Oct 06

How to manage money as an intern

It’s a tough time to be a new graduate right now. Around 10% of graduates were unemployed six months after finishing university last year. One in four had taken a job below graduate level.

Competition for graduate jobs is enormous, and employers report between 30 and 160 applications for each position. One in three graduate recruiters say that in such a competitive market, they wouldn’t consider anyone without work experience.

It means internships will play a part for many graduates. Nine out of ten of the country’s top graduate employers offer paid work experience for recent graduates. It’s a great way to get a foot in the door, but it’s not a well-paid one.

If you’re one of many trying to get experience and a foot on the career ladder through an internship, we show you how to make the most of it, and manage money as an intern.


Get the most from your internship

Young intern

In lots of cases, internships are almost like an extended interview, so you need to stand out. Ask questions, get involved, and be prepared to do extra work to display your enthusiasm.

You will have to do some of the less exciting jobs: it’s the nature of the beast. You can expect to spend a decent chunk of your time doing things you didn’t realise would be part of a graduate role. What you need to watch out for is when you spend more time interacting with a photocopier than other members of staff. If the company just wants you as free (or very cheap) low-skilled labour, it’s time to start looking elsewhere.

Don’t let one bad experience put you off. There are plenty of companies who genuinely want to give you an insight into your chosen career, and find talented graduates to employ on a permanent basis.


What can you expect in terms of pay?

Woman holding cash

This can vary dramatically and depends on the type of internship you are doing. Usually those which lead on to graduate programs will pay you a proper wage – in areas like business, finance and the civil service.

If your chosen career is slightly less mainstream and involves internships at smaller companies, it may be unpaid. Usually if the company is offering an unpaid internship, you can expect it to be for a short time, say a couple of months at most, and most should offer to at least pay for your travel expenses.

A good thing to remember is that although a smaller firm won’t be able to offer you as much money for your hard work, you’ll get much more hands-on experience.

If you’re concerned about your entitlements and rights as an intern, the Trade Union Congress has a great website – Rights for Internswhich may well have answers to your questions.  There’s loads of information regarding your employment status and rights in the work place as an intern, so it’s a great place to go for advice. You can also check out our guide to the pros and cons of an unpaid internship.


How to manage money as an intern…

Reduce your expenses

Young man with no money

Going to work involves certain expenses, but you can keep them to a minimum. You don’t need a whole new expensive wardrobe for work, you just need something vaguely professional. That can mean supermarket black trousers and a plain shirt – so you don’t have to break the bank. Check out our guide to making an impression on a budget.

Take a packed lunch with you and you’ll save a few quid a day. It doesn’t seem like much, but small daily expenses will add up. We have some great, cheap lunch ideas in our guide.

Socialising with your new workmates after hours can be a great way to build contacts – and spend money. Remember, if you’re at the pub, you don’t need to match them drink-for-drink, and you don’t need to drink booze. Nobody will notice if you stick to lemonade or soda water.

If you’re not being paid travel expenses, think about how to cut your costs. Can you cycle to work, take the bus, or travel into work slightly later on an off-peak ticket?


Increase your incomings

Someone counting notes/cash

Make a bit on the side

Being able to make some extra cash outside of work will really help to keep you going. Obviously you want to dedicate all your energy to the internship, so we’re not suggesting you go mad. Instead, we’ve got loads of ideas on easy ways to make money from the comfort of your own home.

Understanding benefits

Graduates on internships are often not entitled to any benefits. You can only claim Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) if you are under the age of 25, and you were on benefits and out of work for a full six months. The internship will also have to be something arranged with the Job Centre through its Work Experience Programme, rather than one you sorted yourself.

The government does provide some help, but only in the form of information on paid internships through its Graduate Talent Pool. You apply direct to the employer through the website, so the government doesn’t actually help you get the internship itself, but the fact a placement is advertised here means it’s guaranteed to be paid.

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