Managing an Internship in Your Office

For information on short-term work experience placements for school pupils or college students, please see our page on ‘Organising Work Experience in an MP’s Office

Having an intern to work in your office can be a real help, but it needs to be well-managed. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) has developed a Charter, which offers a Code of Practice on good management practice in order to make an internship as successful as possible.   W4MP supports this code of practice recommends it to all those involved in offering and taking part in internships.

If you are looking at this page because you are considering submitting an advertisement for an internship on W4MP, you may wish to revise the wording of your proposed advertisement to reflect this advice, before proceeding to submit it.

The CIPD is the UK’s leading professional body involved in the management and development of people.  Even though organisations benefit from internships, their prime purpose is to provide interns with meaningful work experience that enhances their employability and skills.  Ideally, an Intern should be paid a salary reflecting the contribution they make to the organisation, and at least receive the National Minimum Wage (or London Living Wage, where applicable).  However, the quality of the experience for the Intern is the most important factor.

The CIPD recommends that organisations offering internships should adhere to a voluntary code of practice, which is laid out in the following sections, indicated by the text in bold and italics.

This guide covers:

Introduction

Congratulations, you got a job – you are now a Parliamentary Researcher (or some other equally-misleading job title), probably responsible for everything from making tea and opening post to writing speeches and shaping policy.  Brilliant!  I hope you’re feeling suitably pleased with yourself.  And, what’s more, you now appear to be diligently reading the guides on w4mp to make sure you’re as good as you can be at your job.  What a star!  (Either that or you were reading the funny cartoon strips and stumbled across this by accident…)

So, you arrive on your first day, open the post, change the voicemail recording (after a few attempts) to you enthusiastically suggesting people call the constituency office, and your MP has been packed off to the first of a series of meetings.  You’re about to tackle your inbox, starting to feel like you might actually know what you’re doing, when there’s a coughing noise in the corner of the room.  There in the corner, nervously trying to check Facebook with their screen turned so that they think you can’t see it, is an Intern.

Argh! As if managing yourself and your MP isn’t quite enough, there’s someone else.  Someone that relies entirely upon you to tell them what to do, and how to do it.

However, judging by the number of applications that come in for parliamentary internships, chances are this person is pretty good.  Internships should be, and can easily be, mutually beneficial.  They want to learn about the job, get some experience and enjoy being in Westminster or your constituency office.  You’d like some help around the office, and someone to rant with when your boss is running two hours late or you spill your paper cup of porridge from the Debate caff all over your keyboard.  (Believe me, that stuff is like glue.)

Firstly, take a minute to consider whether you’re actually able to take an Intern on.  Do you have enough desk space?  Do you have a computer available for them to use?  Is there enough interesting work for them to do?   Can you commit to being able to have them in the office for a reasonable length of time?  Do you have the funds to pay them?

If the answer to all of these questions is yes, then you’ll need to talk to your MP about how it’s going to work.  Once they’ve agreed that your idea was brilliant, and you should definitely get an Intern, then it’s time to talk about all the technical stuff like pay and the sorts of jobs an intern could do.

It is always a good idea to talk to other MPs’ staff too, to hear about their experiences and handy hints.

Important: Do you have a computer which people on work experience or internships can use?

Be aware, that if your office has only computers supplied by PDS (formerly PICT), whether they be loaned or purchased, there is no longer a facility for a ‘guest, ‘local’ or ‘admin’ login, so people who do not have both security clearance and a network account will not be able to access those computers at all.  As most of the work in an MP’s office involves using a computer, this restriction will affect the type of task you are able to give to the student/volunteer/Intern, and may be a deciding factor in whether or not you can offer a work experience placement at all, particularly if it is just for one or two weeks.  For students on a longer work placement, e.g. a few months, you can apply for security clearance and a network account through the normal channels; they do not need to be formally employed to apply for these.

Recruitment

“Interns should be recruited in broadly the same way as regular employees of an organisation, with proper consideration given to how their skills and qualifications fit with the tasks they will be expected to fulfil.  Recruitment should be conducted in an open and rigorous way to enable fair and equal access to available internships.  The job advertisement should give a clear indication of how long the internship will last, and at interview, the Intern should be told honestly whether there is a real chance of obtaining a full-time contract.”

Now you need to advertise and, as chance might have it, you’re in the right place.  Take a look at some of the existing adverts on W4MP, and it shouldn’t be too hard to write something along similar lines.  Just make sure you are really clear about the important things like where the internship is based, and what expenses are covered.

It’s important to advertise nationally, and as widely as possible.  As well as W4MP, you might want to look at third sector jobs boards or advertise locally in your constituency.

Assuming you’ve got your morally, ethically and legally sound advert up, the applications should come flooding in and you can enjoy the power-trip of picking over people’s CVs and pretending to be Alan Sugar.

One word of caution though – to save your applicants sweating over the refresh button of their inbox, try to acknowledge receipt of all applications and let them know roughly when they’ll hear back from you.  There’s really no excuse for just never getting back to applicants; if they didn’t get it, they’d rather just know.

Induction

“Interns should receive a proper induction to the organisation they enter to allow them to fully integrate.  Whether joining a large organisation, or an SME, an Intern just entering the job market may find the workplace intimidating.  It is important to introduce an Intern to the staff and the values of the organisation to help them integrate into the team, and allow them to hit the ground running.”

Make sure your shiny new Intern is clear about the kinds of things they might be doing, the hours you’d like them to work (although, again, this must be flexible if you aren’t paying) and the expenses/pay they’ll get.

It might be useful to have a short guide to post out to them before they start explaining a bit about how the office runs, what they might be doing, and a quick introduction to life in Parliament and your constituency.  It sounds like a lot of work, but it will save you time in the long run when you realise on week three that they’ve been telling everyone on the phone that your constituency is Barnsley, not Burnley, or when they run out of the building screaming the first time the division bell rings.

If you have a current Intern, this can be an interesting task for them to do; to write a guide of everything they wished they knew before starting!

Most importantly, if they’re based in Westminster then get their pass application in ASAP! The sooner it’s in, the less likely it is that you will have to pick them up every morning and chaperone them to the loo.

Supervision

“Organisations should ensure there is a dedicated person(s) who has ring-fenced time in their work schedule to supervise the Intern and conduct regular performance reviews.  This person should provide ongoing feedback to the Intern, be their advocate and mentor during the period of internship, and conduct a formal performance review to evaluate the success of their time with the organisation.”

If you can arrange their first day to be one when your MP isn’t in, that makes things a lot easier.  Then you can show them around when your workload is a little lighter, and they can feel a little bit more