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Internships, a viable path to work? Our latest mummy blogger found out the hard way!

I’m a 44-year-old busy mother of three. I have a Masters and a BA degree. I took an 8-year career break to bring up my children. In September 2017 my last child started school and I tried my best to return to employment.

In March 2017 I was called for interview in a graphic design company in Croydon. I was interviewed in a very plush office, with beautiful wooden office furniture and an impressive décor. The person who interviewed me told me that he was offering an internship for a ‘writer’. He agreed that it was “a bit of an insult” to offer me such a role (i assume he said this because of my age and past work experience) however we both agreed that I would learn from the digital marketing experience (so much has changed in the last 8 years!) and that he would profit from my former work experience and maturity. I was expected to work office hours (9am -5pm) Monday to Friday.

My initial impression of the office was good. There were at least 12 Apple macs and the office was wide and comfortable. This ‘appearance’ was later to be subject to ridicule when I observed that the professional looking office that I had been interviewed in on the floor above did not belong to the company I was working for. In addition, I soon noticed that the desks in our office were being advertised as “rentable desk space” on the company social media site!

On commencing my internship I was asked to rewrite the whole of the company website and proofread numerous important emails. A month into the ‘internship’ I began to get concerned that I had no contract. I was working very hard, my husband works abroad so things were particularly strained at home, especially from going from being a full-time mother to a full-time working mother.

After two months I was informed by my boss that my internship position as a ‘writer’ was to be changed to a ‘business developer’. Personal business cards were designed for me with my job title as, ‘Business Development Manager’. I went full steam ahead attending breakfast and evening networking meetings, entirely funded by myself. In one such networking meeting I met a human resource employee who commented how scandalous unpaid internships were! Imagine my situation, I was attending the Chamber of Commerce networking meetings and doing presentations whilst not having a contract, receiving pay slips or paying tax.

After asking my boss directly, at the end of the three months internship, if I was to be taken on eventually; would my role be paid by “commission only?” I was assured verbally that this would not be the case, thus implying I would get a salary.
My boss assured me, “We would love you to stay and grow with us” and proposed that I work another month and that he would pay for my travel and lunch. He said, “As you know it’s all about the sales and money that you are able to bring in for the business. At the end of that month we can sit down again and evaluate the sales you make.”

I was being urged by my friends to leave the company. However I had made business connections and could see potential leads. I decided to complete another month.

It was to my surprise then that my boss was ‘away on business’ for the entirety of this last fourth month and incredibly, at my boss’s request while out of the country, I was asked to create and write the company business plan for which took up considerable time and effort. This diverted me away from the Business Development role.

In spite of this I did manage to get a lead with a prominent company and organised a technical call between my boss( in Dubai) and the lead in the U.K. However, I didn’t feel comfortable to pursue the business development until my boss returned to the office as I didn’t have the technical skills to carry out the work. I feel sure, however, that I initiated contact with a company that will be bringing a continual income to the graphic design business (if the development work is satisfactory for them). I also had several other leads and felt confident that I would get business soon for the graphic design company.
An internship is a period of time during which someone works for a company in order to get experience of a particular type of work. This is certainly what we agreed at interview. That role is not the same as a paid employee who is expected (and motivated) and capable to perform 100% from the start. It appears my boss confused the two, expecting his “interns” to perform as “employees” without paying them.

Sales, in a B2B environment do not happen overnight, it takes time to cultivate relationships with potential clients. People buy from people & businesses they know, like & trust and this takes time.

At the end of my internship I was offered a base salary but ONLY if I were to reach an unrealistic monthly sales target. It seemed a no-brainer. I had already worked for four months for nothing and I wasn’t prepared, at this stage, to accept a commission-only payment structure.
The terms of employment that I was offered after my internship ended, meant that self-employment was not an option, as my boss was determining my hours of work, performance, etc. which means that I would be classified as a “worker”.

It is clear to me that the company I worked for did not have a proper business model to take forward without the use of unpaid workers, for there were three other interns working in the company at the same time as me. They were not even receiving expenses! I left the company asking myself how frequent are these type of unpaid internships being snapped up by honest, hardworking and educated people being led to believe that they may eventually be employed? I also marveled at the fact that my ‘’boss’ succeeded in having four graduates work standard office hours for three months without paying us a penny!

A disgruntled Intern/Mum.

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