Even prostitutes get paid…

I’ve been working as an “intern”, (or if you prefer, substitute the usual ‘unpaid, unappreciated, exploited office helot without whom the entire company would implode’) in a business organisation  for the past 3 months. Technically, I should be getting some specific experience and in fairness I have been, for a given value of ‘some’. The trouble is all the other stuff I’ve been asked to do. Like organise and book my boss’s holiday, book restaurants for his friends, find tickets for shows, go to the supermarket, squeeze fruit into juice for 5 hours for a cocktail party etc etc. My boss once made me go to the cash machine, and honestly I have never been so tempted to commit a crime in my life.

The most recent outrage He Who Must Not Be Named has perpetrated was to ask me to track down a certain kind of foodstuff as a gift for some friends: and this item, believe you me, is rare as hen’s teeth. Probably rarer. So I call up Harrods, Harvey Nicks, Selfridges, all the major supermarkets and some of the minor ones too. No go. Then I trawl through the internet. No luck, except a cash and carry who demand you buy 100 of them. For a moment I’m tempted to do so, just to see his face as 100 of the dratted things are unloaded into my his hallway. Most people by this stage would give up, but my boss is made of sterner stuff; that sort of attitude did not win us the Empire. No lily-livered surrender for them. He Who Must Not Be Named resembles an angry deity, propitiated only by the sacrificial sweat of their workforce. Boss decides that the thing to do is to ring up the factory where it’s made –in China.  He reasons that everybody speaks English these days so they must have someone who can help. With some scepticism I call them, and sure enough the person on the other end of the line has no idea what I’m saying and eventually I thank them for their time (in English, since my school didn’t stretch to Mandarin) and hang up. I’m told to send an email, which I duly do. This saga has started to haunt my waking and sleeping: I’m so irrationally stressed about it that I’m almost weeping in frustration. This is compounded by being sent texts about it at 9pm on a Sunday evening, for example.

I have a Master’s degree from Durham and this is what I’m reduced to. Like an idiot, or a masochist, I take it, partly because I’ve been brought up to be helpful and partly because I’m so desperate for a job now that I’d probably Morris dance naked on the House of Commons roof if it meant someone would offer me one. I’m terrified that any refusal will lead to a terrible reference, so my boss can dangle the prospect of a permanent position at the end of this stint (which, incidentally, has no official end date, so I could be working for free forever or until I find another job), ensuring that I never refuse to do anything, no matter how absurd or mundane. In the meantime I am effectively paying, since I have to pay for my own travel expenses, to have my dignity and self-respect peeled away, layer by layer, as though flayed alive. Even prostitutes get paid for their services; interns have to pay their punters. And meanwhile employers still want their pound of graduate flesh, and we still give it to them.

I want a cocktail

I want a cocktail

1 Response to “Even prostitutes get paid…”

  1. 1 Post-intern 10/19/2009 at 5:17 pm

    Your blog is great - as well as providing an insight and a sounding board for all the unpaid interns out there, it shows the reality of internships to those who are still gleefully unaware - possibly still immersed in the bubble of university or patiently applying and waiting for their first step on the ladder.

    I’m 29 now, with enough experience behind me to work as a freelancer for a comfortable day rate, and with the experience and company insights only afforded to those who work in lots of different agencies over the years.

    I started off interning (for free) back in the day, but i’ll come to that. At the moment my sister has just finished her degree and is currently experiencing the wonders and horrors of the world of fashion PR.

    She left her first internship last week after being hauled into the MD’s office, sworn at, and told ‘now f**k off and don’t cry’. This was the accumulation of weeks of abuse - simply because she was an intern, and if under contract could have hauled this horrible creature straight to a tribunal. So until she was told to get lost, she stuffed envelopes, cleaned out cupboards and photocopied. The rest of the staff ignored her, and she was even told not to put sugar in her tea because ’sugar isn’t for interns - it’s just for us and the clients’.

    When she was asked to leave, she was told it was because she’d been asking for more work and this was not something they could offer her - ‘all our interns do is photocopy and stuff envelopes, so if you don’t like it, i suggest you f**k off’.

    Through the grapevine she’s heard she was not the first to be treated this way for asking for more to do.

    I think there’s very fine line between companies using an intern - essentially someone who may have the capabilities but who does not have the experience - to gain exposure to an agency environment and learn about how agency-life operates, and those who treat their interns as second class citizens, purely because they can.

    From my own experience, in both my working life and as an intern (for a high-end fashion house) - there are always agencies who treat their staff badly and those who don’t - at all levels and rungs of the ladder. I’ve had the pleasure of working for pretty much all of them - from those who have allowed superiors to bully me, to those who have made my job the most enjoyable and inspiring thing in the world.

    Although an internship is the very first step (and praise to those who can get and keep a good one in this economic climate), you will no doubt be given jobs you feel are not within your remit (as you will during paid work). Although some unhappy worker bees may tell you otherwise, the agency you are working for should encourage a friendly, supportive and approachable environment you should look forward to working at each day. If it doesn’t then get your CV out there and look for something else. You have nothing to lose and believe me - there are other opportunities out there!

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