I didn’t study art for four years to pick up dog shit.

No one likes to work for free, that is a given, and many (smart) people refuse to do it. Annoyingly though, for a lot of graduate jobs there’s this catch-22 situation: you can’t get a job without experience, but you can’t get experience without a job. Some proper arsehole came up with this in order to get free work from desperate graduates who are prepared to do anything short of sucking dick for a job.

I parted with invisible government money that’ll keep me forever in debt to the tune of £20,000 and studied for a degree in Illustration. I left with an average degree from a slightly above average university in a completely and utterly unemployable subject.

What 18 year old Carla failed to appreciate when she signed up to study for the dream job, was that the dream job is self-employed and permanent jobs in illustration are incredibly few and far between. At 22, I was torn from the safe, university party bubble and sent back home to live my parents where I began the denial phase and applied for literally over 300 design-related jobs. (It would be another two years before I accepted that design isn’t for me.)

Whilst avoiding self-employment like the plague and determinedly searching for a permanent role in my field, I hit the Inexperience Wall. You can’t go over it, can’t go under it. Can’t even go through the bastard thing, you have to sit and beg in front of it. And this is what brought me to my internship.

My ‘internship’, if you can call it that, was genuinely one of the worst times of my whole life.

It’s sad when I think how excited I was before I started. This was my big break! Every day, heading off into the big bad city, to a swanky little road off Carnaby street where all the cool kids worked.

I was taken in (like a stray cat) to fulfil the role of graphic design intern, working specifically on design material for events surrounding Britain and Ireland’s Next Top Model. Now don’t get me wrong, I had no allusion that I would be designing anything truly exciting; I knew (or so I thought) that I’d be left to lay out parking instruction leaflets and fill in the newsletter on InDesign.

But I did expect to be doing something that involved being creative. Wrong.

I can safely say that during my four weeks there I didn’t do a single thing that I couldn’t have done had I never studied art in my life. They could have got any person off the street to do the kind of shit they had me do.

Not just averagely humiliating things you’d expect from working for free, like being the tea bitch and answering the phone, but also things like walking the boss’s stupid beagle and inevitably picking up its shit. It was my job to write down what everyone wanted for lunch and head to M&S to pick it all up. I was responsible for taking out the rubbish and making sure the fruit bowl was always stocked. The stairs weren’t going to hoover themselves, any more than the front door, three floors below, would swing itself open when the doorbell rang.

I was dying to scream, “I have skills, I’m here for free, UTILISE ME!!!”

But what was even more upsetting than being sent on endless bitch errands, was the attitude in which they did it. I have never been made to feel more uncomfortable in my life (and as you all know, I’ve been in some pretty uncomfortable situations).

The office consisted of three other women, plus me, and we all worked on one small bank of desks in the middle of a pretty small room.
They would go out of their way to not include me in conversations. For example:
Brunette: Oh my God, did you ladies see the X factor last night?
Redhead: Oh my God, yesss, I love that Aidan guy, he’s so dreamy!
Super redhead: Oh my God, yes, no, yes I love Matt Cardle more though!
Me: I watch the X Factor!

Cue the most intense silence you have ever heard, interrupted only by sudden, furious typing, loud sighing and picking up pretend phone calls.

I could go on all day with examples of this behaviour, but you wouldn’t believe me if I did. Suffice to say, the effort they took to make me feel awkward was impressive. I don’t know how they even had the cheek to send me on the bitch jobs when they’d been so needlessly brutal to me all day so far.

Anyway, hate to go emo on you all, but the more they treated me like shit the less able I was to stand up for myself. Looking back on it now I cannot believe I stuck it out for the full four weeks. The longer it went on the more determined I became to not quit and to at least get something out of all this shit, which would be a reference for my CV and future job applications.

But, at the beginning of the third week, I just couldn’t take it anymore. I psyched up for ten minutes and asked Brunette the question: “is something wrong Brunette? I feel like there’s an awful atmosphere in here…”. I got her usual sneer, as though I’d just had a bowel movement in her lunch box, and after a long pause she said, “yes actually, we’re disappointed that you show no initiative.”

Now let me just say, when I first started there I was eager to the point of being a complete slut for work. I don’t care to admit how excited I was for this month of free work, it’s pathetic. But I’m not a magician, for fuck’s sake. I can’t produce work out of absolutely nothing at all, I didn’t even have my own chair let alone my own computer, how on earth could I be expected to ‘show initiative’ under these conditions?!

“Interesting,” I said. “How so?”

And she said, without a trace of embarrassment: “well, the toilets need cleaning and you’ve not cleaned them.”

I have never been so taken aback. She actually wanted me to clean their toilets, for free, under the guise of graphic design work experience. She was disappointed that I hadn’t, of my own accord, raced into the bathroom with a sponge and disinfected their skiddy bowls. Needless to say, I was completely speechless. Eventually she just stood up and said, “can you take these bins out?” and swiftly left the office, like an angry old bat.

Let me just say too, I’ve had many cleaning jobs. No one is ‘above’ cleaning offices- or in my case, Catholic school carpets- for money, but not for free. 

After that, probably due to my UNACCEPTABLE OUTBURST (asking a question). I was left to clear out the back room and then comb the designer, human hair runway dresses, which is exactly what it sounds like.

When I completed/escaped this hellish four weeks I’d gained absolutely no work experience and had been emotionally set back a decade. I bullshitted how enlightening it’d been for the CV and just prayed no prospective employers would ring them for a reference only to find out I make a crappy cup of tea.

The story had a happy ending (two years later) but I would urge graduates, or anyone seeing ‘work experience’, to choose carefully, and not put up with being treated like a complete mug. If you’re trading your time for work then make sure it’s on your terms and you’re getting exactly what you want out of it, otherwise it’s just not worth it.

Plus, you may get an inexplicable hatred for beagle puppies, and it’s not really their fault their owners are complete wankers.


13 thoughts on “I didn’t study art for four years to pick up dog shit.

    1. I had some pretty hilariously bad jobs before uni too but that’s to be expected! To be fair, they’re not all bad. I know plenty of people who’ve absolutely loved their internships and later been employed and lived happily ever after (smug wankers) but there are plenty that aren’t good, and new graduates should certainly keep a more watchful eye out for them than I did!

      1. Well thanks for the tip! Although when I graduate its likely I’ll be sticking to a Sainsbury’s job or something for a year to save money for a masters, so hopefully it isn’t something I’ll have to face for a bit…

  1. Life takes all kinds of strange turns, but I hope things improve for you. I’ve embraced the path that has led me to my #picturesofdogdoodoo blog, and I try to link to anything dog poop related!

  2. This is ridiculous. But I don’t understand why you kept going the four full weeks when I’m guessing the first week they got you doing all those sorts of crap. I know the feeling you were describing but I have too much love for myself and luckily parents that could support me a little bit longer if I decided to storm off right after I found out I had to be ‘hoovering the stairs’. Fuck that!

    1. It got worse as it went in. In the first week it wasn’t so bad (answering the phone, getting the tea, more standard intern shit) then it got bad in the second week and i thought, I’ve already been here for two weeks, am I going to leave now without even a reference for my two weeks of unpaid work? I stuck it out for the reference for my future job applications so I’d hopefully not have to do internships anymore.

      In hindsight I would say fuck the reference, it wasn’t worth it. But that wasn’t my thought process then.

  3. Oh. My. God. Interns are not there to clean the dunnies, total exploitation! There really needs to be a crackdown on companies exploiting people, work experience is great but it shouldn’t be free labour!

    1. I completely agree. This notion that it’s okay for new graduates to work for absolutely nothing is really wrong and can be terrible for morale. The treatment I got there certainly didn’t help, but just being there every day for no money at all was depressing. I think £100 a week would cover travel and lunch, with a bit left over for weekends, and is incentive enough to keep people off the dole.

      Luckily for me my family have always lived in Zone5 of London, so moving home and getting paid peanuts wasn’t as much of an issue for me as it can be for some people. How do people who live outside of big towns, who have to move in order to work, ever get on the career ladder?

  4. I’m amazed you stuck it as long as you did! That sounds horrendous! I’ve been up against the office bitches before. (They lost, of course) ;) I did a Masters in Advertising, specialising in copywriting. Ended up taking an internship for 75 (Irish) pounds a week while someone else was on holiday. But I ended up getting a job there in the end! At least they let me actually write though. If someone had asked me to clean toilets, I’d have shoved them down one. :)

    1. Ah, getting a job at the end of your experience must’ve felt very gratifying. And getting paid even just a little bit while you’re interning must’ve been really good for morale. I’m glad your story had a happy ending. In hindsight, I wish I’d told my office bitches where to go!

  5. Once again I find myself trying (and failing) to recite extracts of this to my boyfriend through blurry eyes and hysterics. Bloody brilliant (your article, NOT the shithole you got work experience in).

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