The news media makes the words “intern” and “graduate job” seem like one of the biggest differences in the world. OKAY THE FORMER DOESN’T NORMALLY INVOLVE YOU GETTING PAID ALRIGHT, but the latter makes it seem like it is the endpoint. You feel that when you finally get a graduate job after a string of internships your struggle is essentially at an end – you’ve reached a point where you’ll have reasonable hours, reasonable responsibility, a time in life where “that Friday feeling” is actually a feeling (a feeling that you haven’t had since 2.30pm during your GCSE Geography class when you knew the ending of the week was on the horizon). That road that you’ve been pushed down, the target that your teachers and parents have had in mind for you since you’ve been about 10 years old, has now come to an end. You’ve got there. You can now relax.
Well, kinda. I don’t mean to depress you (especially on a Monday in the middle of January), but I’ve been quite surprised about the lack of differences between being an intern and having your first job. I mean, here’s three different ways that actually it is pretty similar:
Responsibility. My experiences of being an intern have always been loitering around in the bottom rung, being force-fed tasks to carry out by someone who ‘deals with the interns’ before one day making the step of proposing something or doing something better than they expect to get yourself noticed. It meant that you would have to end up working twice as hard, twice as long or make yourself twice as visible (I guess by wearing horrific orange clothing or doing your traditional daily 4pm flag dance by the reception desk) until someone realises that you are actually bloody good at what you do and offers you a job.
So you’d expect that your responsibilities will change the moment that you get offered that job and start in the world of work right? Wrong. You’re still on the bottom rung, you still get force fed tasks and you still have to end up working twice as hard, possibly twice as long or make yourself twice as visible (I guess by wearing horrific orange clothing or doing your traditional daily 4pm flag dance by the reception desk). This isn’t always the case of course, no job is the same – but you may still get trapped in a position where you feel that you have to prove yourself to get into the job that you actually love and get ahead within it. And that includes doing the bloody admin you never expected to do before you got the job in the first place.
Colleagues. Another huge assumption when you get your first graduate job is that you automatically slot yourself into becoming friends or really well known with your other colleagues. As an intern you notice that you are part of a conveyor belt from the front door to your desk, where the minute that you start to become familiar with your colleagues your time is up and you’re slowly pushed towards the door to be replaced with somebody who is exactly like you. The expectation is that the moment you get a graduate job *click* YOU’RE IN THERE.
Not so. Firstly, as I find working in quite a large company, it might take actual weeks for most of your colleagues to realise that the person sitting at the desk in the corner each morning isn’t actually an intern. And then several more weeks for them and you to actually get to know each other properly, realise that each other isn’t crazy and then share the intricacies of office gossip. There are also different levels of friendship and comradeship – the people around your age and job title know each other quite well and are besties after a while, but the people who work several desks away from you and are management or work in a different department than you? They aren’t. They most likely don’t and most likely won’t know you for a long time. It’s weird.
Insecurity. The biggest similarity of all? The insecurity. Now I know this might not make any sense. When you’re between university and a graduate job or you’re interning, insecurity about where you are heading next and whether it will all work out can be incredibly overwhelming. When you’ve finally got that graduate job, you’ve got nothing to worry about right? You’re getting money, you’re getting paid. You’re on your way with an actual month and date to be written in your CV instead of some waffle to show that you were really busy and really good in those times between…
However the problem is that when you commit to a graduate job, it can be like a contract. You end up questioning the direction that you are taking and whether it is or will be worth all the sacrifice even more. You slowly start to realise that if you commit yourself down this route you’ll have less options to chop and change and do something different later. You start to wonder where you are going to be in five, ten, fifteen years-time, which is all incredibly overwhelming.
Now I don’t mean to write all this as a kind of oh-you’ve-got-a-graduate-job-it-doesn’t-matter-just-get-over- yourself condescending rant. Really, I don’t. I mean, first and foremost getting a graduate job is still a big deal. A huge deal. I mean, for one thing, you can afford more than just the basic ‘plain packaged food’ in Sainsbury’s.
The issue is that it can take time to realise that even if you get the job in the industry you want, it takes a lot longer to get to the position and responsibility you want. The straightforward road from GCSE to A Level to university degree that eventually got you here has been replaced with a slightly more confusing meandering one that’ll take a much longer time to conquer.
Unless of course you’re naturally brilliant and/or you sleep with everybody, in which case: good luck.