I have recently discovered that I am quite unemployable. This has nothing to do with my level of intelligence, work ethic, determination or ambition; instead it has everything to do with my patience. When I was little, I laboured under the delusion that finding a job rested mainly on your people skills, your ability in that particular area of work and your general intelligence levels. As I’m sure most of you know this is almost complete bollocks. The single most valuable trait you can have when applying for a job or going for an interview, is your capacity for bullshit. This is where my problem lies. I am a deplorable liar but more than that I just can’t be bothered. I have no time for the ludicrous questions that interviewers, employers and applications ask me;
‘What distinguishes you from everyone else?’
‘What could you bring to the job that no-one else could?’
‘Why do you want to be. . .(insert obligatory internship/profession)?’
‘Please describe a situation where you face a real challenge and how you handled this challenge?’
The list goes on and on and on. The real challenge is actually making it through the application and interview process without resorting to large doses of ketamine. Even better are the ones that are specific to each application. For the Scottish Saltire internship they had, ‘Please tell us your own story and why you represent a young person in Scotland.’ I genuinely would like to put a two part question in answer to that:
1) Why the hell does that matter – nationality does not affect your working ability?
2) How can you possibly represent an entire generation of a whole country?
The whole thing is ridiculous, a convoluted process of mutual pretence which overlooks all the useful and relevant qualities which the candidate may have. The worst part is that even if you manage to miraculously bite your tongue and smile with the kind of keenness and fake enthusiasm that they say they love, even if you tick all the boxes, even if you finally get offered that coveted place, you then have the delightful prospect of maintaining this façade of irreverent gratitude. If that isn’t enough there is always the fact that you might not get paid for all the work and enthusiasm and gratitude that you are displaying. In fact, many internships even require you to pay them for this unprecedented opportunity. This, again, I have no patience with. Are they really saying that we are such a burden, such a useless hover sack of inexperience and unintelligence that nothing we do while we are with them is worth anything? Is our education up to now so completely ineffective as to render us equivalent to the ignorant and annoyingly curious child in ‘bring your kid to work day’?
More than that though, it means that these limited opportunities to compensate for the ineptitude that our degrees apparently foster, are open only to those with mounds of gold and cupboards full of silver spoons. Now while this fits in nicely with the direction in which the country seems to be marching with its ridiculous fees and cuts, it doesn’t sit so well with the idea of equal opportunities. For those who don’t have access to Daddy’s credit card and his many influential friends, the idea of working for free is just not practical. Who is going to pay the rent? Who is going to afford the living costs? Even if companies give them an allowance for these (which not all do) many people have to work during the summer to be able to support themselves during term, or to try and alleviate some of the massive debts they have accumulated in their bid to further their career prospects by gaining a degree. Career prospects that are often no better even after an internship, which after all, guarantees you nothing once they have managed to rid themselves of your pestering presence.
Perhaps I am being too harsh? We are, after all, in a recession, times are hard and many companies are struggling. Jobs are thin on the ground, let alone internships. . .Yet minimum wage is not a lot, in fact it’s a disgraceful pittance and the companies that tend to offer placements are hugely influential and often hugely wealthy to match. Would it really have such an impact to pay the students who are so desperate to please and gain experience that they will do anything for that ticket to greater connections, knowledge and opportunities? In no other situation would it be acceptable to expect people to work for nothing. Students at university are not under-age, uneducated or incapable – so on what pretext should money be withheld for a job well done?
I spent all of last summer working for free in a tiny publishing company called Linen Press. There was literally only one main member of staff and that was the company director. She had a very small number of authors, no PR staff or business management and negative funds. I understood from the beginning that it was simply not possible for her to pay me – she just could not afford to. However, she allowed me much greater responsibility and credibility than I would have got at a bigger more successful company. I have learned a lot, the most important being that I have no desire to go into publishing once I graduate. No doubt I could have learned this at another company and indeed many other lessons, but regardless of how grateful I am for everything I have gained, I have made the decision that I will not work for free anymore. This may mean that I end up, as predicted, unemployed and on the dole, leading to a depressing spiral of substance abuse through boredom and frustration and pregnant from drug induced mistakes. But at least the only applications and interviews I’ll have to do then will be for Tesco.