Undertaking an Internship seems to be the norm as a stepping stone to a job in so many industries these days. This is undoubtedly the case in the fashion world judging by the number of advertisements for roles and from speaking to graduates applying for their first job. We don’t have to like it but it appears this is the reality.
But what happens once your intern days have come to an end and you have landed your first job? What next? Being a serial internee or someone who has spent time working in the industry as an intern, it’s hard to leave the mentality of being an intern behind. Having completed over 7 internships in the industry I was nervous about the prospects of being an employee at a company and wondered how things would be different. Most of the organisations I worked for during my time as an intern made me feel part of the company, but it had to be different now - right? So what are the key differences going from intern to employee? It certainly isn’t ‘same job but with a contract’!
You’re not an intern anymore
Having the role as an intern in the fashion industry can actually get really comfortable although you perhaps don't realise it at the time. It’s possible to hop from internship to internship, get into the routine, get to know the job role well and move on. Once you become an employee you have a job description, contract, conditions of employment and in some roles precise targets to achieve. You are also likely to be subject to an appraisal system where your performance is assessed - so mentally you are more ‘checked in’ and although you are a committed intern it’s less easy to feel it’s someone else’s responsibility and then forget about the job when they leave.
A clear difference therefore is an acknowledgement that you are in it for the long haul, internships have a beginning and an end, and there is no end date when you are a permanent employee. Hooray you say! An intern is more of a training role, working under close supervision, but now you have a wage, possibly no training plan and you could well be thrown in at the deep end. You also become more aware about your place in the company and your future within it, how you are judged and managed as an employee is different. When you are an intern you could well be still completing your education and have commitments there, so at times it’s understandable to have the mind-set of “if I don't like it, I’ll just leave”. Not an option when you have committed to working on a full time basis to a company. You have higher expectations of yourself as do the company of you.
Another change is of course, you are not the intern anymore so who is? You are now probably a junior member of the team therefore you are possibly responsible for looking after the interns in your department which is a job in itself; it’s a challenge managing someone who 3 months ago could have been you. When I first started my current role I was tasked with hiring and finding interns in my first few weeks of being there. It was a new experience suggesting someone shouldn’t wear flip-flops in the office, and encouraging them to smile more and scowl less.
The major change of course is the responsibility, accountability and the need to be super professional - I have found that going from intern to employee means you rarely check out of work (mentally), you feel the pressure as you’re there to work, you are being paid and colleagues are dependent on you getting key jobs done. So as the intern leaves on a Friday wishing everyone a great weekend your boss asks you to come in on Sunday morning, so much for end of week celebrations, dammit, yes that’s what it can mean, no weekend hangover.
But your internships have hopefully given you lots of experience - you know more. You are ready to be an employee and leave the interning behind. It’s time to take all you've learnt, good and bad and make it best practice and pass it down to the interns that now work for you.
It’s time to own your place in whatever organisation you choose. The Intern days are behind you.
By contributing guest editor Hannah Rafter, founder and Editor In Chief of The Intern 247, a website dedicated to giving real insights into the world of fashion. @theintern247 theintern247.com