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How realistic was Hilary Devey's The Intern?

Internships are a hot topic of conversation at the moment and for good reason. Interning, or the less formal ‘work experience’, has become the norm in most work places, with young people clamouring to get some experience for their CV and a foot in the door of a potential employer.


However, their frequency and necessity in today’s job market has led to calls for interns to be paid and treated fairly, ensuring the opportunities are open to all rather than the privileged few who can afford them.  

All these issues meant I was particularly intrigued to watch Hillary Devey’s new show, The Intern

What is it?

To bring you up to speed on the concept, each episode will follow three young people, personally chosen by Devey, as they take part in a week-long internship and compete for a ‘dream job’. However, it is an internship with a difference as the youngsters are put through their paces, with extreme staged challenges orchestrated by Devey to test their skills and potential.  

The inaugural internship was at a top hotel chain, Red Carnations, with a role on the management training programme up for grabs. 

What was good about it?

Overall, the show was a positive portrayal of young people, demonstrating the extent of raw talent amongst the younger generation today. The show winner, Georgia, is a young mother without qualifications who shows a genuine passion and aptitude for hotel management, while both the other interns show a real drive to get ahead. 

Whilst some of the challenges were questionable, for example testing how the intern copes upon finding a ‘reality star’ handcuffed to the bed, they did demonstrate how putting people under pressure can expose characteristics you wouldn’t get to see otherwise.  When you only have a week to analyse someone’s potential, it can be tricky to truly determine how they might fit into the role and company.  The programme showed how it was possible to think outside the box and give people a chance to prove themselves in workplace situations.    

And not so good? 

Despite its merits, it is important to remember that millions of young people will never get the opportunity that the interns on the show did.  There would have been an extensive selection process before filming began, when in reality, many people are likely to slip through the net in day-to-day life.  It raises questions as to how exactly we can be sure no raw talent gets wasted and left out in the cold in the real world.

Furthermore, the average employer won’t have the time or resources to stage complex challenges to test interns. Many find there are limited jobs that inexperienced youngsters can realistically be given to do, which means many are not able to show their true potential. There may also be ethical issues around staging such extreme situations such as a customer’s dog disappearing in the park! 

Another consideration is whether the show might be perpetuating the problem of unpaid internships.  There was no clarification as to whether the candidates were recompensed for the long hours they put in over the week. Let’s hope it doesn’t encourage others to introduce similar schemes as a way of hiring some free labour. 

Having said that, for the young people featured in the programme, it was clear the feedback, guidance and encouragement they received had a huge impact on their confidence, drive and ambition.  With the ever increasing pressure to hire the best, hopefully this programme will inspire more employers to look to alternative methods such as (paid) internships when expanding their talent pool.

How to run an internship

Monster.co.uk has put together some tips for employers thinking of starting an internship programme for the first time or for those wishing to improve their current approach:

Plan your recruitment strategy

Internships are designed to aid professional development so to ensure you and the intern get the most out of the process, select someone who has the right basic attributes for the job.    Widen the talent pool by openly advertising the position rather than just relying on word of mouth.

Provide a full induction

While many young people can seem confident, their first foray into the workplace is likely to be an intimidating, experience for them.   Ensure they can make the most of their time with you by settling in quickly - introduce them to the office, colleagues and the role that they will be carrying out.  Sometimes it can help to assign them a ‘buddy’ for the week, someone who can answer their questions or take them out for lunch.

Be honest

If you know from the outset that there is no possibility that the internship will lead to a further opportunity, say so.  Misleading interns is not only unfair to them, but also reflects badly on your organisation and may put off other potential candidates in the future.

Give them a meaningful experience

Interns are there to enhance their employability and skills, so it is important you devise a suitable work plan for this.  Ahead of their arrival, speak to managers or heads of departments to find out if they have any specific projects an intern could get involved with.  Don’t shy away from challenging them – a good intern will relish the opportunity and should do surprisingly well if properly briefed and supervised. 

Pay them

It is a legal requirement in the UK to pay interns at least the minimum wage.  

Exit interview

This should really be carried out by an HR professional or equivalent member of staff.  Use this as an opportunity to gain valuable insight into how well your internship programme was conducted via the intern’s feedback, while also giving them some constructive feedback in return.  Also ensure you provide a reference they can take to the next opportunity.   


David Henry is VP of Monster.co.uk