Thursday, 25 March 2010

Sincerity pays off?

This year’s job fair organised as a part of Career Days reflected the general state of economy. The halls of Palace of Culture didn’t look as gloomy as last year, but there was no sign of lavishness as I could see two years ago. The financial industry is recovering as the rest of the economy – slowly and warily.

My friends and I reached a conclusion that the only positive thing about the fair is a series of training delivered in the same week. Stands of employers are not that worth visiting – you won’t even pick up many corporate disposable pens since the companies have trimmed their promotion budgets. I went there actually only to meet my friends from HR department of the bank where I had had an internship. I also talked to several representatives of employers but found out I had found before on their websites.

After twenty minutes of meandering between the stalls I headed for an exit. While passing by a stand of one of the banks I overheard the following conversation between a student and a bank’s representative:

Student: Why are the internships with your bank unpaid?
Bank’s rep: The salary an intern receives is conditioned upon the value of their work.

I stopped by, glanced at bank’s rep to see her flushing and simply walked away (I dislike nosy bystanders who watch a situation like a fly on the wall). ‘Nice blunder’ – I thought. What the student heard was a slap on his face, but brushing aside the matter of good manners (or rather keeping up appearances) I still wonder what the companies’ remuneration policies are. Some, like the ones from consultancy Big Four or FCMG industry pay their interns above national average, but still many offer internships for free, or for “good atmosphere” or a certificate confirming having an internship with them. Many say what you learn during an internship is more important than how much you get paid. I go along with that claim, but my friends’ observations only confirm that usually what you the more learn and the more your employers requires from you, the higher your salary is. And the salary is very strongly correlated with the value added created for a company by an intern. If the sentence above is true, then the bank’s rep made no bones about their internship programme. If it is wrong, then we see a labour force exploitation and go back to eighteenth century.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a Marxist twaddle, not I claim people should do everything for money. I strongly favour doing things disinterestedly – helping people, doing them a favour without expecting them to pay me back gives me a lot of satisfaction, but if somebody works for an organisation for a few months and the organisation benefits from their work, it is simply unfair. I will never let somebody work for me for free, unless I break my moral spine. The sound policy many companies pursue is paying an amount of money which roughly covers the costs of living in Warsaw, which is between 1,000 and 2,000 PLN.

Some of you might say a company has to train an intern, etc. It’s true, I know, but if you want to reap profits you have to invest. There’s a way to get it round – you can offer unpaid internships and advertise your company with the slogan Zatrudniamy najlepszych (EN: we employ the best). But the best will work in Ernst&Young or Deloitte for 3,600 PLN per month not in your company for 0 PLN. It’s natural, it will get you nowhere.


Brad Zimmerman said...

Here is a tip from someone that has worked a number of jobs (grocery store, newspaper layout & editing 2x, web development, bespoke computer assembly, customer service, IT help desk 4x, IT consulting 2x, IT systems and networks admin 2x, accounting & collections, ESL, data entry): unless you are a VERY high-flier whose first job is going to be something absurd like being an assistant to someone running CERN... then there is always SOME on-the-job training. Usually more than enough and often far more than one might expect given the qualifications an employer is seeking from a potential employee. Furthermore, I have personally found that any job that pays anywhere from "poorly" to "adequately satisfactorily" can be done by any one with a moderate level of common sense, basic liberal arts education, decent reasoning skills and a heap of professional pride (aka good work ethics).

This is obviously not true for truly complex jobs which require an extremely firm grounding, such as anything to do with the classics of science (medicine, chemistry, physics) or more modern pursuits (electrical engineering, aerospace stuff). It seems to hold true for just about everything else though.

While I have never done an internship - I have bills to pay - they could be valuable in that you, as the intern, get to know something about a company and the industry in general. The flip side is that you will likely get to know too much (99% of all companies suffer from too much corporate BS, most corporate workers barely do four hours of actual work each day, most corporate workers believe they should get paid much more, corporate management is staffed by short-sighted idiots).

Anyway, good luck with it. You can also consider getting some sort of job in the US or UK where the time between getting hired and fired can be measured in seconds. These sorts of places allow you to try out plenty of interesting jobs without worrying about signing lengthy contracts, getting officious medical exams and having everything signed in triplicate, stamped, studied, queried and confirmed. It's supremely rewarding and liberating to know that your continued employment, other factors aside, rests solely on how good of an employee you are rather than some law that says your employer must give you three months notice and that if one of the i's isn't dotted you can easily sue them in employment court and win.

Michael Dembinski said...

At the BPCC, around one-third of employees are former interns who did so well we kept them on. Interns can be divided into four groups. Deadbeats (spend all their time on PC Games forums), who are invited to leave. Average performers, who do what's required and no more, complete their assignment with us, then go on to do something else with a testimonial from us that they did a good job. Star performers, who are offered a full-time post at the Chamber. Typically, they'll stay on for several years then go on to a management job in marketing or admin at a big multinational FMCG firm or to run an EU-funded project. Super star performers, who are offered a full-time post at the Chamber, but turn it down in favour of a place at one of the world's best universities or a job in Brussels.

We rely on a steady feed of interns to work on databases and tele-marketing conferences. Routine, mundane work. Those who add value through that work are offered greater responsibilities, and in the end a full-time job. Six months unpaid, minimum. Of course most will do it around their studies (esp. in fourth/fifth year).

student SGH said...

Not an uncommon rule that best interns pursue their careers with the companies where they had internships.

I can tell that in the bank where I worked HR department has a set policies towards different types of interns.

The general assumption is that the contract is signed after two weeks of internship. Within that fortnight a bad intern is invited to leave and their work remains unpaid. Average interns get the salary which is still below current minimum wage in Poland are when their internship is over both the bank and an intern are happy to part company (of course they are given a testimonial like at the Chamber).

Best performers are offered a steady job (usually a position of assistant) and a full-time or part-time job contract, depending on their availability and year of studies. Even if they turn down the offer, like I did in 2008, they are offered a 20% bonus to their remunaration.

I totally understand the interns are assigned down-to-earth, simple tasks. I didn't do anything else actually, but doesn't their work create any added value? Of course the value is much smaller plus the responsibility is much smaller, hence the salary cannot be high. But can you explain how you justify that the interns have to work for free for you for at least six months?