea or you can be an “employee”. But with that comes responsibility and if it goes wrong... the buck stops with you. I find it too easy to get caught up in that working world. Last summer, I spent three months working in an agency and returning to university was honestly one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I only expect it to be worse after completing this placement year. 
But everyone wants something different from their placement, and the difference for me is between this being a job and being my career. Ask anyone that knows me and I’ll always place credit where it’s due of my knowledge of PR, and it starts with that first real work experience. For me, the sports industry. Not one I hope to get into at any point but certainly one to learn from. I have honestly never met more hard working people in my life - with their phones constantly ringing. You could be that good and there’s nothing to say you can’t still be a student. They do exist. 
I’ve spent the past eighteen months saying if I get to half that level, I’m succeeding. And through each of my experiences, I’ve always felt one to be a step up from the last, but the closer you get, the harder it gets and there really are a million things no-one ever tells you. 
I think I’m gradually realising that through later nights, poorer diets and less socialising, you sacrifice a part of your life to get to that level and those who have done it, I congratulate.  The students in that series and others who have worked to create that reputation, that personal branding of themselves, before even gaining a qualification well and truly deserve the jobs and roles that they receive in them. They should not be ignored simply because they’re a student

Jessica North

Author & Editor

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