THE BLOG

Always an Intern, Never an Employee

06/08/2015 06:33 pm ET | Updated Jun 08, 2016

There's a moment in 2014's Nightcrawler when rogue filmmaker Louis Bloom stands over the body of his intern Rick and watches him die without a flicker of emotion. Having hired him on a whim in a coffee shop, Bloom had previously roped Rick in to do the dirty on more than one occasion, perpetually going against his morals on more than one count. Despite his continued loyalty, Rick's one moment of self-worth ends up shooting him in the foot as, after having asked for a raise, he is shot by his employer for backing him into a corner. Rick dies, of course.

I have been Rick and I'm pretty sure that, if you have had any sort of unpaid internship in the past, so have you. Whilst Nightcrawler depicts a highly stylised and admittedly unrealistic portrayal of the actual internship experience, the relationship between employer and employed is, at times, not far off.

If you're trying or have tried to get into a specific industry, chances are that you have been told that, in order to succeed, you must embark on an interning career. For many people, it does work; internships are miraculously paid, lead to future work and open up a whole future of career opportunities. Sometimes, however, things aren't so simple and unless you keep your wits about you, it's very easy to get stuck in a loop of perpetual interning. Take heed, my friend, when agreeing to be someone's intern. If you do it the right way, things can only get better. Follow these tips and try to turn your interning present into a working future.

Sign on the dotted line
Always, always sign a contract with someone before agreeing to be their intern; paid or unpaid. You might think that a "gentleman's agreement" will stand you in good stead in the future but trust me when I say that it won't. Before you begin doing anything, you need to have a clear and structured idea of what your employer will expect from you and vice versa. Should things get rocky down the line (and here's hoping that they won't), your written agreement will give you a much firmer leg on which to stand.

Know your role
Likewise, have a discussion with your employer about precisely the role that they expect you to do. Making sure that everyone is on the same professional page before you embark on any project is tantamount to maintaining a good business relationship and means that you won't be in for any nasty surprises down the line. If you know what your employer expects from you, you can fulfill the role from the get-go and any extra work that you do will just be a bonus in your favour.

Assert yourself
Assertion should be judged on an individual basis; only you know the lay of the land. Your employer may want you to follow the guidebooks for 90 percent of the time but there's nothing that says you can't pitch in your own ideas from time to time. If you feel as if you have something worth contributing, think about how best to pitch it to your employer and go for it. Showing your assertive side could put you in good stead for the future.

Be open
If you want to go into a certain position in the future, make sure your employer knows about it. Whilst interning is mainly about paying your dues, it's a great way to gain starter experience in a specific type of job. If there are any extra projects that you want to take on to hone your experience in a given field, go for it. Your employer will most likely do what they can to help you, if you show promise and enterprise.

Be honest
Think of your internship as a taster for your career to come. Imagine the life that it would bring you and the responsibilities that you would expected to take on. If it's not all it's cracked up to be, that's ok. Internships do not tie you to anything at all and if you find yourself in the early stages of pursuing a career which isn't what you thought it would be, it's easier to get out at this point than it will be down the line. Allow your internship to show you want you don't want to do, just as much as it will show you what you do want to do.

In truth, an internship is a great way to discover your future career and get acquainted with an industry with which you have little prior experience. As long as there is an equal amount of respect and expectation on each side, there's nothing to say that it can't lead to great and glorious things.