Interns – again

The problem with interns is not only world-wide but, more worryingly, also over-represented world-wide for the PR industry.

The Economist publishes a feature, the Daily Chart, which illustrates various trends or situations. On September 8 2014 it published one on interns around the world. The source was an analysis by LinkedIn of the profile of its members – sample size 313 million – to try to work out where it was easiest to get work experience and, most importantly, which industries were most likely to keep you on beyond the serious introductory coffee-fetching period.

A key finding was that PR firms ‘hire’ about three times as many interns (as a proportion of total number employed) “but only give 27% a job at the end of their placement” according to The Economist. It also said: “Software firms, for instance, have few openings but retain around two-fifths of their interns—more than most sectors..…. For those seeking the reassurance of a permanent job, accounting and management-consulting are good bets, with retention rates of 40% and 60% respectively. Charities and NGOs, on the other hand, are far less likely to retain their interns.”

It should be said here that internships are a path to a job in an industry not just a specific employer. Australian university PR courses include a work experience placement which gives students some insights into the PR workplace. RMIT University staff are very careful about where they place people and provide strong guidance about how interns should be managed and employed and that’s the general rule for Australian PR undergraduates.  Firm’s policies also play a part. The blog’s firm’s Melbourne office, for instance, only ever employed two of the RMIT work experience students it took on after they graduated. Not from any policy or concern about graduate qualities but because we believed it was better to open up any job to a wider range of applicants. However, one was simply so outstanding as an RMIT student and in the workplace, that we grabbed her when we could. She went on to be a consultant at McKinseys and now runs a very successful consultancy herself. The other (who has had various very senior corporate PR jobs) was a person of such strong character that we simply couldn’t pass him by. Along with many other qualities he had a personal back story in a single parent family, where he played a major role bringing up his younger sister, which convinced everyone in the office he was a remarkable person as well as a bright undergraduate.

It also fitted in with the firm’s more general hiring policies: look first at referrals from existing staff; focus on what young applicants did in their undergraduate years outside studying; focus on what they did in life, for example what they read and liked. Any job applicant who listed on their application interests such as reading, films or music on an application was grilled about what books they had recently read, films they had seen or music listened to just as rigorously as about their claims to have worked on some big account. Here the grilling they got focussed on details about what precisely they had done on the nominated account.

The finding about the charities and NGOs is perhaps comprehensible. They are desperately short of both money and people so young people looking for a start in the workforce obviously go where they can most likely get a start. In the arts – of which the blog has some experience – interns, volunteers and grossly underpaid (relative to other industries) staff are the norm. There is, in some recompense, some glamour, occasional free tickets and high quality food at sponsor functions which can be gulped down after the guests have gone.

The chart can be found at and it’s conveniently interactive so you can go from industry to industry. The Economist also has a three page feature in its 6 September 2014 issue reviewing the international situation with interns.