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

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.


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 amount 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.  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.

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, get their pass application in ASAP! The sooner it’s in the better, and usually the applications are processed in 5 working days.  You are not allowed to bring them in as visitors and escort them around if they are coming to work, and it is a serious breach of security to do so.  No matter what you’ve read in their CV or whether you know them personally, without the full background and Counter Terrorism Check you could be unwittingly letting someone with nefarious intentions into Parliament.

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 like they know what they’re doing before the big boss is watching.

Things to do on the first day:

Tour.  Try to book them on an official Your ‘fact’ about Michael Jackson trying to buy the throne in the House of Lords might be funny, but probably not that much use when they suddenly have to show your MP’s nephew around the palace and all the tours are fully booked.

Show them around the building.  It sounds silly, but if you don’t tell them where the loo is, you might find you have a very shy Intern in inexplicable agony.  Make sure they know where they can get food, where the kitchen is, the Post Office, Vote Office, cash points, Travel Office, Whips’ Office, Members’ Centre, and anywhere else you go on a regular basis, including the Sports and Social Club.

Introduce them to people.  Make sure your Intern gets to meet lots of other new Interns.  Perhaps you can arrange to go for lunch with a few other researchers and their interns, or go to the Sports and Social Club for their first taste of parliamentary gin.

It’s also a good idea to introduce them to someone outside of the office that your Intern can talk to if they have a problem.  There should always be someone other than you and your MP that they can talk to should they be unhappy with any aspect of their internship.

This would also seem a logical point to let your Intern know about their right to union representation.  Unite has an active Parliamentary Staff Branch which represents staff both in Westminster and in the constituencies.

Give them some work to do.  The best way to learn is generally by doing, so there’s no reason why they can’t get to work fairly quickly.  Just make sure that you’re always there to answer lots of questions for them, and be patient.

Members Staff Register.  All Interns who are issued with a pass valid for more than three months are obliged to sign the Register Of Interests Of Members’ Secretaries And Research Assistants.  Remind them that if they receive a bursary or any other financial or material benefit, they may need to record it in the Members’ Staff Register, subject to the relevant thresholds.  The Member would also need to record any bursary in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.  The staff of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards are very approachable and helpful, so don’t hesitate to give them a call if you’re not sure of anything.

So you made it through the first day without them thinking that you’re entirely incompetent and trying to perform a coup in the office.  Congratulations.

From herein it’s really not that hard.  Just talk to your Intern a LOT.  Make sure you always know what work they’re doing, how it’s going and if it’s too hard or too easy.  The worst thing would be to get to the end of the first week and find that they misunderstood something right at the start and all their work needs re-doing.

Treatment

“During their time with an organisation interns should be treated with exactly the same degree of professionalism and duty of care as regular employees.  They should not be seen as ‘visitors’ to the organisation, or automatically assigned routine tasks that do not make use of their skills.  Organisations should make some allowance for interns to, on occasion, attend job interviews or complete study requirements.”

Having an Intern can be brilliant.  To make sure that you get the most out of it, talk to them before they arrive about what they’re particularly good at and what they enjoy.  Maybe they love web design and would be great at starting up your website.  Or perhaps they love working with kids and would be brilliant at giving some school tours.  Whatever it is, find that talent, and make the most of it.  That way you’ll get something valuable, and they will enjoy their experience a whole lot more.

As well as the obvious pleasure your Intern will have in working with you, Parliament itself is a pretty great place to work, and you should make sure your Intern has time to enjoy it.  Here’s my quick checklist for things they should be able to do while they’re here:

  • Go on a parliamentary tour.
  • Sit in PMQs.
  • Sit in the Gallery for other interesting debates.
  • Sit in the House of Lords Gallery.
  • Write and table an EDM.
  • Write and table a Parliamentary Question.
  • Sit in a Select Committee meeting.
  • Accompany your MP over to Millbank studios.
  • Sit on the terrace and feel a bit smug as the tour boats go past.
  • Go along to a few receptions with free wine/canapés.

These are only a few suggestions.  Some might not be possible in your office, but you get the picture.  It helps to have a physical checklist of things your Intern wants to do before they leave, to make sure that you don’t reach the last week and have to try to cram everything in all at once.

Payment and Duration

“As a bare minimum the organisation should cover any necessary work-related expenses incurred by the Intern.  This includes travel to and from work, and any travel costs incurred whilst attending external meetings/events.  If an internship is unpaid and provides only expenses, then the internship should be no longer than four months.”

It is essential at this point to do the serious bit, and consult National Minimum Wage legislation.  This legislation exists to protect people from working for insufficient wages or for free.  It’s really important, not only from a moral point of view, but also because if you break it you, or your MP, could end up in court.  However, don’t worry; it’s pretty easy to understand.  If the opportunity you’re advertising fits the criteria, you must pay at least minimum wage.  If not, you don’t.  Simple.  Have a look at these:

You also need to make sure you remember what you’re advertising for!  An Intern is not a member of staff, not a skivvy, not a diary manager or professional tea-maker.  An unpaid internship must, by law, not have set hours or roles.  So if you’re not going to pay them, your Intern needs to know that they can come and go at different hours to you should they need to, and you can’t rely on them to run the office.  You may reimburse reasonable basic travel and subsistence expenditure for your registered volunteers.  You should ask your Intern to keep all of the receipts for lunch and travel, so that you can submit them to IPSA.  This expenditure will come out of your Staffing Allowance.

The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) is responsible for payment of expenses to MPs and their staff.  Look at its website to learn more about what it does.

If you’re paying your Intern, you’ll need to provide them with a proper contract of employment.  If you’re not able to pay your Intern, it’s still important to make sure they know what to expect from the internship, and what you can get in return.  See the info below about IPSA and their Model Volunteer Intern Agreement.

It is important that you read page three of their guidance note.  There is a distinction between ‘Employed Interns’ and ‘Volunteer Interns’ and, if you are paying your Intern less than National Minimum Wage, you should read their Model Volunteer Intern Agreement.  You might also find it helpful to put ‘Intern’ into the search facility on the IPSA website; there are a number of other useful references.

Certification/Reference and Feedback

On completion of their internship organisations should provide interns with a certificate/reference letter detailing the work they have undertaken, the skills and experience acquired, and the content of the formal performance review conducted at the end of the internship.  Interns should also be offered the opportunity to give feedback on their experience in an ‘exit interview’, giving organisations the opportunity to reflect on its own performance in delivering internships.

So, your Intern is leaving.  By now, you’re probably inseparable, and you’re sure you saw the shine of a tear in your MP’s eye as they set off for the constituency after saying that last goodbye.  Or perhaps it’s all been a bit more professional and stiff-upper-lip than that.  But however it went, it’s important to end an internship with as much thought as it began.  Your Intern needs a proper evaluation of how the internship went, either through a meeting with you or with your MP, so that they can come away with some positive feedback and areas for development.  You might also be able to help them if they’re job-hunting in Parliament, or by providing references.

So by now you are an expert manager, your CV is gold-plated, and you just made an Intern pretty happy.  You probably have just enough time to give yourself a quick pat on the back before starting to sift through that next pile of CVs…

The Internocracy website: www.internocracy.org

From the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) ‘Internships that work – a guide for employers‘: http://www.cipd.co.uk/hr-resources/guides/internships-employers-guide.aspxFor 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