Not for Nothing: Adventures in Interning, Vol. II

by SixFigureStart | June 17, 2009

  • My Vault
"My story"

So I am tasked with chronicling the trials and triumphs of internships as they occur in nature—because these days you’d think most employers believed interns grow on trees. To do so, it is of the utmost import that you, gentle reader, be given both sides of the coin: the pros and cons, the ups and the downs, the yin and the yang, the Simon and the Garfunkel. But to protect the innocent (and my bosses’ rears), I’ll be refraining from providing full names or identifying the companies referred to herein. Apologies in advance for the vagueness.

My own story starts like many uncomfortable experiences do: a friend called me up with an “opportunity.” The friend, Matt, is a good pal, albeit a bit of a knucklehead, and we’d previously served together in the trenches at a failing company (which eventually laid us off). Harrowing ordeals like that breed camaraderie, and we’ve since looked out for one another with favors and job leads. Thus he came to me, just as I was comfortably settling into the extravagant lifestyle of pajama pants and corn flakes that unemployment afforded me, to let me know he’d lined up a gig as an intern. And wouldn’t I like to get in on that action too.

The assignment was described as a marketing project with a Brooklyn-based artist center. We would provide research for an art contest they were running, and in return were given free access to their facilities. Being neither impressed nor repulsed by the prospect, I fired off my resume with a hastily prepared cover letter, and within an hour received an email accepting me for the project. This should have raised a number of red flags: never mind all the odium that accompanies the term “Brooklyn artists”, but how promising is a job where you’re hired sight unseen? For all they knew, I could be some defective cokefiend deviant; and as it turns out, that described at least two of our team members.

I’m not one to bandy about derogatory buzzword labels like “hipster,” but that’s really the only way to describe the collective behind this project. The organization itself was based out of the Bushwick neighborhood, a “cool-on-a-budget-if-you-don’t-mind-the-smell” area known for its depressive industrial vistas of shuttered factories and warehouses. And true to that motif, the dudes in charge were the kind of overstyled dirtbags you expect to see in Vice Magazine or on a teen drama, vaguely arty twentysomethings more concerned with their vintage sneakers than with day-to-day business concerns. And they applied those priorities to running this contest.

In brief: the whole endeavor was a mess. The directors had done little to no preparation; it seemed more like they expected us to prepare it for them. Our assembled team was mostly comprised of art school party kids; among them, Matt and I found ourselves awash in a sea of American Apparel and vodka breath. Objectives changed drastically from one day to the next, elements were suddenly abandoned, and often our tasks had to be reassessed when the campaign hit obvious snags. At one point we were trained in the use of Salesforce.com, a valuable productivity tool, and were never required to use it in our subsequent tasks. An experienced manager was brought on at the beginning to supervise the project, and then vanished after a couple weeks—one can only assume because he recognized a lost cause when he saw one.

All the while, I couldn’t have cared less. I came in each day, compiled some research, listened to them blast trendy music on their laptop speakers, and went back home. While I was permitted access to the center’s art amenities (which included video editing bays, workshops and classes), it was all under the bitterly suspicious regulation of the staff, and usually not worth the trouble of jumping through their hoops. The only thing I really looked forward to were the free burritos they bought us on Fridays.

And as anticlimactic as the internship began, it ended with an appropriate thud. One day, two months before the projected end date, they simply announced that we were no longer needed. Our access to the facilities was to be terminated, and my notification of this development came third-hand through a forwarded email, the gist of which was “thanks for your work, smell you later.” Adding just a touch more insult to the injury, we learned later that one of the cuter girls on our team was selected for a paid, full-time job running the project herself.

So that’s what interning got me: two months of inconsequential work that utilized almost none of my skills, working for an unknown organization, in a mismanaged group of slackers who put more stock in vain preening than professional ability, and ultimately no results. Not only were Matt and I made to toil for no pay on work clearly intended for a paid professional, but there was nothing to show for our slave labor. But I’m not bitter, no sirree.

But is that all that internships have to offer? Well you’re just going to have to deal with this staggeringly obvious teaser ending and stay tuned to find out – same bat-time, same bat-channel.

--Alex Tuttle, Vault Web Content Intern

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