Archive | August, 2010

Going to War

31 Aug

Pluck up your battle saber, paint your face and polish off your banshee cry.  You’ve been drafted into the ranks, you don’t know all the rules of engagement, but this is not a war you are going to loose.  Welcome to the job hunt.

At least, that’s the way it’s beginning to feel.  Fueled by dreams, desperation and caffeine, I enter the battle ground each day.  I arm myself with clever cover letters, job-specific resumes and my secret weapon: a batch of homemade chocolate chip cookies.  I wear rejection-proof armor that allows me to take bullet after bullet and get up to fight another day.  I’m so hardened in my defensive posture, forever protecting my sensitive heart, that I’ve forgotten how to really get excited about something.

Which is why I spent most of my New York Press interview laughing a bit too loudly.  As an intern, I would write, actually write, for their paper?  Not only would I get bylines, the editor would make it his business for me to get at least one big, splashy piece before I left?  I should come up with three pitches for the paper so that he can make an educated decision about which applicants would actually be good for the job?  There will be absolutely NO coffee fetching?  I’m surprised I didn’t faint on the spot.

I would love this job.  I would love this job so much that rejection might just end me.  So I go to war.  I strap on my armor, do my research and try to develop the bullet that will fly absolutely true.   I am a soldier on a mission and I will not fail.

Interns: Slaves or Heros?

30 Aug

What size are you?

Sarah and Leslie both commented: we’re clearly on a roll with this intern thing. So let’s keep it cooking… my thoughts on internships: paid, unpaid, or otherwise.

Internships matter. Liberal artists aren’t learning the practical skills in school, so where else are you picking up what you need for the workplace? Where else can you apply your knowledge to real-world problems? I blame schools for not building this into the curriculum. But still, internships are critical in learning and adapting to a workplace environment.

Paid vs. Unpaid: The privileged among us can do an unpaid internship and get supported by mommy and daddy. This system is not going to change no matter how much people gripe about how unpaid internships are the root of all evil and against the law. Yes, it is wrong. The SAT also discriminates against  people from less wealthy backgrounds too. If you’re lucky, do the unpaid internship. If not, find a way to make it work financially or don’t apply. Blunt but true. Move on: there are worse intern issues.

Working with Interns: To me, a much worse thing than an unpaid internship is what interns do. If employers are looking for interns to make copies, fetch coffee, and look pretty all day, then stop. That’s silly. Interns can make a real difference in your workplace while doing a few menial tasks that everyone does to make the world go round. Give interns real responsibility and teach them. Interns will get a lot out of it and employers will too.

Interning after graduation: As a person interested in journalism, internships are the norm after graduation. And that’s okay with me. But the injustice is that I want to do internships on my terms. Or at least I want to be able to negotiate. I want to see an internship that’s more freelancing than interning, more temp-ing than interning. I want employers to have the flexibility to actually hire me on full-time if I do a good job, not just pay that lip-service and get some cheap labor. Yes, I should be paid. There are no promises of anything post-internship, but I believe in acting in good faith.

Proving yourself: Otherwise known as “paying your dues,” this is a big issue for entitled millenials. I am willing to sit-down-and-shut-up and work my tail feather off to prove I can cut it. But you have to give me at least one thing to run with and own. If you squeeze every last drop of creativity and innovation from me, I will shut off. This sounds crazy but I am willing to take a job that is up to 70% soul-crushing, as long as that other 30% isn’t bullshit. I want my work to matter so bad. As I develop a career, that percentage ratio will change.

Unpaid Internships

28 Aug

Pictured: average intern's salary

Following up on Leslie’s post regarding her experience with The Onion, I thought I would throw in my unsolicited two cents regarding internships.

Let me first be straight with you, dudes and lady dudes: I’ve never had an unpaid internship.  I was a paid employee of Teach For America last summer, and a camp counselor in summer 2008.  And before that, I helped my family move from Upstate NY to Florida in-between my freshmen and sophomore years of college.  So I really can’t speak as to why internships suck in practice, I can only speculate as to why they would suck in theory. And I’ve speculated so hard.

I’ve refused to apply to internships, both in the past and as a grad, because I take issue with the fact that a company will make me clamor for the right to work for free, without any guarantee of securing the right to work for free.  Rather than wonder what credential or personality trait I’m missing that renders me incapable of making copies, I avoid the ego-bruising altogether by totally ignoring unpaid internships when they turn up in my job search results.

However, my main issue with unpaid internships concerns respect.  If you’re going to be benefiting from whatever I contribute to your company, however small or menial, I deserve compensation.  I’m not doing you a favor.  I’m completing a task that would otherwise be done by employees on your payroll.   To not pay me is disrespectful to my time, and indicates to my uninformed little brain that your company doesn’t value me enough to throw even a couple bucks my way for bus fare.  It comes down to principle: I work hard, you give me something in return.  Minimum wage, living stipend, lunch money, anything to make me feel less like a cheap secretarial-messenger whore. (WHOA. Naughty word.)

“But Sarah!” you’re probably saying, “Unpaid internships are valuable because you get experience, which will in turn get you hired, and that counts as your payment! CHA-CHING.”  Oh.  Okay.  So, promises act as currency now?  Well, apparently I don’t need a job, because over the years, I have accrued millions of dollars in Promises from my family.  “Sure Sarah, we can go to Disneyworld this year.” “Alright, I promise to buy you a Baby Alive.” “Yes, anyone can become a princess.” “No, Bambi’s mother is just sleeping.”

But seriously, the promise of future employment through connections and experiences from your internship can’t take the place of actual compensation, because again, there is no guarantee that your free labor will lead to a job.  It’s like telling a starving man, “Well, I won’t give you any food, but over the next three months, I’ll teach you how to cook.  And then, you’ll be able to cook in kitchens anywhere.  But, by anywhere, I mean the kitchens whose owners I know who are hiring right now, or in the next few months.  So, maybe you can have a sandwich in like, half a year or something?” It’s really not a great process, especially if, like me, you don’t have the means to support yourself where all the truly enticing internships are.  And, oftentimes, one unpaid internship isn’t enough.  You need several before you can hit bank.  Oi vey.

So, companies, cut your interns some slack.  Their internships mean just as much to them as your “real jobs” do to you.  How about you reward them as such, eh?

UPDATE: For more on unpaid internships, check out Ryan’s post questioning the legality of many practices used by employers today.

Slaves, Apply Here

27 Aug

Today I got a very nice, formula rejection letter from the Onion.  Today I also got an interview for an unpaid internship with the New York Press.  It’s been quite the exciting week in my unemployment story.

I was weathering my first rejection pretty well.  I convinced myself that the world works in mysterious ways, that it will all work out in the end, and that I didn’t want to work there anyway (the ultimate trifecta of denial and wishful thinking).  I was just fine, thank you very much.

That is, until Sarah so wisely texted: “where does a company get off thinking that they’ve got the right to take applications for slavery??”

Here I was, imagining that I was let down easy, that there really were too many awesome, superhero interns out there and they just couldn’t take us all.  And there they were, telling me I couldn’t work for them for free.

Wait a minute.  When did the power balance shift?  When did it become okay for Them to dictate when and how We volunteer to do the most undesirable work in the office for absolutely no pay?  We are highly educated free thinkers who still manage to fall into a trap of crawling on our hands and knees through the muckety muck to achieve a position with no tangible benefits and only the promise of furthering our nonexistent careers.  Call in the activists, throw glitter on the protest signs and get to marching–I spy some serious injustice.

Quick Qualifiers and Following Directions

26 Aug

employers to applicants: bring it

It’s called a “quick qualifier.” A device that screens out job applicants that don’t follow a certain criteria that forces job applicants to read closely, follow directions. This WSJ article describes how it’s done:

For years I’ve used a special filtering technique to avoid this problem. My secret? In the ad (about three-quarters of the way down) I tell the applicants, “To prove that you’re a meticulous reader, you have to include the following sentence when you send your résumé: ‘It is with my utmost respect I hereto surrender my curriculum vitae for your consideration.'”

I am all for ’em! Quick qualifiers are like the odd letters you have a punch in when you register online for something — they keep out the spam. We, as applicants, shouldn’t be firing off tons of resumes and covers without any thought. And yet the humor is that even if we meticulously apply, most of the time our applications aren’t even read. Worse yet — I hate employers that suggest this, as the article above gives as a reason to try quick qualifiers:

Most important, business owners want employees who will do as they’re told. If they’ve used the sentence, it shows they’re more inclined to explicitly follow directions and do what you expect of them.

We are not cogs in the system. This is why I have talked to dozens of liberal artists that have (independently) called their jobs as “soul-crushing.” So, I’m not against quick qualifiers but the purpose of them should never be to train employees to follow directions.

College, How Do I Miss Thee?

25 Aug

I know John Belushi, I can't believe it's over either.

I find myself in a strange position.  It’s back to school time, and for the first year I can remember, I am not going back to school.  It’s an odd feeling, thinking that life at college will go on without me.  A new batch of freshmen will arrive, and they’ll soon develop their own allegiances to particular dining halls, discover favorite study spots on campus, and taste the famous Dr. Feelgood from the late-night grille.  These were all my favorite things to do, but I can no longer lay claim to them.  I’ve left those hallowed halls, and when September rolls around, I won’t be among the 2,400 students hugging old friends on the sidewalk and diligently taking notes in my new notebook on the first day of class.  Apparently, when you graduate, you’re not allowed to do these things anymore.  Go figure.

I miss college, but not cripplingly so.  I can look back fondly on my college days without wishing I was still there, and the fact that I can call it “my college days” is, I think, a good sign that I’m moving on.  But, in the spirit of  the back-to-school time, I’d like to take a nostalgic trip down College Street in  Middlebury, VT and list some things that I will especially miss about college.

  1. CLASSES: I didn’t realize how much I liked learning until I was done with it.  Sure, at the time, all I could do was bitch about my papers and  reading assignments, but the discussions were phenomenal.  I loved my religion and my philosophy classes, and we all got so spirited when going over the night’s reading.  Nowadays, most of my chats involve a precocious toddler and begin with, “Poop? Poop in butt?”  The class environment is something you’ll be hard-pressed to find anywhere else.
  2. GENERAL INTELLECTUALISM: I loved that at dinner or in our suite, we could sit and talk about current social issues or our thesis topics.  Okay, so maybe abortion rights didn’t make for the best table talk on spaghetti night, but that we actually talked about it?  Whoa.  I never did that in high school.  I think I learned just as much out of class as I did in class, as my friends and I would share whatever interesting thing we learned that day.
  3. INSTITUTIONALIZED LIVING: C’mon, it’s kinda fun, yeah?  Beats living with your parents.
  4. ALL THE FUN FREE SHIT THERE WAS TO DO:  I served on a few programming boards, so I always knew that there were events going on all over campus.
  5. COMPLAINING THAT THERE WASN’T ENOUGH FUN FREE SHIT TO DO: In reality, even though we all want events planned and organized for us, we will, more often than not, turn up our noses, declare them to “fucking suck,” and retreat back to the dorms for a few invigorating rounds of MarioKart on the N64.
  6. THE SOCIAL LIFE: It’s nice being surrounded by your friends and other people your own age.  And yeah, the parties were generally a good time, but that’s because we were young and easily excited because we were 100% unsupervised.  These days, standing around stupidly in a dark, cramped, sweaty dorm room that’s overfilling with Keystone Light does not sound like, nor was it ever really, fun.
  7. THE CRAZY RANDOM STUFF YOU BEAR WITNESS TO:  Like a canoe in a tree.  Or streakers in the library.  Or that time my suite hosted an entire 22 person Quidditch team overnight for the World Cup.  Did that last part even make sense to you?  Because Muggle Quidditch is probably the craziest, randomest, funniest, and most intense sport you will ever see, and we literally packed 22 people like sardines into my four person townhouse so they could run around in capes with brooms between their legs.  If that’s not college-spelled-with-a-K, I don’t know what is.

KOLLEGE.

Good Enough

24 Aug

Aint she just oozing Trendy?

I am currently sitting in the trendiest Starbucks I’ve ever been in (and given that one of Starbucks governing principles is trendiness, that is saying something). The map tells me that I’m in Soho, but outside I can see an International Culinary Center and an Aldo–I thought Soho was supposed to be alternative and chic! All of the women inside this illustrious vendor of caffeinated beverages are either wearing six-inch patent leather kitten heels or those super hip flat sandals with the strap around the ankle. It’s an hour before my interview at The Onion and I don’t think I’m in Kansas anymore.

As couple at the next table argue about vacations to Florida (the girl looks like an anchorwoman and the guy calls his computer plug a “power source”) and the woman across from me futzes with her fluorescent pink lipstick that exactly matches the tips of her carefully manicured fingernails, I wonder about what I should know but don’t know to be prepared for this interview. Silly, really, since I can’t know what I don’t know, but only know that I don’t know what I don’t know … but still. I am unduly nervous, overpacked and lugging around two batches of cookies I baked yesterday. I don’t think I can possibly appear more desperate. And keep in mind, I am applying to an unpaid internship.

What is wrong with me? Cocky, college-aged me would go into this knowing to her vary core that she was, quite literally, the shit. She never worried about being offered the job, in fact, she treated these internship interviews as an audition for the company to prove that they deserved her overqualified, cookie-baking services for the summer. And now, facing that same interview, I am quaking in my flats. Has the job market psyched me out? Have the unemployment statistics gotten to me? Where did that arrogant, confident girl get to? Does she know something I don’t?

One interview later … I’m feeling like the guy who finishes the marathon right in the middle of the pack. My heart is still racing a bit, my armpits damp. Did I answer things appropriately? I said “um” a couple times, did he hate that? He didn’t say “um” at all. I wish I could train my speech that well. Is he going to read this blog post? Shoot–have I said anything incriminating on this blog?

Okay, okay, enough. I’ve answered his questions, he’s answered mine. The only thing remaining in that office to represent me is his notes, my resume and some rapidly disappearing cookies. I’m totally going to be that girl who brought the cookies. And that is just going to have to be good enough.