Is your internship illegal?

Graduates looking for internships will be pleased to hear that universities have joined the fight against illegal internships, adding real clout to the campaign to put an end to them.

The Times reported that Essex, Leeds, Liverpool, Nottingham, Oxford, Sussex and York have all made a decision to refuse to advertise unpaid internships and many have issued guidance to their students on handling unscrupulous offers.

This will help to give the campaign higher visibility as well as to set a trend for other universities around the country to follow.

What’s an illegal internship?

Employment law says that if your internship has set hours and tasks then it falls into the category of a job and should pay at least the minimum wage, currently around £6.31 an hour. If you are on an internship like this and not getting paid then your internship is illegal.

There are two scenarios that fall outside of this: one is volunteer work for a charity, which is excluded from this definition, and work experience, which, if genuine, shouldn’t last for more than one to four weeks and should cover expenses.

As a recent graduate looking for your first job you may come without sufficient experience but you do not come without valuable skills and attributes and therefore should be compensated for the contribution you make to a company.

Internships are meant to provide opportunities for recent graduates to get valuable work experience to help them get a foot on the ladder in their chosen careers, but some companies have exploited it.

The burden of unpaid internships

The big beef with unpaid internships is that it has created a culture where only the well off can afford to take them up, but even for those deemed to be well off it places extra burden on parents to support their son or daughter with paying for things like rent, utilities, food and travel for what could be up to a year or more. These internships often come with no hope of a job, even if the intern does well, and leaves graduates going from internship to internship trying to get that big break.

It means it has become difficult for graduates to get the experience they need as they simply can’t afford it.

The Inland Revenue is currently investigating 100 companies suspected of breaking the law by ‘employing’ graduates in a full time role without a salary on the guise that it is an internship. The worse offenders are those working in the public relations, arts and fashion industries. Sometimes interns are left out of pocket because they don’t even get expenses for travel or lunch – which is a practice not even charities inflict on to their volunteers.

Even reputable companies like Harrods and NOW Magazine have been caught up in the argument – they were taken to tribunal by the campaign group Intern Aware and found in breach of employment law. But few could beat the audacity of Reading Football Club, which is offering a year-long position as a full-time performance analyst – with no salary or expenses, yet a requirement for candidates to have their own car, attend home and away fixtures, and work unsociable hours.

How to protect yourself against illegal internships

The growing trend for turning what should be an opportunity to gain valuable experience into opportunities for cheap labour has given rise to a campaign to introduce at least some basic standards for employing interns.

If you take up an internship you should ensure

  1. You understand the hours and duties you are being asked to do
  2. You make it clear that while you may not have experience you are bringing valuable skills to the role
  3. That the company is offering at least the minimum wage.

As tempting as the opportunity may seem you should refrain from accepting positions that are clearly jobs disguised as unpaid internships since this maintains a culture where graduates are being exploited and their skills undermined.

Three ways to manage your graduate career expectations

When others hold high expectations for you, you also tend to hold them for yourself.

It often begins with the expectations your parents have for you, then the school and college, and then finally the university. When children are expected to do well they usually do, as Ofsted can tell you.

Chances are that other people have held high expectations of you throughout your education career, and that these expectations have rubbed off on you.

Whether you have graduated and are looking for a job, or are still at university but thinking about your career, you need to retain those high expectations for yourself. Here are three ways to help you manage them.

1. Self talk yourself into the career you want

Now that you no longer have form tutors or lecturers breathing down your neck telling you that they have high expectations of you, you need to start doing it for yourself. If you have never had anyone breathing down you neck telling you that ‘you can do it’ then all the more reason to start now – you have a lot of catching up to do.

According to research by the British Psychological Society, sport psychologists agree that athletes who talk to themselves perform better than those who don’t, and that talking yourself down equally impedes performance. So tell yourself out aloud that you have high expectations of yourself for your graduate career. Don’t apologise or feel embarrassed about having a personal ambition for yourself.

2. Raise your own achievement bar

What would help you to realise your potential? Simple. Raise the bar. You don’t have others there to set goals and targets for you any longer so you need to do this for yourself. Potential speaks of the best you can possibly be but how can you know the extent of your greatness if you never create opportunities to bring it out?

Try to be a bit more adventurous (according to what is adventurous for you) and to expose yourself to new experiences. How about introducing yourself to a new experience each week… imagine what that could do to you after a couple of months. It could transform your CV and make you a much more interesting interview candidate, and then employee. It could be the factor that sways things in your favour when you’re competing with a candidate that’s just as qualified as you are. When a person is exposed to the best of what has been thought and said it develops an appreciation of human creativity and achievement. So keep learning and building on what you already know.

3. Forget what others have said about you

Whether you have always had others rooting for you or not, this one is perhaps the most important of all, and it may seem contradictory to the rest: you need to separate yourself from the expectations others had or have of you. What do I mean? Well, in his latest review of the national curriculum, our rather enlightened education secretary Mr Michael Gove admitted that sometimes students have done better in exams than their educators expected and so his review aims “to help all children do well and learn without being restricted by our [that is, their teachers’] expectations”.

Society is littered with individuals who have gone on to use their talent to do well in life despite their teachers’ predictions of flop and failure. Richard Branson was labeled as lazy and stupid. Sir John Gurdon, who won a Nobel Prize for research in genetic cloning, was ridiculed by his biology teacher at Eton. Our past deputy prime minister Mr Michael Heseltine was labeled with too many names to list here. And newsreader Jon Snow, who wrote an article on the topic (The Stars Who Were Told They Would Never Amount to Anything, for the Express), was told that he “sets himself low standards which he fails to achieve”. If this has been your experience you need to start believing otherwise about yourself and proving those horrible teachers wrong. You can do it.

Let’s teach graduates how to be employable

Universities that don’t help grads get jobs are headed for closure

When will universities wake up and look at the glaringly obvious answer to what graduates really need?

A university careers service that helps them find employment.

Another report out this week on student finance shows that more students than in 2012 are struggling to make ends meet. Lloyds TSB’s third annual Student Finance Report shows that the average deficit for a student is expected to be around £16,909 on completion of their course – but contrast that with the £27,796 estimate for first year undergraduates.

Eighteen per cent do not have enough money to get through the month, 38% are only just meeting their monthly outgoings, over half believe they will complete their university course with a debt of over £10,000, and 51% are now working full or part time compared to 48% the previous academic year. The worrying effects on students’ lives do not end there: 29% of those who worked during term time in the past academic year admit that it has affected their studies in a negative way, compared with 25% in 2012.

The report highlights the daily reality of lives blighted both by debt and uncertainty over firstly, how long it will take to find a job, and secondly, whether they will ever find one that pays an income sufficient to clear their debt once they graduate.

Teach graduates how to be employable

The huge investment students and their parents are making for the privilege of a university education is crippling and universities must play a greater role to support graduates to find the employment they will need to pay off these debts.

Yet our research over the past four years of working with graduates shows that the overwhelming majority do not find the help they receive from their university careers service helps them.

They still leave university unsure of what employers want from them, a fact research from the CBI has attested to.

Is anyone listening?

A few months ago, Sir David Bell, the vice chancellor of Reading university, said it is not the job of universities to teach graduates how to get a job; they exist to give students an education, but it is going to have to be absolutely essential if students are going to get a graduate level job. We already have reports of universities around the country facing closures, mergers and battles against student shortfalls, while those from abroad are working just as hard to attract students from the UK. The Lloyds TSB report reveals that 40% of first year undergraduates said that the cost of increased tuition fees this year was a factor in their decision about which university to study at, with 11% identifying it as a key factor.

But is anyone really listening? No university has taken the bull by the horns and decided that they’ve got to start helping. The university that sits up and says, ‘Every student that comes to study with us will get a career plan on how to get a job when they come out the other side’ won’t have a problem with attracting them. Responding with more serious job support would add more value to any university course.

This will at least avert some of the fears students feel as they leave university to face a future in debt.

Smart universities would teach job skills

Universities, if they are smart, will respond with an effort to help allay fears over debt by teaching graduates how to become employable. Academic skills alone isn’t hacking it any more Sir David Bell. They need to learn business awareness, communication, self management and other employability skills employers need. They need to learn how to sell their achievements, how to research companies, how to present themselves at interview and how to ask for the job – skills to help them get the graduate level job for which they have invested thousands and thousands of pounds in income, loans and savings in the pursuit of a university education.

Perhaps when students start voting with their money the laissez-faire approach our universities have to career support will change and they will start providing the sort of help graduates need to get proper jobs.

Image Credit: SMBcollege

What foreign-born grads have that UK grads don’t

Graduate recruitment news showing that up to 40 per cent of graduate jobs in London are filled by people born overseas begs the question, “Why?”

What does a graduate born overseas have that a graduate born in the UK does not? And why do top companies like PwC stage overseas recruitment drives to attract them?

At 40 per cent the figure is highest among those in the 30 to 40 year old bracket but there has been a rise from 22 to 33 per cent across all graduate jobs in London since 1997. While graduate recruitment in London for people born in the UK but outside the capital has risen just 60 per cent, for those born overseas recruitment has risen 174 per cent.

There is less room at the top if you want a graduate level job in London, but here are a few facts about the type of skills these overseas graduates have, which are appealing to recruiters in London.

Fact number 1: Field specific

There is a demand for graduates who can fill professional positions in healthcare, education, law and finance. The arts figure highly here, too. Reports show that competition is stiff for professionals in areas like these. Typically, most of these are fields that like to recruit people who have studied a STEM subject (science, technology, engineering or mathematics), but not exclusively.

Fact number 2: Resilence

Coming to the UK to work from a foreign land means that for quite a lot of the time these graduates are outside of their comfort zone. Without the usual surroundings or familiarity of their home town they develop the ability to be resilient; they have to find ways to solve problems largely on their own. These graduates tend to come across as persistent and less likely to run away at the first sign of a challenge.

Fact number 3: Self-motivated

These graduates have already shown that they are self-starters and have what it takes to motivate themselves. In a new land you have to be self-reliant as you don’t have the usual family and friends to fall back on; and because a foreign land is bound to present a load of cultural and communication challenges you will have to work harder to prove your worth and achieve your goals. These are desirable qualities for a top job.

Fact number 4: Bilingual

If you can speak more than one language, then that is going to be attractive to an employer with an eye on the global market. Britain has long since recognised this as an area in which it needs to improve when it comes to education. We have a poor track record when it comes to studying a foreign language to an advanced level compared with graduates from other parts of Europe.

Fact number 5: Vision

People who travel and speak more than one language are also more likely to have a global mindset. They are more likely to have an awareness of different cultures and this is becoming increasingly important in a marketplace where borders are less rigid. Graduates that have done some travel and are open to an international career are desirable to top companies.

What UK graduates can do to compete

With stiff competition for graduate level jobs coming from countries like Portugal, Greece, Italy, Spain and the rest of the world, the implications for UK graduates is that they need to step up in the game – or get left behind.

Think beyond your degree subject. If you look at the skills and abilities above they are largely what we call soft skills, or employability skills. These are the skills and experiences you develop around and in addition to formal education. Seek out opportunities to work with and learn from a wide range of people so you can widen your awareness of different cultures, strengthen your communication skills and broaden your vision.

Don’t wait for opportunities to come your way either. Whether you are on an internship, still at university or somewhere in between, volunteer your time to a cause or project. Look for opportunities to contribute. Read books and trade magazines so you can stay up to date and always have something useful to offer. Pick a topic related to your career interest and develop your expertise around it. Be desirable!

Finally, welcome the challenges and problems that come your way as opportunities to develop persistence and resilience. Present solutions, not just problems. Put these on your CV. Talk about them at your interviews.

Experts say that the “forces at work are so strong” that the trend for these skills and abilities will increase, so UK graduates need to arm themselves with the right skills and mindset to compete.

Image Credit: Pamhule