This story is from a reader who only requested to go by Monica. Thanks for the post Monica!
I completed a B.A with dreams of becoming a fiction editor. Predictably, months after graduation, I was still unemployed (as traditionally defined – no work). I’m in Australia so I was I receiving unemployment benefits. I was required to apply for 10 jobs a week. I was applying for twice that, at least. The shortage of paid publishing work meant that I was even applying for reception or administration work, anything! The madness of doing nothing but sending out endless applications, receiving only generic responses if anything at all, was getting too much. I felt like I didn’t even exist anymore.
In a desperate moment, I re-evaluated and thought if I had to suffer I would at least suffer for my passion – publishing. I caved and started applying for unpaid internships (again! I had already completed two during school!). A publisher of LGBT-focused street mags responded to my application – finally, another human being acknowledges me! – and I jumped on it.
The publication I worked on was a joke, the space on the page was filled by advertising with slithers of content. Most paid staff were calling businesses with a desperate pitch – offering more than direct advertising space but ‘editorial coverage’ as well. So I spent my time filling their website with re-packaged press releases from the companies that had bought the full package. I became the second highest contributing author to their website, the first being a paid journo. I didn’t learn anything even though I started out with a list of software I wanted to master.
Nevertheless I still relied on unemployment benefits to sustain me. So, I was required to attend various meetings with dead-eyed bureaucrats who basically treated me like a social pariah. Meanwhile I was working beyond the agreed upon two days a week. The boss included my personal mobile number in my e-mail signature and when I pitched ideas I had to work on them “in my own time”.
Soon I was offered me a freelance content writing gig with another company. I told my boss at the LGBT publishing house about it, noting it wouldn’t compromise my position there, and asked him for a written reference. He said “I’ll have it for you Tuesday.” On Tuesday, “I”ll have it for you by the end of the week.” At the end of the week, “I’ll have it for you next week.” It never came.
I got the freelance job anyway but it was horrible and I was making less than $AUD 40 a week, working many hours. My mental health was really suffering at this point so I just needed everything to stop. I quit the content writing job and I quit the LGBT publishing house. My boss at the publishing house never provided a reference, thanked me or even acknowledged my resignation.
I also found out the company had gone insolvent (a bulk of their debt comprised of unpaid wages) less than 12 months prior to hiring me so there was no paid work that they could have offered me ever, anyway.
I quit the publishing game in the end. I am going back to school to do social work – I’ve always had a passion for social issues. I realised too that I have always hated working for private enterprise, and in “competitive” industries such as publishing the level of cold hard exploitation is rife. The unpaid internship is one of the primary means of exploitation.