On June 10, I was rejected. No, I wasn’t reject by a guy. This isn’t the romantic kind. It was from someone I looked up to. Someone I wanted to work for. When she didn’t make me part of her team, I hosted a 2 hour pity party for myself. I invited myself (duh) and a delicious mango cheesecake. I didn’t cry at my pity party. I was just confused.
How we met
Her podcast is one of my favorites. I always connected with her stories and I wanted to be part of her podcast team. My ears welcomed the sound of her podcasts and my mind would marinate in motivation and hope after hearing her stories. When I finished school, I connected with her stories even more but this time, I wanted to be involved. In May, I emailed her and said:
I want to be part of your team. I’m not looking for a salary, I just want to be involved in your podcast.”
Well, I said something like that. Those are the key messages I had in my email. I wanted to be part of her team because I connected with her story. To my surprise, she replied within hours and we set a Skype meeting.
An hour before our Skype call, I changed my shirt and fixed my hair. I set up my laptop and grabbed my earphones. I warned my brother to enter the house carefully as to not disturb my Skype meeting held in my living room. I also opened my word document of ideas and questions for her. She called and after greeting one another, a blanket of seriousness draped over my nervous body when she said: I want to know what exactly you were looking for.
I rambled and gave her, what seemed to be, my answer. I mentioned my work experience and what I would like to do for her. “I thought that I can develop the community behind your listener base. Manage the connections?” Admittedly, I didn’t sound eloquent or confident in my answer. I guess I should have rehearsed my answer better since it is a podcast after all. What I say and what she hears is crucial to being part of the team.
She then laid down the truth. “I’m not looking to hire any unpaid interns,” she sighed and my stomach turned upside down, “I don’t want to be part of a system that hires unpaid work.” I proceeded to wear my poker face. I didn’t want to show any signs of being hurt.
“You’re a young woman and it’s important that you respect your worth and your time.” I accepted her answer and didn’t fight it. We awkwardly moved on and I scrolled down my word document to pass the “Ideas” section and moved on to the “Questions” section. This section held one decent question. I didn’t prepare questions that weren’t related to my potential participation in her team. I assumed that I would be part of the podcast somehow, so I didn’t prepare any questions outside of my potential involvement in the her podcast. We ended the Skype call and I was confused.
I was rejected because she didn’t want to hire unpaid interns. I didn’t expect to be rejected in such a way. In fact, I thought that I had a greater chance of working with her because I clearly said I wasn’t looking for a salary. I do, however, respect her for sticking to her decision and taking care of her business. It’s fantastic to hear that there are companies out there who don’t take advantage of unpaid interns. But I was hurt. It felt like I wasn’t worth a chance, as if I wasn’t worth the time and mentorship.
I didn’t cry but something within me was not happy. I felt like I wasn’t worth a chance to gain experience. I wanted to learn and help the podcast grow but that wasn’t possible.
“Respect your worth and your time,” echoed and I held on to this throughout my pity party. Does she think I’m not respecting myself because I was volunteering?
Based on what I understood about unpaid internships, these short term opportunities pay you with experience, rather than money. Yes, there are times when unpaid interns are taken advantage of. Long unpaid work hours because of menial and unimportant tasks. But there are unpaid internships that value their interns and support them with guidance and understanding. I looked at this podcast as my opportunity to explore radio, to reach out to others who connected with the podcast, or to help her manage her business. I knew that I would do well as a team member.
Gaining experience, making new connections, learning a new skill – weren’t these possible forms of payment?
After a day, the emotional version of me finished the mini tantrum within my head. The mango cheesecake was finished by my family and I threw out the box. I replaced my upset state of mind with a grateful perspective. She was right. I can’t live as a young adult with unpaid work commitments. I still believe that gaining unpaid experience is a form of respect for my worth and time.
At first, it felt wrong to factor in salary into how I respected myself. I was raised to remember that money isn’t the centre of life. But she taught me that running after a good job while still fighting for fair payment and treatment are essential tools to being an adult. Unpaid work hours can’t fund a place to live in nor can it fund my fast food cravings when I go out with friends. Unpaid internships can’t fund my life.
This doesn’t mean I’m no longer open to applying for unpaid internships. I am now more careful in doing so. I now ensure that the company will respect my time. I also ensure that the company will value and use the skills that I want to develop. Before I take on projects, I stop and ask: is this project going to challenge and help me grow? I also ask about the number of hours I am expected to commit as an intern. Will I develop experience but still have time for my other personal projects?
Respect your worth and time, because before you ever get a job, those are two things you already have.