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Working for free can pay off -- by doing an internship

As the Leaving Cert results funnel their way towards us tomorrow, there must be many anxious teenagers who can't wait to get started on their careers. Graduates who are praying that they might actually get paid for working, rather than having to face the new professional limbo -- an internship.

Well, as an elder lemon, can I just say that internships are pretty cool. I'm doing one myself at the moment. Because, in spite of working in media for a solid 25 years, in a job that fulfills and thrills me, I came to the conclusion recently that if I didn't keep up with the times, I'd become obsolete.

Because all through my career, I've worked in print. It's great and I intend to stay there. But, more and more, the internet and social media is becoming a crucial part of my business.

So rather than pay to go on a course, I thought I'd just get on with it and ask a friend if I could become his Girl Friday.

I've been working at ebow, a cool Dublin digital media company, once a week for a few weeks now, taking time off from editing IMAGE magazine to do so, and I've found the experience incredibly enlightening.

I've traded my copy writing skills for lessons on building websites, the workings of online marketing and some pretty basic computer skills I was in dire need of learning. It has opened my eyes considerably.

One of the first things I've had to learn is to keep my mouth shut when not asked a direct question. I'm meant to be 'observing', and should only chip in when my boss Dave Douglas asks. The rest of the time, I've got to keep an eye on the coffee and take notes.

Which led me to my next discovery ... unlike the editorial department of IMAGE Towers, not every office has a Nespresso machine. So I had to hoof it to Chez Max on Dame Street for hot drinks. So I walked a bit further last week, to the third floor of BTs, and bought the ebow-ers their own coffee maker.

A friend heard what I'd done through Facebook and commented that while taking the easy way out, I was 'showing initiative and thinking laterally'. That's a gold star for the intern, so.


Being an intern is refreshing as, for once, the buck doesn't stop with me. I contribute, but I'm not expected to have the answers. So I can open my eyes and see things from other people's perspective; it's a rare privilege to have access to someone else's corporate and creative processes.

On the fun side of things, it's handy when the boss is your pal. I must be the only intern in Dublin 2 with her own parking space, and Friday lunches usually go on for a few hours. Perhaps we could call them abstract brainstorms?

Whatever, in the few weeks I've been with ebow so far, I've gained loads. Kerry, the very talented web designer, is building me the most beautiful blog. The girls are so cool, I'm getting great material for winter issues of IMAGE, and Sharon, the most clued-in vintage queen, has given me all sorts of contacts and ideas for my wedding.

Which goes to prove that we can all go on learning and benefiting from each other, if we just open our eyes and make ourselves available. So, my advice to school leavers and college graduates who may be having trouble getting a fully paid job -- go for an internship. You never know what it can morph into.