Thursday, 25 July 2013

On Internships: the system is wrong when you have to break the law to get a job.

So, couertesy of the Guardian, I learned something rather alarming yesterday - for two weeks last month, I was breaking the law. I'd love to say killing spree, but my crime was rather more boring than that; I was, apparently, in contravention of the National Minimum Wage Act 1998. Again, sadly, this was not because I was running an illegal sweatshop from my basement (first problem with that being that I don't have a basement). No. I did an internship.

It should have been obvious really. It is illegal to pay anyone over the age of 21 less than €5.93 an hour.  I hadn't realised it, but working for less than €5.93 an hour is also a crime (way to penalise the victim there).

So to clarify: if you do an unpaid internship both you and the person who hired you are breaking the law. Yet, I never questioned the legality of what I was doing, because it's just so ingrained in all our minds that working for free is just something you have to do to get a job. How the hell did it come to this? To a state of affairs where it is considered the norm for thousands of people to be forced to resort to criminal measures to get a foot on the career ladder?

I expected it to an extent with the industry I'm trying to get into. In journalism, your portfolio is your cv, and it's just always been a fact that you'd have to offer your services for free in exchange for those crucial bylines. I worked two days a week at my local paper for four months while I trained, and for a full week at The Times. In retrospect, I don't know which was worse; the Basildon Echo happily employing me as a junior reporter, keeping me in the office all hours working on stories without any pay or The Times offering me "work experience" only to use me to fill in for their receptionist while she was on holiday. Neither of them even paid me travel expenses. But I didn't mind, because I accpeted this was something I needed to do. Where I went wrong was thinking afterwards that I had paid my dues.

So I found myself, several years later, accepting the offer of an unpaid internship at Popdash, the music news website. I fucking loved it. Even though 90% of my output was related to Cheryl Cole (and about 10% of that was likely to actually be true) I loved it, because I was doing what I wanted to do - spending all day writing. In most jobs you spend a certain portion of the day watching the clock, and fucking about on Facebook and Twitter in workplaces kind enough to allow you to do so. I can honestly say I never checked the clock except when I was on my lunch break. My boss had to literally force me I had to go home every day because I always wanted to stay and finish one last thing. I could have checked Facebook, or Twitter, or my emails, but it never occured to me to do so.

I felt productive, felt valued, like a member of the team - exceedingly foolishly, it would turn out, as two weeks into my month long, supposedly rolling internship I got an email telling me not to bother coming in any more. I was only doing two days a week, they'd found someone free to do the whole week, so they wanted to go with her instead. Makes more sense they said. And of course, it does. The fact that they told me they only wanted me to do two days a week and then held it against me doesn't make any sense, but I'm done driving myself mad over that one.

So my foray into the murky criminal underworld has left me feeling bereft and utterly fucking used. This wasn't an opportunity for me to learn vital skills, like anything masquerading as "work experience" should be - I was a trained journalist and received no further instruction from them. This was just an opportunity for them to have someone come in and supplement the work of the ONE permanent writer on the website for free. It was the same at all of the titles in the stable - each was run by one permanent writer, who got to call themself the editor, and a rotating cotarie of interns. Talk about fucking cheap. I worked out on day one this wasn't going to lead to my being offered a job there. And because I was unceremoniously booted out ahead of schedule, I never even got to sit down with my editor and discuss my performance, ask where I could improve, and ask for his advice on breaking into the industry, which I was planning to do. I didn't even get to pick up my travel expenses. I'm not sure exploitative even begins to cover the extent of the dodginess of that operation.

But like I said, I at least, was prepared for this. When did it change from creative jobs like writing and design requiring people to "pay their dues" working for free to ALL jobs? Every week I am inundated with emails from job websites, particularly those aimed at students/graduates all advertising internships: "Marketing Internships", "IT Internships", "Finance Internships". It reached it's absolute zenith, however, last week, when I spied an ad for an "Administration Internship".

When I'm not busy working for free I do temp work in offices, reception, general admin, that sort of thing. Have done for many years, while I was still modelling, travelling etc. This is what I do formoney, and more pointedly, my first job after uni when I had no experience whatsoever. So I was racking my brains trying to think what on earth someone could want to do in the administrative field that would require/justify some form of unpaid training. So I clicked on the details, and job description ran thusly: "Working behind the reception desk, answering calls, greeting visitors etc, plus filing, data entry and ad hoc administrative duties". That's not an internship, that's a receptionist/officer junior role, a school-leavers job, full time, for no money. That's what I won't get out of bed for less than €7.50 an hour for (I'm so rock and roll), for FREE. I'm sorry but whoever is behind that is taking the fucking piss, and should be ashamed of themelves, because they're not helping anyone but themselves with that "great opportunity to gain some experience in the challenging world of office administration". If you need to breal the law to get a job anwering phones now, Cod help us all is all I can say.

As for my experience, it hasn't got me any closer to a career in journalism. Maybe I should have been hacking people's phones.

Monday, 1 July 2013

Adventures In Internet Dating

Here's a fact you might not know about me.  I have, in the past, dabbled with internet dating.  I know what you're thinking; I'm a sulky, six foot (well, nearly) misanthropist, with weird hair and an excellent line in sarcastic put-downs  - surely I'm every man's dream?  I must be fighting them off with a stick!  I hate to shatter your illusions, but, alas no.  My shouty feminism has thus fair failed to bring all the boys to my yard.

Over the years, various people have proffered a baffling array of suggestions as to why this may be: I'm too attractive (ROFL), I'm too intelligent (WTF?), men are thrown into paroxysms of confusion and fear when they see a woman with short hair.  I'd personally have gone with "weird face and a bad personality", but I'm sure each idea is not without its own merits.  The one word that does keep recurring though is "unapproachable".  I don't know if it's my hair, or my clothes, or the fact that I'm quite often muttering to myself about "fucking cunts" (have you tried navigating the tube in summer?  I swear, tourists were only invented to make my life unbearable), but apparently I'm not the sort of person you want to start a conversation with.  A radio DJ once told me he "wouldn't want to bump into me in a dark alley" and we'd only ever met over the PHONE.

All things considered then, my crippling shyness and vast social ineptitude, in general but particularly around the opposite sex (the last time a man I found even remotely attractive offered me a simple greeting, I trilled "Helllloooooo!" in a register I have never consciously spoken in before, and may have only been audible to small children and dogs.  To this day I don't know if he heard me) included, you'd think I'd have hit upon the idea of internet dating sooner, but it's something that didn't, and still doesn't appeal to me.  Call me a snob, or out of touch, or both, but no matter how en vogue it currently it is to look for love online, I've always been stuck with the sneaking suspicion the dating sites aren't really full of busy professionals who just don't have time to meet people the traditional way; more like they can't meet people the traditional way, because there's something horribly wrong with them.  Cod knows, there's enough wrong with me.  Now, given that a few of my friends have been or currently are signed up with dating sites, and all my friends are proven fabulous ("V Doesn't Hate Me" is a hard-won badge which should be worn with pride), I'm willing to accept this may be an at least partially groundless prejudice, but hey, we all have our foibles.  

Nonetheless, I have dipped a cautious toe into the warm waters of computer dating twice, in short bursts, both several years apart.  I blame the ads for glamorising it.  Do you remember the early ones, when it first started, maybe 2005 - 2007, with the two achingly beautiful young hipsters  who start an accidental jam session in a vintage music shop (where else) and realise they've met "the One"?  I think that's what first sowed the seeds of doubt in my mind, making me subconsciously wonder if there might not be a sub-section of tragically misunderstood young people with perfect hair on the internet dating scene after all, despite the fact that the pair in the advert were clearly models who were very unlikely to have any problems finding anybody to fuck them in real life, and more to the point, they met in a shop, not online, so I'm not sure if they really thought that campaign through.  

Anyway, what prompted me to actually sign up the first time was someone's featured profile in the adverts on the side of a website.  I'm not sure exactly when this was, but it was an advert for thelondonlove, the wankishly named online personals section of the wankishly named thelondonpaper, which folded a few years ago, so you can probably make a fairly accurate guess.  Basically, the guy was hot.  Not Brad Pitt hot, admittedly (I don't actually fancy Brad Pitt, but I'm lazy and it's an easy reference), but very cute and totally my type (moody, indie haircut).  Being nothing if not predictably shallow, I signed up immediately and sent him a message.  Bastard never replied.  (I hope you're reading this, random online dating featured profile guy - you could have been dating an internet blogger by now).  Still, for a short while, I threw myself into it.  After all, much like Facebook, an internet dating profile is a way to present the very best version of yourself, or at least, in my case, to choose photos where I'm covered in the least amount of biscuit crumbs.  Plus, for someone who sought the solace of the written word from an early age because they found it easier to express themselves that way in the first place, the idea of communicating entirely by email, at least in the early stages of meeting, was pretty appealing.  I can't remember how many men I talked to, though discounting the messages I was instantly inundated with from men in their fifties (I specified an age range of 22-34, which I think wasn't unreasonable given that I was only young myself at the time) and men who lived Kent (I said I wasn't willing date out of zone 4, I was hardly going to fucking date outside of the M25), it wasn't many.  It may have actually only been the two guys I ended up going on dates with.

The first was my favourite.  He was called Congressional, or something similar (I can't for the life of me remember his real name, but he might have been a James.  I've been out with an inordinate number of James', by which I mean two), was 27 and actually pretty cute.  We exchanged increasingly florid emails for a couple of weeks, maybe a month and I was, if not smitten, then suitably impressed.  I can't remember what he did for a living (I want to say something in finance?) but he was a brilliantly talented writer.  I mean, could-have-written-for-the-G2 level good, which is my standard of greatness.  We met on a Tuesday night, after work, at a small pub in the east end.  He wasn't quite as attractive as his profile photo, and the conversation wasn't quite as sparkling, and it also emerged that he had actually found me through the online personals section of The Times, it being part of the same publishing group as thelondonpaper, a fact which vaguely horrified me, because lets face it, nobody cool reads The Times (he was clearly equally unimpressed by my common habit of picking up free papers on the tube), but nonetheless I did enjoy myself, and after a kiss on the cheek he gave me his number and said to text or email if I wanted to meet up again.  I emailed the next day, bastard never replied (de ja vu).  I was also sick as a dog the next day, and had to call in sick to my temp job, which resulted in them sacking me on the spot (I'd told them I was going out, presumably they thought I was hungover) so I lost money over it too.  I know I wasn't hungover because I only had one drink, and I rarely get viruses; someone jokingly suggested that he might have been a creep who drugged my drink.  So you know, there's that I suppose.

My second internet dalliance was a brief encounter with a man who was possibly called Sean.  Or Paul.  Or Sean-Paul (isn't Sean-Paul a rapper?  Did I date a rapper?  Surely not).  We had a shorter online introduction and I can't remember now why I agreed to see him other than that he asked.  In real life, he looked like he'd eaten the man in his profile picture, which was slightly disappointing (this makes me sound shallow; I contest the accusation - it's been pointed out to me by several friends recently that I do seem to have an occasional thing for guys carrying a bit of extra weight, plus You're The One For Me, Fatty is totally my favourite Morrissey song).  I don't think we'd discussed it before meeting, but it turned out he liked the Manics, and he actually was a journalist, I think, so we had a bit in common.  No spark, but we did chat on MSN Messenger (remember when people still used MSN Messenger?  Gosh I feel old)for a while after (he briefly terrified me by suggesting he was going to get tickets to a gig I was going to which for some reason I took to mean he was going to start stalking me), but eventually that died off, as did my faith in love, or at least thelondonlove, which folded a short while after.

My second adventure in internet dating happened several years later, and was even less successful than the first, by which I mean not successful at all, because if you thought the first time went well you've clearly had an even more disappointing love life than I have.  It was February or March, I'd just moved into my new flat and wasn't getting a great deal of work at the time, London having apparently developed a monsoon season which was driving even the most foolhardy Americans and their plastic ponchos off of the open top tour buses. were advertising on tv again, and for some reason I was getting loads of emails from them too (maybe spambots can smell fear) and largely out of boredom and a spirit of "how bad could it be?", I signed up for their "free" profile.

Here's the thing you need to know about Match.Com's "free" profile - it's useless, and a complete con. After spending hours crafting perfect responses to all of the questions they ask you that form the basis of the information on your profile, trawling through all my albums to find the photos of myself where I'm looking at my least deranged (I accept, in retrospect, including a photograph of myself pretending to be crucified on a giant cross in a nightclub may have been a mistake) and painstakingly setting my parameters and my "deal-breakers" (still no 50-year-olds.  Sorry guys, I don't have daddy issues) I was online and ready to go. being populated by a slightly more active (read desperate) membership, the winks (seriously, Match?  Seriously?) and the messages started flooding in.  This is when it became apparent that a free profile is literally that - a profile.  You cannot see the men (it could have been women, or unicorns for all I know) who have "winked" at you, and you cannot read any messages you receive beyond the subject line (usually a concise if not particularly illuminating "Hi"), and you sure as hell can't reply.  It's the online equivalent of writing your own phone number on a toilet wall with a note saying "call for sex", only in that case not being able to read the messages you received would probably be a blessing.

I wasn't willing to pay for membership so it ended there, but there is another reason why.  Even though I couldn't even look at the profiles of men I received messages from, I could browse a limited number of profiles in general, along with my daily "matches", emailed to me along with notes saying "You're Profile Is Proving Popular!"  It was apparent fairly immediately why I was so "popular" - I was clearly the only person on there whose parents weren't related by blood.  I've never seen such a sorry-looking collection of freaks and weirdos in my entire life, and not one man or woman whose eyes weren't weirdly close together.  I know I said I'd gone into this assuming that everyone using online dating would have something wrong with them, but I hadn't necessarily anticipated that thing being them looking like their faces had half melted off in a freak industrial accident.  Plus,, a service which supposedly specialises in "matching" you with your prefect partner apparently still has a lot to learn in terms of matching people properly.  Every day my "matches" included men who didn't fit any of my stated criteria (plus, I didn't exactly say "no self-obsessed bankers who drone on about their luxury flat in Marleybone and whose tagline is 'The only thing I love more than money is me!'", because it didn't really come up in any of the questions, but really, it should have been implied), and the one time a guy turned up in my matches who only looked vaguely like he was from Norfolk, it turned out his criteria insisted upon a fictional woman much shorter, curvier and more successful than me, which was just cruel.

I never actually deleted my profile, though I assume it's deactivated or something by now, because I'm mercifully spared the daily deluge of my inbox nowadays.  One day, if I become rich, I might sign up for real, just to reply to all the men who messaged me, because it's just rude to not reply, though I hope they understand it's Match forcing me to forgo my manners with their oppressive payment structures.  In the event, I actually met someone in the real world, as it were, shortly after signing up (it didn't last), then someone else soon after that (that also didn't last) and I've now lain unsullied by the touch of man for nearly six months and it's starting to get on my nerves, to put it mildly, but will I resort to internet dating again?  Um, no.  Maybe when I'm 50.