Intern is a nice way of saying slave. Media and the fashion industry use them to do work that needs to be done but they’d rather not pay anyone to do it. A lot of magazines, that you think are being run by thirtysomethings, are actually kept going by 17 year olds, fresh out of college and working the office floor. Using interns like this is widespread throughout the industry (even in the Platform office most people work on an internship basis) and, although it’s not really on in London, if all the interns in New York were to walk out collectively, all of the city’s magazines and fashion houses would instantaneously crumble into nothingness. We asked Platform contributor Hayley Phelan, an intern in New York, to share her view as a seasoned player in the city that interns built.

‘New York City would literally not be able to function without interns. Fashion closets, PR desks and administrative systems are almost completely run by kids who aren’t even old enough to sip a beer. And in this crap economy, interns have become a great way of cutting costs for companies: instead of hiring one paid employee, companies can hire six interns to do the same job for free. Smart? Yes. Exploitive? A bit.

Of course, interning can offer some great opportunities. At the right place you can learn ten times more than you could listening to some out of date professor drone on about the principals of marketing; and hopefully at the end of the internship there will be a paying job waiting for you. But before you get that initial pay slip, expect to work some long, unpaid and possibly demeaning hours.

Basically, internships come in three categories:

1. The completely pointless waste of time ones.

These are the worst the ones where you get there early, stay late and perform completely stupid, thankless tasks for about ten hours, the whole time thinking, ‘is this really what I’m getting a degree for?’ Of course there is some level of learning to be had ‘“ how to file, how to Fedex, how to make your bosses coffee precisely the way it’s wanted.

2. The ones you really should get paid for.

When I first moved to New York I was shocked to find students working from 9am until 8pm, three or four days a week for free. These interns perform the same amount of work as any employee, and probably with far more enthusiasm, the only difference is that they are unpaid. For instance, at a particular magazine, the entire fashion closet is run by one intern ‘“ he gives the go ahead for returns, pick-ups, he knows what’s in each shoot and what needs to go where. Without him, the real employees wouldn’t know what to do; they’re understaffed as it is, and he fills an important gap. But why does he do it? Because he knows that if it weren’t him, it’d be somebody else. The sad thing about these ones, is that there are hordes of students just dying to give up their free time, social life, and general freedom for them.

3. The actual good ones.

Ah, the good ones. A good internship is one where you and your bosses both feel you are contributing in someway to the company. Your bosses will say ‘thank you’ after you fax/phone-in/hand deliver their bidding. They will apologize for having to ask you to stay late, though you will have to stay late. They will understand if a little something called midterms tears you away from the biz for a few days. More importantly, they will give you tasks that are interesting and take some degree of skill.

There is one catch, though: you have to be a good intern. Show up on time, be courteous, give each task your best, the whole bit. The funny thing about a good internship is that you actually want more responsibility, you don’t mind staying late and you’ll even offer to pick up lunch for your boss, just as long as there’s a cookie in it for you too.’