Internships are a lot like Tinder dates: Most will involve just getting coffee, a couple will have longterm potential, and then there are those few that you walk away from feeling used with a burning sensation in the pelvic region.
So for the sake of future interns everywhere, here are three red flags that should have told me I was walking into a nightmare scenario:
1. The guy who interviewed me was imaginary.
We’ve all seen businesses that post ads for internships all over the place. So when I saw “Writing Rock Star” pretty much everywhere I went, that probably should have been a red flag. Upon seeing one such ad, I copied “firstname.lastname@example.org” into my inbox and sent off the résumé to get started.
About an hour later, some dude named Luthor got back to me and talked about how most people “can’t handle this internship” and he’s looking for “only cool people who rock…” and you get the general sense that this guy is kind of a dick. He included three questions that needed to be answered and, despite my inbox saying this email is from “Smith, John,” the response needed to be addressed to “Luthor,” who apparently has no last name. We exchanged a few emails and he told me he’d forward my name to the boss. Pretty straightforward.
About a week into the internship, it hit me that I haven’t met Luthor yet. A few weeks went by and John Smith name dropped Luthor about a dozen times. He kept talking about how Luthor works remotely, how he checked out my Facebook and saw I liked the Beatles, and how he vets all the interns before telling John to hire them, and I kind of just accepted the fact that Luthor is a real person, because why wouldn’t he be? However, it all fell apart one day when another intern turned to me and whispered, “Luthor doesn’t exist.”
What? No, that can’t be. Luthor is always sending emails from our shared inbox and telling other, less fortunate applicants, “I told you to address the email to Luthor, not John. You clearly don’t have what it takes to be a rock star.” But I just couldn’t believe it. So I checked the employee records, scoured the payroll in the shared server, checked the employee contact sheet, and even searched LinkedIn, Facebook, and the boss’s iPhone address book. But everything led to the same conclusion: Luthor did not exist.
2. There are more interns than actual employees.
Most internships seem to be comprised of running errands and making coffee. So when I came across the ad for “Writing Rock Star,” which offered “pay, plus bonuses,” I got a little giddy at the thought that I would actually get a paycheck for doing this shit. So I got started handling clients, literally writing an entire magazine’s worth of articles, coordinating with lobbyists, and creating media strategies for $30,000 projects. It was a fantastic experience, and I was busting my ass for 20-30 hours a week when suddenly all my coworkers just quit within a few weeks of each other. I couldn’t figure out why, until the first magazine I essentially wrote came out and didn’t have my name on it, and apparently it was too much trouble to let me have a copy for my portfolio. Also, the boss would come up behind me and start rubbing my shoulders, which he did to the girls a little more often in between calling me upstairs to talk about what they were wearing.
The problem wasn’t just that I was underpaid, it was that I realized he was using interns as cheap labor. I mean, I shouldn’t have been shocked considering every website built, article written, and graphic created was, as instructed, ripped from Google searches because “we’re too small for anyone to sue.” Every month or so, he would run into the room aghast and ask for a briefing on said 30 grand project because the clients were on their way over, and within the first few words of my briefing it became clear he had no idea what was going on or what the project really even was. Finally, I asked him for a letter of recommendation to get out of his rapey basement sweatshop and his response was “You know what, nobody reads letters of recommendation anyway. My word should be enough for you.” Oh, okay, John. Cool.
3. The office was some guy’s basement.
When you show up for your first day to any job, it’s nerve-wracking. You usually take a second in the car to pull yourself together before making the first entrance. But this time, I pulled up and my first thought was that “this is someone’s house.” But hey, nothing wrong with a little cost-saving and tax skirting with a home office, right? I walked in and the boss was waiting for me on the ground floor in a picturesque, lofted, and enclosed porch. There is only one desk, so at some point I had to ask, “Where do I work?” He got up and led me down a long staircase to a basement crammed with five other interns that is made perpetually dark by the shadow cast from the boss’s lofted office above us. Along with that, the boss seemed a bit too comfortable.
The guy just did a little too much touching, along with telling stories about “retards” and “fags,” which he justifies because his cousin is a “retard” and he has “friends that are fags.” Or you just casually notice that the boss man doesn’t wear deodorant as much as he should. And then comes the kicker: One day, as the five other female interns were using the main computers in the basement, the boss handed me his laptop to work off of and I opened it to find about ten separate tabs of coed porn. That about did it for me..
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