Not for Nothing: Adventures in Interning, Vol. III

by SixFigureStart | June 24, 2009

  • My Vault
Cooking with Hilary

Please allow me to reintroduce myself: My name is Alex, and I’m your guide through the enchanted valley of office supply thievery and free coffee that is the modern internship. In the past two weeks we’ve covered the general malaise that has permeated the market for voluntary apprenticeships, and I’ve mined the depths of my soul to bring you a detailed account of what actually goes on in these exploitive practices. Hold your applause for the end.

But today, hapless readers, I’m bringing a little sunshine to this Zoloft party. This installment of our series trots out a proper story to remind us about the true meaning of Christmas interning: the love of working for no monetary compensation. Just in case you forgot what these things were supposed to be like.

I submit to you one Hilary the Intern, last name withdrawn for reasons of job security. One might describe her as being just a small-town girl, living in the lonely world of undergraduate studies at a prestigious university here in New York. But for the past month she’s taken the rush hour train like the rest of us, to a gig at a legitimate lifestyle magazine—albeit one branded around a popular media personality of rather dubious renown. Nevertheless, Hilary doesn’t stop believing that this a positive experience.

According to Hilary, the position came about through the standard operating procedures. Her college’s career services office sent out a job listing which stated little more than contact information and applicant requirements. “It only named the parent company,” she recalls, recognizing it as an established publisher but not yet deducing the name of the magazine. “So when I got to my phone interview, a few weeks after submitting my resume, it was a pleasant surprise.” Sarcasm aside, her placement was secured after two phone interviews with the online editor and hiring manager, as she was willing to pledge a full five days to the job and possessed adequate credentials. Because these days, even to work for free, you need experience.

But Hilary’s duties are unequivocally on the straight and narrow. “It's intern-y stuff,” she confirms, and goes on to list the myriad small support chores she’s tasked with. “I use the magazine's databases to add content to the website, insert photo credits, and correct various issues with recipes.” As part of the website team for a magazine covering the hard-hitting stories that housewives and Christopher Walken demand, she’s also responsible for readers’ experience on the website: “I created an online profile in our new interactive section to post tips and pictures of recipes I've made, and reply to posts from users.” So if a stranger on your internet is complementing your quiche, it could be Hilary.

The job has also afforded her a few perks. Being a “lifestyle” title, the magazine receives a metric pantload of samples for new household products and food products—your humble narrator was even treated to a pack of Froot Loops cereal straws, which are less repellent than you might imagine. And she gets to stretch her literary muscles a bit, “writing several of the weekly newsletters.” But perhaps most rewarding is being given access to the office’s “test kitchen,” where new recipes are devised and experimented upon. In one day this culinary lab may test several dishes and tasteful food accessories, and the trained food technicians have been known use up to 16 cups of rice.

She puts some faith in her superiors, particularly the editor she reports to. “My boss knows her stuff,” asserts Hilary. “She is really busy, but makes time to talk to me about what I'd like to do while working there,” thus having the opportunity to brave the perils of the test kitchen. But it didn’t take long to notice that the staff is alarmingly lady-heavy, skewing toward a certain demographic: “Most of them are married with young children, or pregnant, or currently planning their weddings.” And working amidst these blushing brides, Hilary admits there are a select few who “aren't all nice or especially helpful.”

But the overall verdict? “It's worth it. I've been learning a lot and I'm hoping it'll be valuable in finding another job in the industry.” The brand recognition for the magazine’s namesake alone is enough to help her resume stand out amongst some of her peers—provided their credentials are legit. And after her assignment is over, she attests, “I'd like to potentially work there in another capacity, if they'd have me back.”

So after that more positive example, it is my hope that you, tender reader, have begun to glean some lessons from these experiences thus far. But don’t get too cocky; my next installment may just turn everything you know on its ear. Or maybe it will just be another depressing story! You’ll have to come back next week and find out.

--Alex Tuttle, Vault Web Content Intern

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