Say H-E-C-K to being an intern

Say H-E-C-K to being an intern
Owen Wilson (left) and Vince Vaughn in The Internship, an American comedy. According to the writer, an internship is like living together before marriage - sensible, provided the intentions are honourable.

Slavery, they say, was abolished many years ago. Several employees would disagree.

From low-paid miners to under-educated domestic helpers, many are caught in the precarious trap between needy families and rapacious shareholders.

Side victims to this tendency can be interns, well-educated scholars and business-school movers and shakers looking for "work experience", itself an expression occasionally used to describe low wages. But interns are not, nor need they be, slaves.

Handled properly, an internship is like living together before marriage - sensible, provided the intentions are honourable and the research is exploratory, not exploitive.

Probation is an appalling term, suggesting as it does that there is mistrust and doubt on the part of the employer.

Nobody should serve a probationary term unless he has been convicted of a felony, in which case the probation is to prove that he has reformed.

New and recently qualified employees do not need reforming, they need educating and encouraging.

An employer who hedges his bets with a probationary term has already built a wall of suspicion that neither he, nor the employee, will ever be able to scale fully.

Internship is not probation. It is - or should be - a hand-in-hand exploration of the potential of the employee for the firm and, equally importantly, of the firm for the employee.

Just as you do not take your date for her first outing to a hawker stall, so the intern must not be shut in a cupboard and told to sort the mail.

These golden months can be eye-openers for both parties, leading to a quick exit if they don't gel, or a life-long working relationship if they do.

The biggest problem for interns is managing their expectations. Their employers are busy, probably overstretched.

Hiring an intern is like taking on an additional job - more work even if some routines are done by the new arrival.

The employer and intern need time to discuss what each expects of the other, what there is in it for both of them in the longer term and why the culture of the business is as they see it.

Understanding the culture of a business and its reason is at the heart of starting an internship.

If an employer doesn't volunteer it, the intern must ask about it.

Every trade and profession has its history and knowing how its style of behaviour and code of conduct came about is as important as learning the catechism before accepting a faith.

All this implies lucid interns capable of doing their homework, asking questions and delving beneath the surface of the job they are engaged to do.

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