Opinion: Melissa Koutoukidis

 
Melissa Koutoukidis is an aspiring journalist in her second year of a Bachelor of Arts degree, majoring in Media and Communications, at the University of Melbourne. She has just begun a PR and Marketing internship at the Modern Woman’s Survival Guide where she is also soon to be contributing a monthly column. Melissa is a feature writer for Theatre People, Australia’s most popular theatre website, has contributed to an array of publications including The Punch and Melbourne Observer. You can follow Melissa on Twitter

This article first appeared on The Punch and Melissa has kindly let me re-post it here to share with you on My Interning Life.

Interns: Slaving away for our CVs ’til we’re blue in the face

 BY MELISSA KOUTOUKIDIS 

In this job climate instead of greedily battling for the last cent, many are competing for the first opportunity.

Surprisingly, interns are usually a bit bigger than this guy

Surprisingly, interns are usually a bit bigger than this guy

Only a short time ago, I was offered my first, official internship position. Conscious of how challenging it can be to secure such roles, I was eager to boast to my family of the accomplishment. The preliminary question and answer session wasn’t of where I would be interning, nor the duties I would be assuming. Rather my elation was met with a unified, “Is it paid?”

Finding a paid internship these days is like unearthing a talented Kardashian. There are plenty of internships, just not a lot of paid ones.

However, due to the proverbial ‘I-can’t-get-a-job-without-experience’ quandary an increasing number of individuals are sacrificing income for a stepping stone into their industry of choice.

Such a high prevalence of unpaid employment arrangements has prompted the Fair Work Ombudsman to launch a meticulous investigation. Two legal experts from the University of Adelaide will inquire into whether companies are taking advantage of a younger generation willing to do almost anything to crack into today’s particularly competitive job market.

Hardly coerced into allegedly ‘exploitative’ positions, fledgling interns fight tooth and nail for that one shot. Simply itching to get their foot in the door, internships facilitate a candid taste of the industry.

And despite what many may believe, these opportunities do possess value. Albeit that remuneration may not derive from digits scrawled crudely on a pay packet, the dividends emerge from the experience.

Within particular job markets, any practical experience that can be foraged ought to be. Especially since the competitive nature of the employment market renders tertiary studies next to futile if not bolstered by bouts of on-the-job learning.

At least that’s emblematic of the media industry. As a student of media and communications, we are continually informed that internships and work experience will be our point of differentiation.

At the end of the day when we’re tarrying at the metaphorical employment stand with our two-dollar degrees and two-dollar youthful enthusiasm, practical placements are conveyed as the certain je ne sais quoi we will want to be sporting.

And having undertaken my fair share of work experience, the skills you acquire are incomparable to that which students are exposed to in the university environment.

Your reimbursement contains reference letters, a sheet full of contacts, and the refreshing outlook that this career path is or isn’t one which you would like to pursue. For these precious employability commodities, an unpaid internship is a reasonable price to pay.

That’s not to discount the real-life horror stories regarding unpaid work. The tale of the young labourer committing a year to a business in the expectation of full-time employment only to leave empty-handed is the potential pitfall.

Unfortunately, the issue of self-regulation arises in response to such tales of injustice. At the most basic level, discernment of when one is getting the raw end of the deal is crucial. Unless you’re able to exploit the employer for all the insider knowledge and advice they can lend, you end up slaving away at the price of your time, rather than at the price of experience.

It is when internships are the mutually beneficial arrangements they were intended to be, that the results are invaluable.

That being said, if the findings from the Fair Work enquiry reveal that paid internships are a legal entitlement, the outcome could be a double-edged sword.

Whilst interns would revel in combining experience with currency, these already limited positions would be severely monopolised. The sheer scarcity of roles could lead to increased nepotism overriding merit when it comes to dictating who attains such positions.

In truth, many companies have the means to provide interns with experience but not with an income. And often it is within these types of institutions that the most in depth learning occurs.

My experience at these smaller workplaces has been extremely positive. In fact, the very character of such companies permits interns and volunteers to explore nuances of the industry in much different ways. It gave me the freedom to make mistakes without fear of reprimand or the hindrance of numeric expectations. I dipped my toes into responsibilities which amateurs would only dream of undertaking. I was rewarded with a portfolio that is continually enhancing in both quantity and diversity.

Perhaps certain regulatory guidelines should be in place to avoid naïve hopefuls being taken for a ride, but by no means is an abolition of unpaid internships warranted. If this is the case, only a minority of us will gain the experience we require in order to truly tackle our future professions.


Professional Writing Advice: Eden Cox

I wouldn’t have found my internship at Milk PR without Eden. She referred me on to Milk after seeing an ad on facebook for an intern vacancy. I’m returning the favour and offering some amazing insight for aspiring writers and magazine editors. Eden was ‘thrown in the deep end’ when she landed a promotion as Editor of two magazines at Executive Media. Although Eden didn’t do an internship while at university, she worked hard at Executive Media for three years before landing her job as Editor. 

The Basics Eden Cox, 26, Editor at Executive Media. I am currently the editor of two magazines at Executive Media: Australian Resources and Investment (a quarterly journal for mining and investment professionals), and Clubs and Pubs Manager (a brand new quarterly magazine for hospitality venue managers).

Qualifications Bachelor of Arts (Majors in Creative Writing and History), Postgraduate Diploma of Editing and Communications, Melbourne University.

Dream Job? I very much enjoy being a magazine editor, but, as is the case for most people, my dream job is not the one I have! Someday I would love to be able to support myself as a freelance children’s book illustrator. That’s a long way off, but it’s nice to have goals.

What do you do on a daily basis?

That’s a very big question for me! Working at a relatively small, independent publishing company, I’m involved in almost every aspect of magazine production. My tasks include writing, proofreading, researching, editing, deciding on topics to be covered in each edition, assigning articles to contributors, assisting the advertising department with sales concepts, liaising with printers and giving the final sign-off before press, marketing and distribution, writing media kits, and image-sourcing and other aesthetic considerations.

I also attend the launch of each edition of Australian Resources and Investment, where I meet with readers and potential contributors, which is a definite perk, as I’m treated to a wonderful three-course lunch at the Melbourne Town Hall on a regular basis!

Along with managing two of my own publications from start to finish, I also assist our other in-house editor, Gemma Peckham, with the production of her publications. We work as a team, checking each other’s work and ensuring any advertising is up to scratch. When I have time, I write travel articles for publication in another of the company’s magazines, Caravanning Australia. This sometimes involves working outside of business hours, but I like to keep up my writing skills and grow my portfolio of published work.

What kind of work experience have you had?

At the age of 26, I have already had a pretty varied working life, I think.

When I was 20 and studying arts at uni, I landed a casual job that I loved. My employer was an author writing a novel for teenagers, and he needed a young person’s advice on plot development, characterisation and dialogue. Each week he’d send me a chapter to read and edit, which taught me a lot about writing and how to change someone else’s work without offending them – a fine art indeed! It set me on my path to editing and when he finished his book, I immediately started applying for part-time entry level jobs in publishing.

It was about four months before I was successful (a stressful time, as I wasn’t sure how to deal with being unemployed!), landing a job as a part-time proofreader and office assistant at Executive Media. Over about three years, I waded through the mind-numbing task of proofreading ads and reception duties, and moved on to checking editorial, writing feature articles, and assisting with page layouts. Eventually an opportunity came up for a change when one of the editors went on maternity leave and I was given temporary control of her publication, Mothers Matter, a free lifestyle newspaper for parents.

This proved a great opportunity to discover what being an editor is all about; being a low-revenue, mass market publication, it wasn’t the end of the world when I made a mistake – and making mistakes really is the best way to learn!

I was completing my Postgraduate Diploma of Editing and Communications at this stage, learning the nitty gritty of grammar and structure that most people don’t even notice. After I had graduated, another great opportunity arose; Executive Media’s head editor resigned and I was thrown in the deep end! After a very brief hand-over I was given Australian Resources and Investment to manage, with lots of support and assistance from my managers and co-workers.

Every two months, after working so hard on every stage of the magazine, I still get butterflies and cold sweats when the latest edition is delivered straight off the press, expecting to see a big fat spelling mistake or formatting issue! Mostly that’s just paranoia, luckily!

What advice can you offer to publishing industry hopefuls…

Get your foot in the door whichever way you can. You might start at the very bottom of the ladder, like I did, or do work experience or an internship. It’s a competitive industry, so don’t expect to be climbing that ladder fast – it’s more like climbing a rope than a ladder! I was a proofreader/coffee fetcher/photocopier/general help girl for three years at the same company before I made it up the next rung, but it was worth it.

Once you’re in, work hard; show your employer that you love the work and are willing to put effort in. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice or assistance; the best workplaces are team-oriented, and your willingness to get it right will be appreciated. Importantly, never say no to an opportunity. Even if you don’t think you’re good enough, give it a go and you’re likely to discover that you’re more capable than you thought!

Look out for Eden’s Professional Writing Advice on My Interning Life tomorrow.