Something For Nothing: How To Be A Good Intern

Jezebel called them ‘the happy housewives of the working world’. Graduate Fog discussed the constant calls for them to present themselves as ‘enthusiastic, submissive and obedient’. And Company magazine dedicated one of their features this month to celebrating their continued existence. It was called ‘How To Be A Good Intern’ - and, as one of the most vocal users of unpaid work by young people, we shouldn’t take their so-called advice lying down.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Company isn’t famous for wading into political debate; its highest trending article on its website is at the time of writing ‘WHAT DO YOUR SPOTS SAY ABOUT YOU?’ This means that they either only just discovered biology, or Katie Holmes’ Most Recent Whitehead is interviewed being all, ‘That bitch is so crazy, I’m sorry I ever even pustulated on her greasy forehead’. I can’t be bothered to waste the finger-clicking energy on finding out, but either way, I think you’ll agree the point still stands. Company is to economic discussion what George Osborne is to burgers: a total fraud, who eats your money and then lies about where they got it.

‘How To Be A Good Intern’ is a feature written by ‘fashion writer’ Alexxsia Elizabeth, who describes herself as ‘a former Company intern, and... the person who hires our interns’. She starts off by stating ‘I’d love to say there are three golden rules. But I’d be lying. There are hundreds’. These apparently include ‘my god, please do SOMETHING interesting with that email subject line - Application For Work Experience is literally on repeat in my inbox’; ‘If you don’t know what Twitter is (or how it works) then don’t bother getting out of bed (certainly not if you’re coming in to Company HQ)’; ‘You’ve heard of a bedside manner for doctors, well there’s definitely intern-to-boss manner too. Remember you’re not there to have a natter, there’s work to be done’; ‘Ask yourself before you interrupt - can I Google it?’, ‘Learn who [in the office] likes decaf soya flat whites or who prefers their peppermint tea bag left in. You could even match types with their name/extension number’; ‘Don’t expect flattery and praise’; and - my personal favourite - ‘A common mistake people make about unpaid internships is the assumption that they are ‘working for free’. At a recent Company Fashion Forum, stylist and presenter Angela Scanlon told the crowd to view internships as ‘free training’ rather than, say, slave labour’.

Well, Alexxsia’s given me a lot to work with here. And I’m pretty sure the term ‘slave labour’ should never be casually employed after the word ‘say’, unless the sentence is something like ‘Vagenda writers say slave labour is being used by Company magazine and they’ve tried to cover their arses by writing a feature about it but they included tips on how you should memorise the people in the office who drink soya flat whites and also said that you shouldn’t talk to anyone and you should keep smiling through your tears while you arrange shoes in alphabetical order for hours which is apparently the sort of free training which will come in supremely useful during your future career in fashion and/or media but would actually only prepare you for a lifetime of standing submissively in the face of hopped-up overprivileged fashion junkies screaming in your face about their 3pm coffee while you go home at night and cry yourself to sleep about making a tin of tuna last for a week’. Or whatever.

Because even Alexxsia contradicts herself. How can memorising the peppermint teabag ritual of a Features Editor count as ‘free training’? How can a forum run by people who all rely on unpaid interns to collect their hefty salaries every month (hello, Company Fashion Forum) have anything meaningful or objective to say about unpaid internships? How can an internship be recast as a positive experience to build upon workplace skills when you have to ask yourself ‘Can I Google it?’ before you dare to interrupt any of the bigwigs who don’t pay your wage? How can an entire generation of women open one of the most successful female-run magazines in the UK and read a rant from Alexxsia Elizabeth on how ‘Application for Work Experience’ is a woefully inadequate email subject line, or how you shouldn’t bother ‘getting out of bed’ if you don’t have a Pinterest account, when a massive gender pay gap continues to exist which can be partly explained by the fact that young women are a lot more likely than young men to work for nothing at all? How can Company magazine dare to even condescend their readership with ‘career tips’ which include remembering your boss’s favourite kind of cappuccino, all the while preaching that interns should be grateful for the opportunity to know it? In other words: why the hell aren't they on our side, and why are they YELLING at us about it?

Unpaid internships matter. They matter on a number of levels, for all people, but they particularly affect young women: they are more likely to exist in female-dominated industries such as the media and the fashion world, and even outside of these spheres, women are more likely to be working for free anywhere. They matter because the ‘ideal intern’ is usually presented as a submissive, unassertive, obedient, compliant, grateful, adaptable, brainlessly enthusiastic young girl with a ponytail, a trust fund, and a rich and powerful boyfriend. They matter because Company magazine reckons they’re giving something back by employing unpaid labour, and that they couldn’t afford to fork out minimum wage to the handful of women who manage to get their foot in the door at ‘Company HQ’ every year, while they literally just flew their entire team out to Ibiza in order to draw an online map of ‘the best places to party’. They matter because if you don’t withdraw regularly from The Bank of Mum and Dad, and you don’t have friends or family to stay with in central London, then you can’t even afford to take the necessary unpaid internship for the next step on the jobs ladder.

Alexxsia, dude. They matter because like, persistent gender pay gap. Nepotism. Stereotyping. Sexism. Humiliation. I know you’re safe now, but they’re still making you play their game by coercing you into endorsing their crappy system via the medium of the written word. 

Come and join us on the pink side, Alexxia. I'm disappointed in you but I understand that you shouldn't hate the player, so I'm hating the game. And I know you have to pay your bills - but if you pour that double shot soy milk chai latte over your boss's head right now and leave 'Company HQ' forever, your soul might feel a little brighter. 

One thing's for sure: you’ll never, ever have to ponder what your spots say about you again. Is it any wonder that the intern at Tatler decapitated their dog in the doorway?

Disclaimer: Tatler denied claims that the intern was the one who walked the Tatler dog to his unfortunate death. But hey, doesn't it make a funny ending?