I moved back to London from my hometown last January, in a bid to pursue a budding career in journalism. I’d worked on a local paper with a decent salary and was pretty sure I could write myself out of any tight spot; so I set about lining up work experience and internships to give myself an edge.
I managed, through a friend, to get 2 weeks’ placement on the Sunday Times News Review. I arrived bright-eyed and bushy-tailed on the Monday morning, not expecting to be given the most fascinating jobs in the world, but hoping that if I proved myself willing then I might make some useful contacts.
An ostensibly friendly woman showed me to my desk from the lobby and said somebody would be with me shortly. I waited an hour for my “boss” to turn up, who simply said to me, “do you know what you’re supposed to be doing?” When I replied that no, I had no idea what was in store for me, she sighed and set me about making lists of the day’s news stories published in all the day’s papers. She didn’t tell me how long the list was supposed to be, or give me any examples; she just barked out a simple instruction and vanished. For the rest of the week, she communicated with me only through one-sentence emails.
Once, my “boss” demanded I transcribe an interview from the Today programme that I later found, after contacting the BBC press office, did not even exist. Days passed in complete silence and boredom. Nobody in the office spoke to me. At lunch, I went to the canteen, where I had to purchase a lunch card to top up with credit – a bit like an Oyster card. Needless to say, I wasn’t given any allowance for this.
On the Friday of the first week, I woke up so sick I couldn’t leave my bed. I had winter vomiting illness and felt utterly wretched. I rang my “boss” and she said it was fine not to come in, and that she would see me next week. I thought it had all been sorted, and that I could focus on getting better.
But later that day a furious email popped up in my inbox from another person in the office, the woman who had set up my placement but who was not responsible for me during it. I still have the email because I found it so incredibly offensive. It said:
“I assume by your no-show today that you won’t be coming in next week. I am extremely disappointed in you. Work experience at the Sunday Times is highly prized and extremely competitive to get. Interns are given a level of trust and responsibility and we rely on them to produce two pages of the news review.”
The woman hadn’t even thought of asking her colleagues if they had heard from me. She distrusted me and despised me enough to jump the gun and assume I was a good-for-nothing layabout who just couldn’t be bothered to show up.
I rang the woman in question, and told her there must be some mistake – I had rung in sick earlier that day. She simply said wires must have been crossed, “sorry for the confusion”. But they had found somebody else for next week already, so she said not to bother coming in again anyway.
I’ve done work placements since, but this is the worst experience I’ve had. I left the Sunday Times feeling completely worthless. How dare they “rely on interns” yet refuse to show them even the slightest respect or manners.
As for internships, I thought I was getting an edge by doing them; but it doesn’t give you an advantage at all. It just places you at the same level as every other sucker out there naive enough to front their life savings to work for nothing.