Confessions of exploited interns

Agency life is undoubtedly an interesting field for many students.

The purpose of having internship programmes is to prepare students for the transition to being a full-time staff once they have completed tertiary education.

In exchange for this invaluable experience, some students work for free.

However, it is unfortunate to know that some agencies, including some well-known ones, take advantage of these students by demanding long work hours with disproportionate stipend.

A+M went out and spoke to a few:

I think the agency confused me for a coffee girl when I was interning at one agency. I was asked to buy food for meetings and I wasn’t even invited to sit in in any of the weekly meetings. I felt so left out. I came with the determination to absorb whatever I could during the internship period but at the end, I didn’t learn much. When people said they treated us like “kuli”, I can vouch for that – PR intern, worldwide PR agency.

I was doing my internship at a reputable agency – something I had dreamed to do. But all I was asked to do there was to do photocopying, faxing and making media calls. I understand that as an intern, I was expected to do that. After four months, although I got the picture of how an ad agency works, i felt my experience did not contribute to my personal career growth. I was expecting to get the chance to write press releases, to handle or assist in a project, but I didn’t get to do all that. There was no such thing as overtime pay either. I wish they had put more trust in interns to do more challenging tasks to experience the role of actual PR personnel in the company. – PR intern, worldwide advertising agency.

I was interning at a digital department but my friends in servicing related their bad experiences to me. They were handling a banking client and they were bullied by senior execs but they couldn’t report it because they had to complete the internship. When asked during the company review, “What do you think of the company” most of them couldn’t and didn’t complain because these senior people would be the ones evaluating them. – PR intern, worldwide advertising agency.

I got paid RM500 per month and I went back home at 12am almost every day. For a company that has a reputable name, they were very stingy in switching on the air conditioner and it was really difficult for us to work late nights in an uncomfortable environment. – Creative intern, local advertising agency.

The company that I worked with had really huge clients and had high revenues but instead of hiring a proper creative director (CD), they hired someone with only 3 years of experience to cut cost. As a result, the designer had to do copywriting as there wasn’t any designated writer. I worked with the CD, who was known to take medical leave before submission is due. Instead of taking any disciplinary actions on the CD, all work were expected to be done by interns. I personally had to go through the terrible experience as agencies have future for us designers as they have a whole concept which comes in a package. – Creative intern, local advertising agency.

My supervisor had trouble communicating clearly which resulted in time wasted and unnecessary stress at work. I couldn’t complain as I was an intern. My supervisor also would take it out on me when she was stressed which I found very unprofessional. Another thing that bugged me was how she would lecture me to stay at my desk at all times. I didn’t feel comfortable even taking a 5 minute coffee break. The funny thing is that once I was made a permanent staff, she started being nice to me. I hope other interns didn’t get treated like how Cruella treated me. Just because I was an intern, it doesn’t mean she could treat me with less respect. – PR intern, worldwide advertising agency.

I was working on some Sundays. When the writer of the magazine left, another intern and I had to take over that role. The company paid us RM350 per month and when that was happening, I felt that it was irresponsible of them to just leave us with the work and without mentors. – Media intern, local publication.

I majored in creative but when I was placed at a local finance institution affiliated with my college, I was pulled out to do events work, which I find ridiculous. I wouldn’t know my full potential in creative if I was put in a totally different department. – Creative intern, in-house creative department at a national bank.

What are agencies doing to ensure their continued success and what would it take for them to see interns as valuable contributors?

With talent already an issue, some agencies fail to realise that fresh grads and interns are the future of the workforce and if they’re not properly trained, it could lead to them abandoning this field altogether and this, in turn, would exacerbate the talent issue further.

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