Q: I'm a 21-year-old history graduate and I've been interning for the past four months with a small management consultancy. I think I have done a good job - I've definitely put in the hours and never said 'no' to a task. I get on well with the partner I have worked for most, but when I tentatively asked about a more formal employment arrangement, she rather obviously gave me the brush off. Should I try again, or move on? It's good experience but I need to start earning.
Jeremy says: It would seem that you gratefully accepted this internship without any sort of understanding, formal or informal, as to where it might lead. That's understandable enough - I expect you'd had a barren few months not finding anything - but it does leave you slightly stranded. By the sound of it, the partner you're working for doesn't carry the authority to give you any kind of reassurance about your future prospects. I suspect she's relatively junior and doesn't want to be seen to be adding a salary cost when they're getting your contribution for nothing. The exploitation of interns is a difficult addiction to kick.
The first thing you need to do is make a clear-headed assessment of the value to you of this internship. Factor in the reputation of the consultancy you're with; as it's a small one, it may not be rated very highly by others - there can be quite a lot of snobbery in such matters. You may decide that only four months' experience with a not particularly prestigious company doesn't give your CV enough firepower to go job hunting with any confidence: but sooner rather than later, that's what you're almost certainly going to have to do. So you should soldier on for another six months or so - and then be quite resolute about being taken on as a proper employee. Nothing tentative, please: they must be in absolutely no doubt that, should they offer you nothing, you'll be off. Which you may well have to be - but at least with a little more experience under your belt.
Jeremy Bullmore is a former creative director and chairman of J Walter Thompson London. Email him your problems at firstname.lastname@example.org. Regrettably, no correspondence can be entered into.