Thursday, December 13, 2012

Ends with a whimper

Today was the second-to-last day of class, aka the review session. For this reason, the train I normally take, which normally gets me to the building where I teach shortly after 9 for a 9:30 class, was super-duper-delayed because of a broken-down Amtrak train in "the tube," for the second day in a row, although for some reason yesterday there was no accompanying delay. There were these ominous announcements about how the PATH train wouldn't cross-honor NJ Transit tickets (phrased far more ambiguously than that, I assure), but then when we got to the place where we might have switched to the PATH, there was no announcement telling us that if we didn't do this, we'd maybe not make it into NYC any time soon. At that point, one is kind of stuck.

Ultimately I was maybe five minutes late - making me all the more sure of my preexisting plans to take the extra-early train tomorrow, the day of their final exam. Also because this would happen the day of the review session: neither the marker I'd brought (which had worked fine the previous day) nor any of the many others in the classroom had any ink left. An entire semester of early and prepared, and what will be remembered? That's right.

But it could be worse! Someone on Facebook pointed me to this job posting, in publishing, which is a thousand levels of frightening. For starters, it's ambiguous from the ad whether these are unpaid or low-paid positions, until the very end, where it's spelled out: "[A]ssume that you will be one of the unpaid interns until you are ready to take on all the responsibilities of a position." Man, the best kind of unpaid internship, the one with a pseudo-promise of paid work at some unspecified date in the future, aka never. These are illegal in the U.S. at least, no?

Then, though, there's what they're offering:

The Press is looking for promising candidates with an appropriate background who: [...] do not have any other commitments (personal or professional) that will interfere with their work at the Press (family obligations, writing, involvement with other organizations, degrees to be finished, holidays to be taken, weddings to attend in Rio, etc.); know how to act and behave in a professional office environment with high standards of performance; and who have a commitment to excellence that can be demonstrated on a day-to-day basis. DO NOT APPLY IF ALL OF THE ABOVE DOES NOT DESCRIBE YOU.
Fun! But there's more:
Any of the following will be grounds for immediate dismissal during the probationary period: coming in late or leaving early without prior permission; being unavailable at night or on the weekends; failing to meet any goals; giving unsolicited advice about how to run things; taking personal phone calls during work hours; gossiping; misusing company property, including surfing the internet while at work; submission of poorly written materials; creating an atmosphere of complaint or argument; failing to respond to emails in a timely way; not showing an interest in other aspects of publishing beyond editorial; making repeated mistakes; violating company policies. DO NOT APPLY if you have a work history containing any of the above.
My favorite of these is "making repeated mistakes." I wonder which finely-tuned robot they have in mind for the position. But also, if this is either an entry-level position or an internship, and they're looking to hire those who don't necessarily have previous experience in this area, they're presumably going to train their new hires. How do such individuals already know how to flawlessly perform tasks they have yet to encounter for the first time?

All of this points to a broader question, which is what it means when companies demand professionalism (reasonable!) while at the same time not offering an actual job. Young People Today are accused of being entitled... for either expecting pay at the jobs they do have, or for treating unpaid labor for others without sufficient respect.

Anyway, the delightful John O'Brian from Dalkey Archive Press is now claiming the ad was satirical, and somehow literary, evocative of "A Modest Proposal." Which is... I don't even... This is an actual posting for actual unpaid work. Then dude has the chutzpah to whine about interns, that is, to whine about the fact that entry-level, unpaid employees a) don't arrive trained for exactly the task at hand, and b) would like it very much kind sir if you would pay them.
And my 25 years of experience with interns has been very mixed: the most common problem being that they aren’t prepared, don’t know what to expect, hope that a job might be at the end of the rainbow, and yet don’t have a clue as to what an employer is looking for. Employers wind up frustrated that they put in so much time, and the interns wonder why a job wasn’t forthcoming.
It continues, and Mr. Literature mixes up do and due (these are evidently excerpts of an email O'Brian himself sent, explaining himself), and otherwise charms us to bits.

Oh, and if you want to see actual satire surrounding this case, click here.

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