Recent graduates can take heart from the fact that no matter the state of economy, there will always be a company offering them an internship. An unpaid one, of course, but who needs money when you have a “chance to learn and grow” and most importantly “the possibility of permanent employment”.
In reality, the underlying message is: “Hope dies last, so why not slave away for us until someone quits or we can afford to spare some change”. If anything, you’ll learn the art of making coffee. That is until your parents and friends will talk you into searching for a real job.
Although my experiences with unpaid internships are mostly positive (it’s how I score my first job as a journalist), a 2013 survey shows I just got lucky: only 37 percent of those who volunteer (let’s stop sugarcoating reality) for a company received at least a job offer. It’s tough, particularly because you find yourself in a limbo. So close, yet so far form the real-life workforce.
I vividly remember the uncertainty of coming to work with no real purpose other than making myself stand out. The constant rumination. “Should I bring a lunch bag? Does my boss even know my name?”
All this thinking helped me come up with seven mental stages of an unpaid internship:
1. This is awesome! I am going to knock their socks off. Oh man, today could be the first day of my career with this cool company. I can’t believe how nice everyone is. How long can it take to get hired? Three months tops.
2. OK, so I made a plan: be here early and not leave unless someone specifically asks me. I saw that in Seinfeld, when Kramer went to an office so often that people started thinking he actually works there. He was, eventually, fired, but that’s not the point. My motto? “Fake it till you make it”.
3. “Mom, can you please stop sending me job listings!” Trust me on this one. Every day brings me closer to a paycheck. And to the copy machine. Seems like a great place to meet people though. Like my future boss. Yesterday, for a second, I thought he barked something at me while passing by. But after playing out the scene in my head, I know now he was definitely coughing”
4. He’s a total jackass. He called me “babe”. And winked. That was before handing me a ton of papers to sort. Suck it up, buttercup! It’s a jungle out there and only the tough ones make it.
5. Maybe it’s the allergy season or something. People are really nasty. They are literally looking through me. Where’s the hospitality, guys? Or it was my initial enthusiast altering the reality? Anyways, they will turn around once I’ll get hired.
6. Yikes! I was looking for coffee creamer in the kitchen cabinets when a raspy voice told me to look in the fridge. I turned around only to see a scrawny, tall guy who presented himself as an intern. Then he got closer. “Back off. You have any idea what’s like to clean up the boss’s kid puke out of a carpet? I earned the job”.
7. F@ck this! It’s been over three months since I started and nobody knows my name. Do I have a Monica face? That one seems to pop up a lot. I’m thinking about quitting. Or just leave. Maybe slam the door on my way out.
This morning, while brushing my teeth, I had an “aha moment”. Starbucks must be the master mind behind the whole internship frenzy. A couple of months of working for free, hoping to land your dream is nothing else that a barista master class. They will totally hire me. Assuming they don’t want me as an intern…