Buying a career advantage: would you pay for a celebrity internship?

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Gaining an advantage in today's job market is almost essential, and internships have become the accepted way to do just that. But with horror stories about students and young graduates being taken advantage of by companies who just want free labour, there's a worrying new trend hitting the UK - paying for internships.

So how does it work, and could it become more common for young people to start buying an early career advantage?


The first question that springs to mind is that if you have to pay for such an opportunity, then is it only the privileged few who even have the chance to apply? In short, yes.

The BBC spoke to Coppy Holzman, the chief executive of US-based online auctioneer Charity Buzz who said: "Our highest price for an internship was working with both Sir Richard Branson and hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons, and it sold for $85,000 (£53,000)."

He also auctioned a placement with Jay-Z's record label, Roc Nation for $5,000 (£3,100). He told the BBC; "these people may have deep pockets but they also have a social conscience. I sleep really well at night knowing that we provide unusual access to people that do have deep pockets but it's an opportunity for them to give back."

After recent success offering internships in London on its website, the company now plans to open a permanent base in the UK.

So with rising university costs, inflation and the cost of living at an all-time-high, surely there will be very few families forking out even more cash to get their kids into a high profile celebrity organisation?
Earlier in the year David Cameron and Nick Clegg publicly disagreed about the way internships are awarded and Labour leader Ed Miliband criticised the Conservative Party for auctioning city bank and hedge fund placements at a fund-raising dinner.
But paying for the opportunity aside, even if the placement is technically offered up for free it seems you often have to have the necessary connections to get it.

The campaign group Intern Aware obtained a copy of a letter written to a student who had been in contact with the legal department at HSBC about an internship.

The letter said; "HSBC does not have a structured work experience programme although, occasionally, arrangements are made for sons and daughters of HSBC executives, particularly if they work in the Legal or Compliance departments."
Ben Lyons, from the group said; "this student was on track for a first class degree from Oxford in Law and yet she wasn't considered."
HSBC said that they do run paid internships for undergraduates in their first and penultimate years of study which are advertised on their website. The bank stressed that merit was always the basis of selection.