#512: Can I quit my unpaid internship?

Ahoy, Awkwardeers.

I graduated university about two months ago, and right now I work at a tiny indepedent publishing house. Well, I say “work”; they cover my travel expenses and feed me lunch, but I’m not getting paid, which I didn’t care about when I started because I thought it would be interesting. Nominally, I am a trainee.

This has its perks; I work with two people I get on quite well with, the food is good, and there’s a cat. But the job itself sucks. I thought that being taken on as a trainee would involve some kind of, you know, training; I was told I’d get to experience the day-to-day workings of a publishing house, learn my strengths and the like. It’s not like I didn’t expect that to involve some initiative, but I did think there’d be someone to vaguely oversee what I’m doing. There’s not. There’s the boss, two other trainees, and me. Nobody knows what they’re doing, so nobody does much, and the boss isn’t very involved in the company except for when he panics and snipes at us all for not having known to do what he thinks ought to have been done. The only work I get is work I scrounge up for myself. I am frustrated and bored.

I said when I started that I could commit to six months working there. There is no formal agreement of this; I am not being paid, really, so there’s no contract. I said to myself that I’d stick it out until Christmas (I started in July) or until I found something better, whichever came first. But I don’t even know if I can do that anymore. My friends think I’m crazy for sticking with it this long. Even my parents probably wouldn’t judge me for quitting.

But how do I do that? Can I do that? I feel guilty towards my coworkers and the boss, who is a nice person even if he has no idea how to run a company. I feel like I’m breaking my word and flaking out. And I keep wondering if the reason I’m not getting more out of this is not that I’m just lazy and expecting everything to be handed to me, like if I were really a good employee I’d just charge in there and single-handedly make everything happen and turn this company around. How do I say to someone “look, you’re a really nice person, but I’m not getting anything out of this traineeship and I want to find a job that doesn’t suck, so I’m leaving”? Will leaving like this hurt my career later?

Thanks for your time. Sign me,
This Is Not A Good Use Of Your Graduate

Dear Graduate: The Goat Lady here, one of the good Captain’s mysterious minions. I know it’s taken me a while to answer you, and hopefully you have sorted this out in the meantime! But I really couldn’t stop thinking about you and your situation and finally I had to go to Cap and say, “Cap, I know that usually I hang around in the background fetching your metaphorical coffee but this letter, I cannot let it go, can I pleeeeeeaaaase take it?”

Because oh, Graduate. If I am reading your letter correctly, this dude is trying to run his for-profit company on the backs of three unpaid trainees that he isn’t actually bothering to train, and when I hear that my eyes get a little wild and all I can think is…

A white goat with a red head and ears, which mysteriously has an M-14 rifle strapped to each side. The caption reads SHIT JUST GOAT SERIOUS.

And then I got to the end of your letter and you were wondering if maybe something is wrong with you and I. have. been. there. In the shitty job position where your boss nonetheless makes you think that maybe all the terribleness is because you are bad and incompetent and lazy. These days I am privileged to work for my goats who are pretty honest about their exploitation. But I remember, Graduate. Oh, I remember. Nevertheless, this is not “Reminisce About Why Goat Lady Has Spent The Past 17 Months As An Impoverished Goat Farmer” time, but rather “Graduate, You Are Too Awesome For This So-Called Traineeship” time.

A circle of variously colored guinea hens surrounds a very, very unfortunate rattlesnake. The caption reads SOME SHIT IS ABOUT TO GO DOWN.

I mean, can we count the ways this dude is awful? I do not care if he is technically speaking a nice guy, what he’s doing right now is exploitative and terrible. For one thing, you are learning nothing and this is no big surprise. I have trained cats, dogs, chickens, turkeys, rabbits, goats, and even people, and let me tell you this: there is no organism on the face of the planet that learns well if you leave them to guess what you want and then yell and panic at them when it turns out they aren’t psychic. Not one. In fact, if you try to use that method on non-human animals, they will just shut down and become afraid to do anything at all because they have no idea what the odds are that you’re going to punish them for doing it. That is not training, that is being mean.

For another thing, this dude. And his for-profit company. And his only employees are three unpaid trainees. Who aren’t learning anything. Well, and a cat, who if it is getting fed and all is the only one of you getting paid but probably isn’t learning anything beyond how to manipulate you and your co-workers into giving it its preferred form of attention.

What I’m trying to say here, Graduate, is that the problem is not you. The problem is this dude who is being exploitative and mean. So you gave your word you’d stay there for months, but it was with the understanding that you would actually be learning something, and you are not. The only appropriate response to someone who tries to guilt you about breaking your word in this situation is

A white goat lounges insolently on the trunk of a red sedan. The caption reads CALL THE COPS I DON'T GIVE A FUCK.

You can absolutely leave this position. I know it sucks to leave awesome co-workers, including the cat, but this situation is not working out for you at all. You are unhappy, you are bored, and you are being made to doubt your basic work ethic and competence because your boss is using the world’s least effective teaching method ever.

A big white fluffy Great Pyrnees dog gently hugs his buddy, a small black and white goat. The caption reads I FEEL YOU BRO BUT SOMETIMES YOU'VE GOAT TO JUST MOVE ON.

So here is a handy script for you: “I really appreciate the opportunity you’ve given me, but it’s not really a good fit for me and I’ve decided to pursue other opportunities. My last day will be [INSERT DATE NO MORE THAN 2 WEEKS OUT HERE].” Stick to the script no matter what. Do not get into why with this dude, do not get into his failings as a boss, resist the temptation to hand him a copy of Don’t Shoot the Dog by Karen Prior so he can learn to be better at this training thing.

He will most likely have a lot of “But whyyyyyyy” questions. Keep repeating the script. He will try to guilt you for leaving him. “I”m sorry, but while I really appreciate the opportunity…” i.e. stick to the script. If you give him reasons, he will probably try to argue with them, so don’t bother.

As for your later career, it’s true you might not be able to use this guy as a reference. But I’m betting that anyone who has done business with him for half a minute knows he is flakey as hell. I wouldn’t worry too hard about him bad-mouthing you, and if the subject of your time at his company comes up, you can take the moral high ground and continue to stick to the script: “I really appreciated the opportunity he offered me, but it just wasn’t a good fit for me.” Resist the urge to explain that it wasn’t a good fit because dude apparently wanted people with psychic powers, or at least expected unpaid interns to have the knowledge of people with years of experience in publishing.

You will be OK, Graduate. This was less a promise you made to him than a verbal contract between the two of you. He broke that contract by not actually providing you with an opportunity to learn, which means you are absolutely not beholden to stick to your end of it. Go forth and find something more fulfilling to do with the rest of your year. If you want to learn to be a goatherd, I’ve got a great opening for an internship that pays in milk, eggs, and cheese.

147 thoughts on “#512: Can I quit my unpaid internship?

  1. I WISH I had read this years ago in my job-I-hated-but-stuck-with-because-it-must-be-my-fault-right? LW you can definitely do better and half the battle is recognising that the faults in your workplace are not YOUR fault. No amount of good attitude or proactive nature can get past a boss who just won’t train you, and it isn’t your job to force your good ideas on them. Your boss is paid to do this stuff, not you. (Note: That includes jobs where you are getting paid less than your boss, let alone where you’re not being paid at all.)

    1. I second this!

      Figuring out when to leave can be really hard, LW, but you will feel better for it.

      I waited until I was having 3+ panic attacks a week from a job that was a bad fit and exploitative. DON’T WAIT THAT LONG.

      Get out and find something better for you. If you have a place to live that will support you for awhile (ie your parents I assume) there is nothing wrong with an internship that pays in experience, but make sure you’re actually getting useful experience out of the deal. Otherwise it’s just free labor.

      Best of luck in your job search. As a fellow recent graduate living at home, I sympathize the daunting task of finding a job in this economy (although, I’m speaking from the US. Not sure where you are)

  2. Run, LW! Personally I would not even give him notice. It’s the polite thing to do, and you typically do want to do that when you’re leaving a job (any job) but this is not actually a job. A job brings in money. This is something that is actively preventing you from finding a job, because you’re at this place of business all day, not being paid, with your time being used doing something that is not actually a job, and with this idea that you’re not even allowed to leave and go start working for pay until December.

    Leave, take a week to gather your wits (you can afford a week off if you could theoretically afford to work for free until Christmas) and then start looking for a real job. Maybe the career office at your school can help you, but as long as your time is being sucked into this not-a-job thing, you will be hamstrung in looking for an actual job.

    (I’m actually a believer that unpaid internships are, more often than not, exploitative and a bad idea. Not all of them are, but I’ve read and heard too many stories about “unpaid internships” consisting of gofer duties and loading paper into the copier. If you’re at an unpaid internship, the business is not supposed to treat you like an employee but like a student, and if it’s getting more benefit from you than you’re getting from it the internship is supposed to be paid.)

  3. Not to mention, this is illegal as hell (if you’re in the US). By law, unpaid interns at for-profit companies have to *get* something out of an unpaid internship. The law even says that at times this must *cost* the company in time and money because an unpaid internship is training, not exploitation. If your unpaid internship does not fit the criteria laid out by the Department of Labor (and help up in court recently) of providing substantive job training, you are in an employer-employee relationship AND THIS GUY OWES YOU AT LEAST MINIMUM WAGE FOR YOUR TIME. If things get ugly, you can sue him for back pay.

    – Not an employment lawyer, but works for one.

    1. (And a quick note to anyone in the UK (which you’re probably not): unpaid internships do not exist in law here. There is no such thing. If you are going to a place of work at a regular time and producing work, you are owed minimum wage.

      In practice, you can do work experience for perhaps one to four weeks, where you learn what is going on in the area you’re interested in. You can also do voluntary work for a charity or a non-profit-making organisation (though this should be properly set up as voluntary work, and you should get travel expenses.) But if anyone tells you that you can agree to work for free in exchange for training or insight and that this is a real thing called an “internship”, it’s not. Doesn’t exist.)

      1. Oh! Unless you’re taking an apprenticeship. But apprenticeships are very specific things with very specific criteria and you’re still owed SOME wage, even if apprenticeships are exempt from the usual minimum wage.

        Or unless you’re unemployed and forced to enter into a work program. But I won’t get into that because they make me all ragey and off-topic.

        But yeah, unpaid internships do not exist in the UK within the employment laws we have.

        1. If you’ve left school but not yet turned 19, your minimum wage as an apprentice is £2.65 an hour. On 1st October, it increases to £2.68 an hour.

          As soon as you hit 19, you are entitled to full minimum wage for 18-20 year olds, which is £4.98 (£5.03 from 1st October).

          Love from, your friendly neighbourhood accountant.

          1. Oh, really? That’s interesting to know! I’ve seen a lot of apprenticeships advertised lately and they’re all stating the £2.65p/h, or just something like x-per-week for 35hr pw, and I just assumed it was a flat rate for all ages.

          2. For a moment I was like MINIMUM WAGE IS WHAT?? then I remembered to convert it into NZ $ and went “ok that’s not quite as bad as it looked…” Oh, exchange rates.

          3. @Chris Miller, aahahaha, no those numbers are stupidly low UK wise, even accounting for exchange rates. On an apprenticeship wage , assuming 8h days, 5 days/week means you earn under £500 pm – fine if your parents are providing food and board, terrible if not. if they’re not, you’ll be either be in foster care or claiming housing benefit.

            There’s a whole separate conversation to have about how the education/work system for young adults (16-25) is biased on the assumption that you’re middle class with a family who have the means and the desire to support you. Not everyone is so lucky. 😦

          4. Also the ways that companies have abdicated responsibility for training young people to the state. I was at a conference where we had some Germans talking about how much all the big engineering companies invest in developing degrees and qualifications, and us British people were all just agog. The attitude here is that it’s schools’ and universities’ responsibility to produce “oven-ready” graduates in a lot of sectors, and employers are really trying to drive down the costs of training their own staff at school-leaver and graduate-level. It’s SUCH a short-termist strategy.

          5. We had youth rates in the 90s. They were abolished, and then the government decided to reintroduce them. They’re such bullshit, it’s not like 18 year olds get a discount on their utilities and rent because of their age and not even every 16 year old with a job is doing it solely for the experience, some need the money either for their family or because they have no family (counting family that doesn’t support as no family there). Teens on welfare here also now get payment cards for the leftover money after the government pays their bills for them, because that’s a great way to teach budgeting and allow them to prioritise putting off the power bill until next payday because they needed to see a doctor. Here I think the youth rate is 80% of adult minimum wage.

      2. It’s worth adding to this, though, that IIRC no company has been successfully prosecuted in the UK for violating minimum wage legislation since 2010.

      3. HOLY SHIT. You meant I could have been paid?

        Damn, I have a whole big full of bees post about unpaid internships in the UK (I quit mine!) but it is 2 am so I’ll write it tomorrow.

        1. In fact, you *should* have been paid, and any company which didn’t pay you is breaking the law. [Basically, if you have set duties or hours it’s a job, and minimum wage law applies.]

          You can in theory make a claim for unpaid wages, although there are reasons why some people don’t do this in practice.

    2. “Not to mention, this is illegal as hell …”

      Yeppers. At my last job, I once got e-mail from some guy who was trying to break into anything publishing, and desperate enough that he offered to work for free, just to gain experience. I passed this on to others, who informed me that he was proposing something illegal. It’s okay to take on unpaid interns, but there has to be some understanding of what the intern will learn. There are rules.

      BTW, while we’re on the subject of rules, rules also apply to independent contractors. You can’t show up for work every day at the same place and be there from 8 to 5, not have any other “clients,” and be called an independent contractor just because your employers don’t feel like paying your Social Security.

      1. Very, very true. And if an employer tries to force you to do this, RUN. Then, go to IRS.gov and report them anonymously. Because if they are doing something this shady, they are most likely doing other shady things and you are probably walking into a huge mess. This is very big tax evasion and the IRS takes it very seriously.

        If you are required to show up at certain hours at a certain place, your boss tells you what your work is and how to do it, and you aren’t allowed to have other clients (or you are working full time for them & don’t have time to find other clients), you are an employee.

        Just advice from a tax accountant.

        1. I only wish I’d known this between 1988 and 1991. Then again, I don’t know if the rules were as strict back then. Maybe my employers were allowed to call me an independent contractor because I only worked summers.

          Kinda sketchy either way.

          1. I don’t deal as much with employment taxes as I do income taxes, but I’m pretty sure that it was considered tax evasion back then too. And keep in mind, if workers are re-classified from independent contractors to employees, there can be significant penalties on top of the required SS & Medicare withholding for their employers. Not only that, but contractors & employees are treated differently under the ACA (Obamacare) so I expect that this will become an even bigger problem in the future.

  4. Rampant speculation ahoy. OP, if what follows isn’t true of your boss, that doesn’t mean that what’s happening in your internship is okay or typical. But if I am accurately describing your workplace, RUN AWAY.

    I’m very curious about this small publishing house, and how long it’s been around in its current form, what its sales are like, if it’s breaking even, and ESPECIALLY how it treats its authors.

    I’m not actually in publishing myself, but I read stuff, and from the various online scandals I’ve read about small presses and larger presses, I’ve noticed while many small presses are legit, others are actually some guy who wants to be a publisher LARPing his publisher PC and sucking authors into his game under the pretense that it is a legitimate business and he knows what he’s doing.

    It would not surprise me at all if guys like that did the same to their interns as they did to their authors. After all, it’s very hard work taking some new author’s manuscript, making it actually worse through editing, printing it through POD with cover art from his best buddy who’s doing it for the ‘exposure’, using Amazon as the only distribution model while expecting the author to do all the promotion, and paying them with one contributor copy only , and pocketing 100% of whatever sales he gets. Obviously he would need unpaid interns to help him with that. And obviously he wouldn’t train him: he doesn’t know what to do himself!

    Has he threatened to blacklist you yet? If you do a search for his name or the name of the press on Absolute Write, do you find a thread warning people to steer clear?

  5. Wot She Said. Plus the following: you took this internship in order to further your career in publishing, I guess. You’ve had your insight into a small, badly-run publishing company: it’s time for you to move on.

    Let me put on my working-in-publishing hat for a moment. There are many ways into publishing, but a couple of common ones are

    – get a publishing degree, during the course of which you will typically do a small number of brief internships and be introduced to/schooled in all kinds of tasks so you can work out what you like and what you’re good at (nobody remembers production even exists, plus there are many opportunities in digital publishing)
    – work a small number of internships after a relevant degree (all degrees can be relevant. Science graduates: people who understand science are always wanted. Badly.) so you can work out what you like and what you’re good at
    – acquire relevant skills in other fields, including temporary work. You’re more attractive to employers if you can hold down a regular job, know your way around MSOffice inclusing setting up Excel formulas, can code HTML/CSS, have customer service skills and can manage your own workload. Internships give you (at least in theory, at least the good ones) those tools, but they’re not the only way, or the only thing that employers are interested in

    At this point, it all converges to finding jobs you can do, want to do, and selling yourself and your awesome skills to potential employers. Which is a really, really difficult thing at the best of times. Note that none of the above paths guarantee success, but years of internship make you, if anything, less employable. (More than one employer/recruiter has confirmed this to me.)

  6. Goats! Yay! 🙂

    Also, yeah you can, and should, leave. The Goat Lady’s script is good. I was in a similar position to this recently – thrown into a new role as a trainee with no prior skills in that area, with a team who didn’t want to train me, and, as it turned out, the expectation that I would function as if fully qualified. I was being paid quite well, but it was still unbearable.

    A month ago I was made redundant (along with a whole bunch of colleagues and the kind of large severance package we get in Australia so really that was a win) and it has taken me that whole month to even begin to want to face trying to get a new job in that field. I stuck with it for nearly a year and a half, and what Goat Lady said absolutely happened – I became utterly paralysed and stopped being able to make decisions or really do anything. The whole time I thought like you did – maybe I’m slack and lazy and if I just put in a monumental effort I can magically teach myself serious technical skills and succeed at this challenge and win the prize for most awesome employee ever! But actually, thinking that is crazy. When you inevitably fail to magically become an employee with 5 years experience over night you lose all your confidence. When other people punish you for making mistakes but refuse to show you how to do it right you end up confused and afraid and *paralysed*.

    This has been hard enough for me 6 years into an IT career. It must be seriously bad news for your mental health in your first ever job that you’re not even being paid for. Leave now while you still believe in yourself. I know it seems like throwing away an opportunity, but there are other chances out there and a year from now this will be old and irrelevant news on your résumé.

    1. As I heard on a CA post a long while ago:

      “There is no prize for being the one who took the most abuse and stuck it out the longest.”

      Applies to so many things in life, especially here, and has been a hard lesson to learn. (Speaking from someone who did many under-paid theatre internships in the recent past)

      1. Oh yes, so much yes. I learnt that at sixteen, when I *did* stick out work experience at horse camp, and returned home sleep deprived, and exhausted and frazzled enough to scare my mum! I’d learnt all I could have learnt from the place (which stuck teenagers into a mill and ground them to find dust) in the first week or so; I should have bailed then.
        Work experience, internships, volunteer jobs, low-paid jobs, better-paid jobs, relationships: it’s all the same. When you’re being abused and slowly ground down, you need to get out. It won’t get better: the system already works for the abuser, and they have no incentive to change or give you the power to make lasting changes.

        And handing out rewards in irregular intervalls – a voucher here, a nice meal for the staff there, random praise – is part of the abusive system. It keeps you from believing that yes, it really *is* that bad, and keeps you pressing random buttons (and complying with their demands) in the hope of releasing another reward.

  7. A Don’t Shoot the Dog reference!!1!111!!!!eleventy! This makes me very happy. Obviously.

    Also, LW, the fault does NOT lie in you. I know our societal narrative is all “bootstraps” and “if you’re good enough, you’ll make ANYTHING work” but there are situations that aren’t workable, and this is one of them.

    You aren’t psychic, nor should you have to be in order to divine your responsibilities at work. This guy is setting you and your coworkers up for failure, and that’s a super shitty thing to do. Bail on this and find a workplace that you get something out of. Or maybe even enjoy!

    1. I love that book so hard. I even made my husband read it before we got married so we’d be on the same page with my dogs.

  8. Yep, LW, you have no obligation whatsoever to uphold your side of that verbal contract when your not-an-employer failed to uphold his side. He’s not training you so the deal’s off. Walk out whenever is most convenient to you and stick to GL’s script. (Note: Her script is also the right thing to say when you are quitting an actual paid job.)
    Even in an actual job, that is, one that pays at least minimum wage, you can leave any time. Assuming you’re in the US here, almost all jobs are employment ‘at will’ which means the employer can lay you off at any time for any or no reason and you can quit at any time for any or no reason. I know that doesn’t provide a lot of guidance for what you should do so I’ll provide two rules you could follow when leaving a job: 1) What does the company do when they lay people off? If they kick people out with no notice and little to no severance then you don’t owe them any more consideration than that when you leave, or 2) Standard practice in the US is to give 2 weeks notice so that’s what you will do since it’s the right thing to do. Pick one or the other of those rules as appropriate to the situation and please don’t allow yourself to be guilted into a feeling of obligation to your employer to stick around when you don’t want to continue working there. Employers are not doing you some huge favor by taking you on, they’re engaging in a contract where you provide your labor in return for their money and that contract can be ended if either party chooses to end it.
    Please note also that in the US unpaid internships at for-profit companies are almost always violations of federal law (http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs71.pdf) so this guy is almost certainly asking you to help him break the law.

  9. This reminds me of the 8th grade viola lessons I took with the orchestra teacher. Who promptly abandoned me and another brand-new student in the back room while she did rehearsals with the kids who were in the orchestra, while the 2 of us, neither of whom had perfect pitch, were left to flail in the back room. “Is this an A?” ::screech:: “I don’t know.” ::does spelling homework::

    It didn’t take long to get utterly discouraged at not learning a thing, and I quit. Orchestra teacher was angry and tried to induce guilt, but really. There were not even audio lessons we could flail away at.

    So feel no guilt, and move forward. Lord knows there are publishing assistantships where you can get actual work to do (and plenty!) and actually be paid for it. And free books! And talking to authors!

  10. As a recent graduate (who works in publishing and did some interning for a while) this does not surprise me.

    LW, the world of Publishing is small (well, it is in London anyway), stay on this guy’s good side. But leave. Seriously. There are better experiences out there than this, and a lot of them are paid. It might take a little while but I’m sure you’ll find something better than this.

    1. The world of publishing is small, which means that all of this guy’s colleagues already know he’s a fuck-up trying to run a business off untrained unpaid people. Don’t worry about staying on his good side.

  11. You have pretty much described my first internship. I was in grad school for counseling, interning with a therapist who flat-out told me she didn’t believe first year students should work directly with clients. After two weeks of sitting in a tiny office by myself doing my homework all day and getting steadily more depressed, I confronted her and walked out. It was one of the most terrifying things I’ve done, but I’ve never regretted it for a second.

    More recently, I was let go from a job that I hated by the most incompetent person I have ever worked for. I had been planning to leave as soon as my supervisor returned from maternity leave, considering that I was doing her job as well as my own, on top of whatever random BS needed to be done. He didn’t have those same concerns and fired me as soon as I fell behind on something. The week after my grandfather died. As soon as I caught up and fixed everything. I was devastated at first, but then the relief of not being there soon outweighed the stress of looking for a new job.

    LW, what I learned from these two experiences is that employers have their best interests in mind and you are generally the only one looking out for yours. Take care of yourself and do what you need to do to be happy and fulfilled. There’s always someone else who can do your job, but you are the only one who can live your life.

  12. Also – Goat Lady thankyou thankyou thankyou for answering this question. I hadn’t realised how much I’d internalised all sorts of rubbish from my last job until I read what you said. I guess I sort of knew intellectually that the no-training + punishment-for-failure thing was probably bad for my confidence, but apparently I needed external validation to really believe it.

    …and I say again, LW – flee! Run for the hills! I mean, sometimes you can’t leave a job because you need money, but you’re not getting paid so there’s literally no reason to stay.

    1. You’re welcome! I had the same kind of situation going at one point, and did the same thing…even though I’m well-versed in learning theory and knew exactly what was going on.

      The point at which I snapped was when dude who had been terrorizing me then yelled at me for not showing enough initiative. So it’s kind of no wonder that now I prefer to hide with goats.

      1. Goats are super cool (I grew up next to a goat farm, and my parents always ended up with one as a pet). And best of all, when they’re eating your washing and knocking you over with their bony heads they’re still a thousand times better than incompetent managers slowly grinding away at your soul. 🙂

        1. Sadly I have weirdly traumatic goat memories so I only like the baby ones. I want to love you goats. It’s not your fault adults thought it would be a good idea to send a kid into the middle of a herd with a bag of food.

          1. Oh sweet crispy Jesus. I don’t even send adults who aren’t goat-savvy into the herd with anything that goats might think is delicious. I am so sorry you were terrorized by goats!

        2. All the goats in this post made me so happy! I spent a month this year volunteering/working at a farm with some goats – including five babies, two of whom needed bottlefeeding!! and three of whom liked to stand on people’s shoulders and one of whom ate hair. I don’t think a permanent farm life is really the best for me (though I could be wrong…), but now that I’m back home in decidedly non-rural suburbia, I really miss them and get a strong pull of nostalgia whenever I see any pictures of goats. Thanks for indulging that nostalgia!

          1. ALL my goats will make at least a passing attempt at eating your hair. At least they outgrow the “trying to stand on your head” thing fairly quickly, but up until my youngest goat was 5 or 6 months old I constantly had hoof-shaped bruises on my things from her jumping into my lap.

            I wouldn’t give them up for the world, though. They’re like giant herbivorous cats, each one a very definite individual who wants what she wants and usually wants it RIGHT NOW.

            I have baby Nigerian Dwarf Goats due in a month, too. SO EXCITED that there will be wee baby goats again.

          2. @ Goat Lady

            Awwww, NEW babies! I didn’t get to see any totally newborn ones – I imagine they must be unbearably adorable.

            “They’re like giant herbivorous cats, each one a very definite individual who wants what she wants and usually wants it RIGHT NOW.” — Hah, yes! Though I think some of the ones I hung out with were more like dogs in how very social and noisy they were. (There WAS also one very social and noisy cat, but I’ve never met any other cats quite like that, so I think it might’ve been a bit of an anomaly.)

            Luckily no goats stood on my head…

      2. I’ve had the exact same experience as well, of course … And guess what our shit-goes-down backup plan is? honest to god, it’s raising dairy goats. Thanks for a post that was both insightful and GOATY.

        1. Goats are incredibly rewarding in all senses other than financially unless you have the money to sink into a USDA dairy facility. Which is highly unfortunate.

          But I’m more than happy to mentor people who want to get into goats, and their milk is way more delicious than most people realize when it’s fresh and not pasteurized!

  13. You are exploited and you should feel free to resign but PLEASE consider lining up another job before you do so. You are a recent graduate in a tough market and the unfortunate reality is employers prefer hiring people who are already employed, even for unpaid values of employed. And if it takes you six months to find another job, at least you would have six months experience on paper, even if it is not the experience you wished for.

    1. I have complicated feelings about this. Because what you say is 100% true, but the entire concept of the unpaid internship (even/especially the proper kind where you learn stuff and get good experience in your desired field) is inherently classist and perpetuates class divisions. Because who can afford to work for free just to get experience or to have a good-looking resume? It’s people who are already privileged in certain ways.

      It’s one of those situations where people do things that are in their own best interests, because many other people are doing it and NOT doing it has serious consequences. But it creates a societal dynamic that is undesirable from all sides (the people who can afford to work for free for 6 months or a year are harmed less than those who can’t, but are still harmed). I could put it into economic language (market failure, free ridership) with no problem.

      But even knowing this, I did an unpaid internship myself, because it was good experience and I got course credit for it, and because I basically had to do it because everyone else does it and not having done it would ding me badly. So … hypocrisy, thy name is Dante. I feel very squirrelly and dirty about it.

    2. I hear this all the time, but I honestly think it’s only true if the job you’re currently at is merely not so great. I’ve never heard of anyone who had an easier time getting a decent job while working at a horrible soul-sucking job that eats away at your self-esteem as vs. not working at all, because being miserable makes it a lot harder to do the work required to get a job. A lot of people do it anyway because they have no choice in terms of income requirements, but if you aren’t even being paid there is no good reason to stick with something so worthless as the position the LW describes.

    3. ‘Unpaid internship’ with nothing to show for isn’t, in my experience, something that makes you more attractive to employers. If anything, it makes you _less_ employable. (Disclaimer: I am a member of, and was part of the comittee of, an association that assists people to get into publishing in the UK. I’ve talked to a number of recruiters and employers about this, not in the least because I’m looking to move on in my own career.)

      In the meantime, six months at a soul-destroying job will destroy your soul and give you less incentive and sap your energy. (Been there, done that. Quitting – even though it meant losing my income – was the best thing I could do.)

      If the position is as lousy as the LW makes it out (and I have no reason to doubt them), then they’ll have learnt all they can take away from it. It will be much more productive for them to sit down and cast it into employer-suitable phrasings: my responsibilities were…, the problems I solved were…, these are the contributions I have made to the company.

    4. Everyone told me this when I was miserable at my last job, and I tried applying to other jobs, but the job was so soul-sucking that I literally could not come up with any good things to say about myself or my work in my applications. It wasn’t until I made a clean break and had some distance that I was able to start really applying and interviewing well again. It did take longer than I would have hoped to get a new job, but how long I’d been out of work never seemed to play into it. Sometimes you need to be able to breathe (and not spend your entire day attempting to do unclear work) to have the time, space, and energy to apply to new jobs.

      1. Sympathies. I’ve been there. And I’ve had *so much* well-meant advice, quite a lot of it coming from people whose expertise was twenty years out of date. A low-paying job is better than no job. (No, I earned as much part-time in a semi-decent job than full time in a lousy one – neither enough to live on – but one was good for my CV.) And employers in the publishing sector really do not tend to view shitty jobs for anything more than a few months between uni and real job as something positive – if you’re a minimum-wage worker, they wonder why you suddenly apply for their positions, and what makes you feel qualified to change.

        If you need out and don’t want to leave the CV with a massive gap, freelance. You can always have a part-time job (and admit to it) – but a few freelance projects in the industry will be *much* better for your CV than years of low-paid work.

        (And sometimes you take what you can get to survive. Fair enough. Just recognise that it’s not ‘a step towards the job you want’ in most cases.)

        1. “quite a lot of it coming from people whose expertise was twenty years out of date…”

          OMG YES TO THIS. I’ve been reading through askamanager.com’s archives and her posts on “Lies your Career Center Told You” and “Bad Advice” have been SO helpful in getting my head on straight about my continued lack of a job in the field I want (I am currently employed full-time so at least I have SOME breathing room). I had heard the same crappy advice from people who haven’t had to find a job in the current climate so often that I started to wonder if maybe I was the one who was wrong. Nope, they are, there’s just lots of them.

      2. Been there! I completed stuffed up an interview because the job I was in made me feel so down about myself. It sucked. Then that job made me redundant, and the boss thought it would be nice to sit me down and tell me no-one liked me.
        Way to go, wish I had left earlier like I had planned…

    5. This would be good advice for someone thinking about quitting an actual job – try not to jump from steady paycheck to no paycheck. But the LW is ALREADY in the position of having no earnings and no job contract, aka, more or less unemployed.

    6. I am usually a “find a new job well before quitting the old one even if it’s god-awful” sort, but in this case I disagree. I think the LW should do *something* with their time, for sure, but I also think that, not being paid, there are other, more gratifying resume-building things they could do. There are tons of organizations that they could volunteer with, both in and out of publishing, and doing so would allow them more freedom of time to search for a job while still building marketable skills in a way that they’re clearly not doing now.

      LW, I second the idea of talking to your college’s career/job help office, and also seeing if they can put you in touch with other graduates in your field who can help introduce you to people and make contacts. Those contacts are a better way in that an exploitative unpaid “internship” with someone who clearly isn’t interested in helping you learn anything. You deserve better than this, and it sounds like you’re well capable of getting it for yourself. Go forth and conquer!

      1. Oh definitely! There are way more gratifying ways to use your valuable time, even if they are just things that might appear further down your résumé, under hobbies/interests/skills/service or some such heading. Like starting a garden, learning another language, training for marathons, helping adults learn to read, and so on. Things that will nurture your sense of abundance and accomplishment instead of sucking your soul dry. I think you can give yourself a very early Christmas present and quit tout suite 🙂

    7. Seconded. Six months really isn’t that long in the career sense, and unless this letter is softening some truly shocking or abusive behaviour, it’s worth sticking it out.
      “Completed a six-month internship” looks good on a resume EVEN IF you didn’t actually learn anything. Absolutely start job hunting -yesterday- and if something comes through, then give notice *with the new job lined up*, but do your future self a favour and don’t go unemployed unless/until you must.

      Of course, if the boss’ behaviour crosses a line, then of course quit as soon as you can to save yourself.

      1. ‘Tiny independent publishing house with a total staff of three confused and frustrated interns’ probably won’t carry too much weight though, and LW has at least completed a summer internship.

  14. One problem I have here is the “pick a day no more than two weeks out”. This makes sense only if you still have any intention of using this as a reference, in which case giving notice as if it was a real position might help improve that.

    If this looks to already be a lost cause on that front, then I would really advise you to say you are leaving as soon as possible (preferably, for the next day). Theres no reason to keep miserably working longer for free at all if its not going to bring you any future advantages, and you are under no obligation to do so.

    1. Even if the OP does not use this as a reference, they cannot guarantee no future employer will talk to this guy. Two weeks notice is standard enough that OP should give it if at all possible.

      1. Well, LW has to assess whats in their best interests and how likely it is this guy is going to be spoken to by future employees/ whether hes already going to badmouth her/ if she can still turn it into a useful reference/ if hes actually organised enough to response to reference requests.

        So, yeah, value compliance in that self interested sense. If someone gives you no employment rights, no contract and no pay, though, then don’t feel bad about doing whatever is in your best interest- including walking out.

        I mean, its probably been more than 2 weeks for LW, but this applies generally; I’ve known people who’ve felt obliged to give unpaid internships/ 0-hour contract work/ other bullshit a full 2 weeks notice before moving onto exciting, actually wanted new job just out of obligation. Theres really no need, if your employer avoids taking on any obligations to you, please don’t feel like you owe them any either.

  15. LW, as someone who works in publishing and has from time to time managed interns, I don’t think there is anything good for you in this situation. There is certainly nothing wrong with doing admin or other non-specialised work while you learn the ropes — and while I don’t advocate unpaid work in general, in my experience some focused and relevant intern experience can give you the edge over the hundreds of other candidates for the paid entry-level jobs. However, the key words there are *FOCUSED* and *RELEVANT*. In your letter you’ve very astutely identified that what you’re doing is neither of these things, so the skills-you-can-put-on-a-resume you can learn will be limited. (Other, less tangible skills, such as recognising a bad situation: you are getting a gold star on that!)

    In my first department we took on few interns because it was SO MUCH WORK supervising and training them properly. I see an internship as a chance for you to gain some skills and work out (a) if publishing is for you, and (b) if so, which areas you might like to work in. There is no way on earth you have a fair chance of doing that under these circumstances because the lack of clear expectations, combined with the arbitrary punishment, is setting you up for failure. Demoralising failure. And not even the high-paid kind where you can afford to take a break afterwards.

    One of the unfortunate things I’ve observed about this industry is that, unless resisted, it can tend to burn people out. The emotional demands, the long hours, the chronic underresourcing … Companies that are not well run — or that are willfully blind — will chew up everything that you have without a second thought and give you very little in return (see: company run on the back of unpaid interns), knowing that demand for entry-level jobs is so high that they can replace you at any time if you burn out.

    Also, one of the things that it took me way too long to learn: even nice people can enact or perpetuate exploitative work practices. (In that way, I guess it ties in with post #510, finding out someone you care about is mean.) The way I now deal with it is to try to play the ball, not the player: so I try to resist or call out exploitative practices when I see them, without necessarily commenting on the person themselves. I don’t always succeed at it but it’s a step in the right direction. This kind of mindset can also help with negotiation if you’re finding that difficult — I know I do.

    All of that said, it’s hard for me to give advice because when I was trying to break into publishing, and then to achieve [goal] by [age], I was ambitious and determined and more than a little in love with the narrative of Workaholism = Noble Important All-Consuming Thing. Which, spoiler alert, turned out not to be a sustainable story.

    I feel as though I should say that I do love what I do (most of the time), and I feel lucky to be able to make a living at it, and me-just-getting-into-publishing would have read this and said ‘that’s interesting, but I’m going to keep doing this thing anyway because I want [goal]’. Also, LW, we are not the same person — you may well be tougher, faster, more resilient than I turned out to be. I share my story as one point of view; I trust you to find your own way.

    But yeah, this internship sounds like it’s bullshit.

    PS This reminds me of that infamous Dalkey Archive unpaid intern ad from last year … Anyone else? ‘The worst job in the world’

  16. >>And I keep wondering if the reason I’m not getting more out of this is not that I’m just lazy and expecting everything to be handed to me, like if I were really a good employee I’d just charge in there and single-handedly make everything happen and turn this company around


    Sorry, it’s OK, I’m back now. God, though, I remember that feeling. That “nobody has told me what I’m supposed to do, but I should know, right? I should just know? I should magically come up with this and since I can’t it’s probably because I’m fundamentally lazy and crap?” I remember it SO MUCH.

    Nowadays, I actually could do that. I could go into that situation, sort the shit out of that ooffice’s bad policies and procedures and oh Lord the filing system*, assert my needs, deftly handle the insane Oedipal emotional issues that were flying around and sidestep the random dislike of the New Girl. I would still much rather do it with decent management than with bad management, but I could cope much better with bad management than I could in 2001.

    You know what the difference between 2001 and 2013 is? TWELVE YEARS. Twelve years in which I’ve done loads of stuff and learned loads of stuff and generally got more confident. You haven’t had that, so no, of course you can’t go in and turn the entire company around by the sheer force of magic.

    You are not in the wrong, LW – it is a crap situation and no support that makes you feel like that, and

    * “Oh, I’m so busy – could you just sort this out?”
    “Sure – right, sorry, I can’t find where Nottingham’s filed? Under N, or E for East Midlands?”
    “Oh, it’s K – it used to be in the King’s Hotel. Never mind, just leave it, it’s easier to do it myself…”
    “Um, OK, I’ll just – go back to reading the MightyBigTV forums?”

    1. and …. I apparently forgot the rest of that sentence. Crap situations and no support make you feel like that, and I promise you that when you meet GOOD management you will be amazed at what you can do!

  17. Remember that a really key point here is that you’re not getting paid. Sure, things are really competitive now, so a lot of people end up doing some volunteering to pad their resumes. That means you’re basically working for resume padding or to get skills you didn’t have before. If you’re getting neither and/or you’re really unhappy and/or you have no time to look for a job that will actually pay you, this might not be a situation that benefits you. I would try to treat your employer well by following the script in the response above, but you don’t owe him any more than that (or even that since you aren’t even being paid).

    It can feel kind of wrong sometimes to think about things like this because sometimes your brain goes, ‘but that means I’m working to rule and that’s bad’ or ‘but that means I’m not taking initiative and improving myself to get ready for the next level job and that’s bad’. I think though that if you don’t think about your pay grade vs hours vs flexibility vs what experience/career advancement benefit you’re getting out of your job, how are you going to know when you’re getting totally exploited and it’s quitting or labour board time? In some jobs people are lucky to have unions to help them with this. When you’re not unionized, you really should be doing that thinking yourself.

  18. “There is no organism on the face of the planet that learns well if you leave them to guess what you want and then yell and panic at them when it turns out they aren’t psychic. Not one. In fact, if you try to use that method on non-human animals, they will just shut down and become afraid to do anything at all because they have no idea what the odds are that you’re going to punish them for doing it. That is not training, that is being mean.”

    Oh hey, I just quit that job. Only instead of yelling and panicking it was “this makes me concerned about your judgement” when I didn’t know what I was doing and had in fact checked with him to make sure I was doing it right. So I’d learn that lesson, move on, and then get blindsided by something else the next time I tried to do anything. Newbie mistakes got met with the same reaction as the one really horrible I-should-have-known-better mistake I made. And I wondered why I was having “random” anxiety attacks and wasn’t getting anything done.

    I’m now working for a very kind, very hands-off boss, but am still fighting paralysis and fear. I expect it’s going to take me upwards of a year to recover from nine months of every-move-you-make-is-wrong. Fuck that.

    Any suggestions for getting over that kind of paralysis? Because externally it looks the same as a lazy employee who’s wasting her time online. My productivity has been acceptable so far, but I know I can do a lot better, and really hate it.

    1. I will warn you in advance that this sounds hokey, but you can train yourself like you can any other critter and it works surprisingly well.

      Get a big bag of your favorite small treat. Jelly beans, dove chocolates, wasabi peanuts, whatever. When you start a work task, have one! When you’ve spent a solid five minutes on it, have another! When you complete the task, have several (this is what animal trainers call a jackpot).

      Do that for about a week, then drop the jelly bean you get just for starting but continue to periodically reward yourself for working and give yourself a jackpot for finishing. Gradually stretch how long you work between rewards until all you’re getting is the jackpot at the end.

      It all sounds silly because your upper-level brain knows exactly what you’re doing, but you’re not dealing with your upper-level brain here. Your tiny mammal brain is frightened, because it associates work tasks with punishment. You’re slowly convincing it that in fact work tasks do not mean punishment, they mean jelly beans! Tiny mammal brains love tasty food, and you may find it easier than you think to get your tiny mammal brain to relax.

      1. I…I am going to try this. Because holy cats, am I having trouble being task-focused right now.

        (New job that I love, but that involved long hours of sitting still at a computer. Leaves me less stressed at the end of the day, but also with a complete inability to focus.) Hooray for tiny mammal brain trickery!

      2. I’ve done this! But I always felt guilty about it. Now I’m going to do it without feeling guilty, because I’m *training myself.* (Puts M&Ms on shopping list.)

      3. Thank you, I will be doing that! I’ve been snacking while on breaks, so I was probably reinforcing the wrong thing unintentionally. I’ll change that around and see what happens.

      4. OMG I LOVE<3 Karen Pryor. Clicker training changed. my. life. when I was super depressed from a concussion. With the jellybean method I tend to mindlessly graze through the whole bag and then feel crummy 30 minutes later from the crash, but it also works if you mark the completion of each tiny sub-task with praise. I would slog through a sink full of dishes whisper-shouting "YES!!!" each time I put a plate into the drying rack. Totally goofy, but it WORKS.

      5. Okay I have been trying this with my super annoying, fiddly and slightly stressful work task, and it is totally helping.

      6. Thank you; this is incredibly helpful. My upper-level brain is satisfied to have an expert (or at least experienced person) tell me that we can train my tiny mammal brain even if logic-brain knows exactly what I’m doing and thinks jellybeans are silly and will never work.

    2. Keep in contact with your boss. Nothing big or time-consuming; just occasionally ask him a question or share an idea or keep him updated about your work. Get used to him being someone you can go to and rely on. If you’re used to freezing in terror around authority figures, it’s time to work on reminding yourself that you can do something different. If you get used to talking to him about little things, you’re more likely to be able to reach out if something big goes crunch.

    3. “I’m now working for a very kind, very hands-off boss, but am still fighting paralysis and fear. I expect it’s going to take me upwards of a year to recover from nine months of every-move-you-make-is-wrong.”

      Oh my gosh, are you me?

      It’s so unnerving, suddenly being in a job where people trust your judgement and think well of you after you’ve been in a job where, say, every night before going to bed you said a little prayer that you please won’t get in trouble tomorrow.

      At some point I mentioned to my super that I was basically a rescue puppy. She laughed, but she got it. So if you have a performance review or can schedule one, do that, just to ask, “Hey, I just want to make sure I’m doing alright with Task A. Is there anything else I can be working on as well?” That sort of thing. Don’t make it daily if they’re really hands off, but maybe once a week or so until you feel confident in your performance?

      1. It’s so unnerving, suddenly being in a job where people trust your judgement and think well of you

        The last (temp) job I had was fantastic in that regard. I was trusted to manage my own workload! Nobody kept track how often I made myself tea (unlike previous job, where I was called up by $supervisor for two cups in ninety minutes – I had a bad cough and left to get more tea because I could literally not talk on the phone). Etc etc.

        And I kept looking over my shoulder, waiting for things to turn nasty. It took me until halfway through the assignment to start trusting my colleagues that they *were* that nice.

        1. >Nobody kept track how often I made myself tea (unlike previous job, where I was called up >by $supervisor for two cups in ninety minutes

          Wow, that’s a truly insane level of micromanaging. Though it makes me think about what we expect high school students to tolerate in terms of someone else control when they can eat, drink, and pee. I was also lucky in my last job (not teaching) to be able to get up to drink or excrete water with no one batting an eye, even if I was up every hour for several hours out of the day. Turns out people are more productive when they can take care of those basic needs, even if they spend a bit less time “working.”

    4. This may or may not be helpful, but I not so long ago left a job where I was, for a while, constantly worried about what I was doing and whether it would be perceived as wrong. There was a lot of nit-picky criticism, little positive enforcement on anything, and little training of guidance.

      For me, I got over this because I realized HOW MUCH WORK I WAS DOING. I organized all kinds of things because nobody else was. I was doing probably half the work of running the business, at least on the floor end of it, and a bunch of admin besides. I’m sure there was plenty of stuff happening in the office that I didn’t know about, but I did TONS of things.

      So much suggestion based on my experience, which may or may not work for you, is: Take a look at how much work you were doing, and how motivated you (at least initially) were to do it. For me, I came to realize that I’m a pretty awesome employee, and the problem is that I was working for incompetent people who have no idea how to run a business. It sounds like you were awesome at communicating and making sure you an your boss were on the same page, and the boss is the one who was lacking the skills to know what they wanted, and/or communicate that to you, and/or realize that the end result would be the one that you had specifically cleared with them. Those are THEIR failings, not yours.

      The job of a good manager is to empower their employees to perform at their best.

      Also, consider bringing this experience in abbreviated form to your current boss, because if they are a good manager/boss, they will be impressed with your desire to trust them and to become a more productive member of the company.

      And also, be patient with yourself, because this shit is HARD.

      Congrats for getting out of a horrible spot, and best wishes for feeling competent after such an abusive and draining experience. You are awesome, and I hope you start to feel that soon!

    5. I… really really recognise this situation. Especially the part about in the end getting nothing done and just wasting time online in a little ball of miserable procrastinating anxiety. I started out as the kind of employee my managers would promote into a new and exciting role just on the strength of my past work for the company. In the end I could barely turn up to work and when I did I got almost nothing done.

      I don’t know how to fix this (my current tactic involves taking an extended holiday, but it’s not ideal as it’s chewing through my savings), but I empathise so much. Honestly just hearing other people talk about it is helping me realise that it’s a real consequence of how I was treated and not some personality flaw.

      1. I’m an at-home mum with miserable, procrastinating anxiety.
        I used to bake, keep the house clean, keep on top of the laundry. Now, most of my day is wasted on the internet, achieving nothing.
        Because I guess if I’m not trying to do anything, at least I cant fail on that, right?

        1. I have so been there. I have days when if I didn’t have to get up and feed the livestock, I would not get out of bed, let alone outside the house.

      2. Oh my goodness, I have been there! Too much work piled on, not enough people, no good choices, sank into a miserable ball of ineffectual Solitaire-playing anxiety. And eventually got fired. Which sucked, but was also such a RELIEF. I’ve just started working with an awesome therapist who basically said “that was a horrible situation, and you were right to be scared, but you’re safe now.” Which is still sinking in, but I so appreciated it.

    6. I’ve also been there – my first and only year teaching high school I was told around the middle of second semester that they might not renew my contract the following year because I had consistently done poorly on classroom management. This was true, but it was also true that I got contradictory advice from other teachers and from administrators, was sometimes advised to do things that turned out to be against school policies, had not actually seen my previous written evaluations (which I was supposed to have read and signed), and had actively asked for suggestions from the assistant principal – which fact was used against me as evidence that I didn’t know what I was doing. The worst part for me was when one of the teachers I had confided in told me that, because I’d gotten along better with adults than with other teenagers when I was a student, I was probably “emotionally underdeveloped” and “didn’t know how to give as much as I took.” That last was a real blow to me because it undermined my sense of myself as an idealistic, caring person – I was teaching because I wanted to make a difference.

      In my case, I changed fields, worked elsewhere for a couple years, went to grad school, and got a job in my field where I did very well. I don’t know what to tell you about getting over the paralysis besides trying to give yourself credit for everything you accomplish. If you do something well, tell yourself “I’m really good at this!” If you learn something new, tell yourself “I’m gaining levels!” (or some less gamer-geeky equivalent). If you’re getting to do real and interesting stuff in your job, tell anyone who will listen how great it is and how well you’re doing. I found it absolutely amazing to be in an environment where I was competent to do my job, was trusted to do so with minimal supervision, was given positive feedback on my skills and attitude, and was able to ask for help and clarification without undermining my credibility. It sounds like you might have found such a place too – I hope so for you and for all the Awkward Army!

      1. I…wow…I…I don’t even know what to say about this. I am so sorry this happened to you.

      2. Kacienna, I think we might just be the same person.

        I loved teaching. I loved working with the kids in the classroom and the fun problem-solving aspects of instruction. I loved the structure of the days and the fun stuff we did. I even loved planning and evaluating. I got a lot of positive feedback from administrators and other members of the district and often my the teaching tools I created were used as demonstration for others. But if you’re stuck in a situation with awful administrators/colleagues or demanding parents who think they are better qualified to teach than you, teaching can just wear you right down. After four years, I burnt out and quit.

        Like you, working in the private sector has helped me rebuild my confidence. I’ve come to see that teaching is quickly becoming one of the most difficult jobs in which to start out. In fact, it very often resembles the kind of unwinnable situation that the LW described.

        Here’s why:
        – The same politics that have us coaching kids through social interactions on the playground are very much at play in the staff room. You have to be ridiculously careful in the staff room – you might be sitting in Bob’s spot. Be careful which conversations you take part in – you might inadvertantly be taking a side. I once had one colleague decide right off the bat she hated my guts and to this day (after analyzing and overanalyzing my behaviour over the course of that year) I have no idea why. I suspect, as with children who do the same, it was a need to create an “other.” Believe me, the are kids often far better behaved than some of the seasoned “professionals”.

        To be fair, though, there are some amazing colleagues out there as well. Whether you’ll get to work with them is a total crap shoot. It really depends on the individuals and the culture of the school.

        – Many teachers are some of the most catty, perfectionist Type-As you will ever meet. Additionally, a lot of the perfectionists totally subscribe to the theory that there’s a prize for sleeping least/giving all of your waking moments to the profession and anybody who doesn’t aspire to that level of devotion is doing things half-assed and shouldn’t be there. If you don’t do something in the classroom the way they would, chances are they’ll discuss it with others behind your back or make snide, martyrish comments like “When I was in my first year of teaching I didn’t have a social life.”

        Yes, this is word-for-word a quote from the “master teacher” I team taught with in my first contract. She also would haul me in for five hour team-meetings and guilt me if I tried to pare them down to two. Looking back, I can’t believe I made it through that year. I wouldn’t have if I didn’t have the friendships of two teachers on staff who didn’t let ego get in the way of effective instruction and whose input I really valued.

        – Outside of your degree-granting teaching program and crowded Pro-D days, it’s rare to receive coaching unless someone thinks you’re screwing up. It’s even more entertaining when your mentor tells you that they think you’re doing the best you can with what you’ve got and the adminstrator who sent you for mentoring is totally inexperienced and inflexible.
        I taught a small K-5 class for two years in a rural school and loved it. In my third year there, the district hired a 26 year old principal (the only candidate interested in the job) to act as administrator and teach the 6-10 class (we were so remote that the local kids moved to a community 3 hours away in order to complete grades 11-12). This principal decided to follow a plan put in place by the previous year’s principal (who then ended up moving to another school). This new principal restructured our courseloads so that they had afternoons to do the administrative stuff and I triend to teach my K-5s core curriculum in the morning and taught the entire school (K-10) for senior electives and PE in the afternoons. This was, naturally, totally unsafe and ineffective in delivering curriculum. I can still remember the older kids being pissed at me for not letting them play to their ability while the smaller kids just tried to survive. I was also expected to plan and run activities for the distance Education kids in the area every two weeks. Principal remained completely inflexible when I told them it was too much and instead pointed me to a district mentor to sort me out.
        District mentor took one look at my courseload and told me flat out that I had the most difficult teaching assignment she’d seen in 17 years of teaching and the fact that I hadn’t taken stress leave spoke volumes about my dedication. Our mentoring sessions mostly involved plotting out damage control so that the kids weren’t completely robbed of their year.

        Teaching is a tough, tough game and I admire anyone who is able to make it through those first five years. To be honest, it’s been an uphill battle not to think of my leaving the profession as a failure, but rather as walking away from a job that really wasn’t a good fit. I still get to work with kids and engage in the problem-solving aspect through my side gig tutoring after work. My students do well and we both have fun, so I doubt I’m a bad teacher.

        Take heart. There’s life after teaching.

        1. >chances are they’ll discuss it with others behind your back or make snide, martyrish >comments like “When I was in my first year of teaching I didn’t have a social life.”

          So much this! My mentor actually told me that if I had more than about an hour of free time a week, I wasn’t putting in enough work to expect to do well at the job.

          >To be honest, it’s been an uphill battle not to think of my leaving the profession as a failure, >but rather as walking away from a job that really wasn’t a good fit.

          Also this! It’s better now that I’m working in a field I love, and I also have done some volunteer work with kids through my church, but part of me still wants to go back to the classroom when I’ve retired (many years from now) just to prove that I can do it.

          1. Just remember you are most definitely not the only one to whom this has happened. I know of many other eager, idealistic young teachers besides myself that were burnt out by circumstances in their first five years. I meet them at parties, at work, through friends. I know of one girl who flat-out couldn’t deal with umpteen meddling parents who insisted their little darling was GIFTED and that she wasn’t doing enough to CHALLENGE them. I know of another who just couldn’t deal with the heartbreak of not being able to feed all the hungry kids in the impoverished school where she worked. I ran into a fellow not too long ago who was severely undermined by one of his teaching assistants and was not asked back the next year. I know so many, in fact, that I refuse to buy into the Type-A notion that all failed young teachers are undedicated fuck-ups who are wholly unsuited to the profession. All kinds of crazy stuff happens and it isn’t always a failure on the part of the teacher (occasionally it is, but that’s not the situation we’re discussing).

            There’s a lot to be said for getting wise to a bad situation and making an exit, even if your heart was truly in the work.

    7. Ohhh, yeah, I just left that job too. They advertised for a magician, they hired a magician, but because I kept pulling a rabbit out of my hat, instead of whatever weird mammal the micromanaging shit of a director dreamed up that day, they actually wanted, they decided I was a janitor. Never mind that the rabbit was what they *claimed* they wanted me to pull out of my hat, repeatedly when I asked them, or that I’d been pulling rabbits out of my hat with aplomb for almost twenty years (sometimes even producing emergency wombats on demand). I kept sticking to it for three years because I was a very well-paid janitor with excellent benefits, and only realized I *had* to get out when I started having literal PTSD-fueled flashbacks to grad school (where my department had regularly treated me as lower than the shit on their shoes, SOP for the sciences as far as I can tell).

      I’ve been in my new job for about 2 months now, and I think I’m overcompensating, because everyone’s so nice! So complimentary! So encouraging! So hands-off! I just keep doing more and more stuff. Am trying to lower the speed before I fill the place with rabbits and wombats.

    8. Story of my postdoc. =/ Let me know if you figure out a good way of working through it… my therapy is helping but I still feel worthless after two years of exactly that. =(

  19. This reminds me a lot of my first job out of university—also a small publishing company, coincidentally! I was getting paid, but not very much. I also felt guilty about leaving, not because of the bosses, whom I hated, but because of the coworkers in my department, who were already completely overburdened and would only become more so when I left.

    But I did leave (I ended up giving FOUR weeks’ notice out of guilt even though I wanted to just walk out), and quickly found a much better job. It ended up being a doubly good decision because the company went out of business shortly afterward, and a lot of my coworkers never got their final paychecks, and there was a court case and so on.

    You can already tell your boss “has no idea how to run a company.” He’s the problem, not you. Leaving won’t hurt your career, especially because this business is probably not even 100% legitimate from the way you describe it (is it a vanity press?). Get out and don’t look back!

    1. Not all self-publishing companies are scams. I worked for one where the employees were treated right. And paid!

      (Yeesh, the worst place I ever worked wasn’t great about training, but at least they paid me.)

  20. LW, the best thing for you is to leave now and don’t look back.

    I was in a sort of similar situation a few years ago.

    I was a grad student and paid for 20 hours a week. I was expected to work at least 60. If I left after ten hours at work, my supervisor would make snide comments about me leaving already.

    She also was sending mixed messages. On the one hand I was not showing enough initiative, on the other she wanted to dictate every little step of the work I was doing.

    She also didn’t me in the way a supervisor should and made me do a lot of work that had nothing to do with my research.

    To top it all off she bullied me.

    After six months I finally broke down and talked to my parents. Their advice: Work to rule and look for another job.

    That was before the job market went down the toilet and I am in a field that offers many opportunities. Being young for my level of qualification also helped, on top of finishing my degree faster than regular length.

    From the moment I had decided to quit I was able to sleep better. I went from on average three hours per night to four. My stomach troubles (constant nausea) also got better.

    I found a job four months later. As soon as I had signed the contract I handed in my notice at the Uni HR department. That was the best feeling ever. Then I called my supervisor, who was on holiday, and told her.

    There was a lot of ‘But whyyyyy?’ and ‘We were getting along so much better now!’ but I stuck to: ‘I’m sorry, this position is not for me and I’ve found something else.’
    She also asked why I hadn’t told her sooner about me leaving, she wouldn’t have fired me of course. I simply told her I had my reasons.
    Then she pulled the ‘What will your parents thing?’ card and I told her that my parents support me in my decision and that my father complaining about me quitting a PHD would be kind of hypocritical, having done the same, for similar reasons even.

    What did I gain from working under supervisor from hell:
    -Bullying in the work place sucks big time. Especially if it’s your boss!
    -Going from three month contract to three month contract isn’t fun
    -If people tell you they are a certain way, take them at their word
    -‘Sucking it up’ only works in the short term, doing it long term will ruin your health
    -Quitting is not a failure
    -Trying to keep going if you’re not paid enough to live on sucks

    Hang in there, LW. Even stacking shelves is better than what you have now, as long as you are getting paid for it!

    1. Thank you for posting this. I’m dealing with chronic health stuff that’s probably related to PhD anxiety right now and it’s good to hear about examples like yours. I’m 6 years in, so everyone I talk to is like stick it out! I’m honestly not sure I can though – I feel like I might be too sick to finish. Interestingly, my dad also quit his PhD, but when I talked to him about quitting 3 years in, I let him talk me out of it…

      1. I quit during my third year. Lots of people wanted me to fight (I was sort of forced out, in that after my boss decided I wasn’t accomplishing enough or trying hard enough, I was put in a position where all my options for staying SUCKED and may have only kept me around a few more months if they didn’t go well), and I decided not to. Both my physical and mental health were a wreck, and while the physical problems were VERY REAL, they were also very clearly stress/anxiety-induced. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to get healthy while fighting to stay in grad school/prove myself worthy of being kept on, and so painful as it was (and still is… I graduated in march and I’m still a bit traumatized by the whole ordeal), I mastered out. And it SUCKS, but it was also the right decision.

        6 years is a long time in, so if the PhD still matters to you it’s probably worth at least trying to get some kind of medical leave (no one in your department will want to admit that that’s a thing, but the students-with-disabilities office at your school may have other ideas), but in the end, do what you need to do to get healthy.

    2. It sounds like you worked for my old boss! I was reading this and my eyes were getting bigger and bigger and bigger!

      The only difference was that although the job was academic, she wasn’t supervising my Ph.D. (I left, in fact, to finish my Ph.D — and I gave a month’s notice and she whined that it “wasn’t enough time to find a replacement.”)

      And like you I had no supervision and was only punished when I got things wrong (or couldn’t do things because they were physically impossible — I’m sorry, Quicken just doesn’t work like that). I was an “office manager,” i.e. ran an entire academic nonprofit by myself. And I left when I got physically ill from the stress. And emotional abuse.

      And I didn’t line up a job before I left and it was still the best decision I ever made, work-wise. Sometimes you just have to bail.

      I don’t know whether to be relieved (not just me!) or just flat-out horrified (more than one boss like that?!?!) that my story is so common.

    3. Stacking shelves for a boss who appreciates your work is better than working for a bad boss at any job, IMHO! I can take pride in a neat and clean store, and physical work with tangible results is much more rewarding than desk work in a lot of ways. Simple work in a positive environment sounds like excellent rehab to me.

  21. A couple of years ago, LW, I left a PAID internship that was similar to this. This was back when I was majoring in biology, and it was just a summer internship. I chose a mentor based on how interested I was in his work rather than how well we meshed as a mentor-mentee relationship. This turned out to be a gigantic mistake.

    I warned him before selecting him as my mentor that I had never worked in a lab before and might need a lot of guidance learning the basics. I’d only just finished my first year at university and I hadn’t really learned my way around the department yet, so I was hesitant to even apply for the internship in the first place, but he encouraged me to do so and told me that it was okay if I needed a little more help than most. Despite this, he somehow decided that while his other interns would get assigned to grad-student-led assignments, I would be given an independent project with my only adviser being him. Only, he didn’t have time to actually function as an adviser–he was the head of the biology department and was constantly busy, and only had time to check in with me for MAYBE five minutes a day.

    When I reminded him that I was really new and needed some additional guidance, he told me to ask the other grad students in the lab. Not only were said grad students working under other professors (and therefore none of them had the slightest clue what I was supposed to be doing), but they were all busy with their own projects and couldn’t take more than five-ten minutes per day to help me either.

    I kept telling my mentor that I needed more help, but he basically ignored me. I’d email him asking three or four questions that I urgently needed answered before I could move on, and he’d answer one of them and then ignore my email asking for further clarification. Grad students kept looking at me like I was a complete idiot as it got later and later in the program and I was still asking basic questions. Eventually, I cracked under the pressure and basically gave up. In the final meeting before we were supposed to present our work, I told him I had no meaningful results because I really had no idea what I was even doing, and that I wanted to present the basic set-up I’d come up with for the experiment–which I WAS actually proud of–and have that be it.

    He told me it was MY fault that I had no meaningful results. He told me I was lazy, and that as a result of that laziness, I would have to use that very weekend (the meeting was on Friday and the presentation of research was on Monday) to make up the, at this point, seven to eight weeks of work I’d apparently been too “lazy” to do. The very same weekend in which I was supposed to be moving into a new apartment, which I had also told him about beforehand.

    And this is the point at which I went to the program director’s office in tears and told her I wanted to quit. At that point, I saw her as someone I could trust, since she’d been trying to help me communicate better with my mentor throughout this process. I was proven wrong, however, when she got extremely rude and abrupt with me and told me that no one had ever dropped out of the program before (implying that doing so was impossible). She tried very hard to guilt me into staying, but I held my ground, and after browbeating me for an hour or so she relented.

    That internship shook my confidence so much that I partially blame its affect on my mental state for the fact that I dropped out of the school the following semester.

    Basically, LW, my point is: don’t be me. Don’t try to stick it out in a toxic work environment that isn’t going to work just because you feel like you have to for whatever reason. You don’t have to, and it’s 100% okay to just walk away.

    1. What happened to you is totally not okay and seriously messed up. Everyone should know that students in their summer after first year will need a huge amount of guidance in a research lab! Personally I wouldn’t even take one as my summer student because I don’t want to undertake that level of training above my own research load. It really really sucks that no one helped you. Science people can be really bad for this. Personally I think we need to start making advisors attend management and mental health seminars or something. I hope you’re doing better now.

      1. “Science people can be really bad for this.” aka why I bailed on my Chemistry major and switched to something where when I turned up repeatedly to a professor’s office saying “um, there’s a problem, help?” they didn’t blow me off and then later yell at me that “you should have known [thing I had only been asking for help with for weeks]”. Like, bite me, ENTIRE CHEM DEPARTMENT OF MY ALMA MATER.

      1. My advisor was just so sure that the only problem with my project was me. Until I left, and she passed it off to multiple other people who quickly handed it back to her saying “uh, yea, this thing is DEAD”. I’m enjoying quite a bit of schaudenfreude knowing that she hasn’t published a damn thing since I left (not notable in-and-of itself, as it’s a smallish lab and I left less than a year ago, but if my project was as close to working as she thought it was, there would be a paper by now). This is a little horrible because I don’t wish the other student’s in the lab any ill-will, but I’m kind of hoping that she continues to see absolutely no progress on the ambitious mammalian-parasite work she was having me do, and that it results in her at least dropping that line of research, if not also failing to get tenure.

  22. I’m betting that anyone who has done business with him for half a minute knows he is flakey as hell.


    A couple of years ago I was struggling to leave a paid job at a small company owned by flakey jerks. I suspect, based on my own experiences as well as conversations with coworkers (almost all of whom were conducting job searches of their own – we had lunchtime support groups) that the company’s bad reputation in our small local industry meant that my experience there was actually viewed as a negative on my applications. Ultimately I wound up switching fields just to get away from that place (which has turned out great! I enjoy my new job).

    A reference from someone who is actively disliked/distrusted by industry peers is not actually worth very much, even if it is glowing.

    1. This is my experience as well. I had to lay down the law with this producer I had applied to intern with. The job posting was for an actual intern, and promised chances to learn and to meet people. For that, I was willing to be unpaid until the money dropped. Except that the actual job I was doing was driving him around to social events, meetings (That I did not sit in on or hear about; taking the initiative to ask about the meetings was fruitless), haircuts, and dates. I waffled on it for a month, since blah blah the industry is brutal blah, but it still wasn’t adding up and I was still seriously going broke on gas and parking.

      So I called up my former boss from before I moved and ran it by him, and yep, it was exactly the crap I thought. And the producer was exactly as much of a nobody as I thought. And no one would seriously judge me for not being this nobody’s indentured servant, which is something I had not thought (for various reasons, all of them cringing and terrible). A reference from this guy was pretty much never going to be worth it, and while he was superficially pleasant and we got along well, that was no cause for continuing to bleed money into his social life. So I went ahead and told him that I could be an intern but get mileage/not drive him everywhere, or I could be a personal assistant/driver and get paid the standard rate, but the current situation could not persist. He didn’t fire me, but he did waffle a lot and I haven’t heard from him since except for one passive-aggressive text message about a script.

      And I don’t really care! As terrifying as it was to actually say, “Hey, you are breaking the law and everyone knows it,” it had to happen and it made me stop feeling like I was going to throw up all the time. Now I am free to look for real projects with people who aren’t dead-end jerks. What I had imagined was a lot worse than what happened, especially having corroborated with a few folks that the dude is a sketchy nobody. So as scary as writing it off sounds, the chances that you are about to jettison a person who is doing more harm than good are pretty decent.

    2. In fact in some cases a glowing reference from someone disliked/distrusted might even be worse than a lukewarm one. I know I’d wonder what kind of person the applicant was that such a jerk liked them so much.

    3. Hah. At one of my temp jobs, where I was allegedly going to be doing filing-type work, my boss had me pick up his kids from school and drive them to his house. Ooookay. (I later found out from other people in the industry that he had actually gotten violent with his employees in the past, so I guess I dodged a bullet in that it was only wacky stuff and not physical-safety stuff, but still. Oy.)

  23. If you’re feeling guilty about leaving, LW, remember this…

    Your time has value. In and of itself. Inherently. By law your time is worth no less than whatever the standard minimum wage is in your country, and potentially much more. So when you take on an unpaid internship, you are saying to the employer that you are willing to give them your valuable time in exchange for their training, knowledge and experience. You are accepting those things in lieu of a wage. If you aren’t receiving training, new knowledge or experience, then they are taking your time and saying they don’t value it at all.

    These six months of your time – they are incredibly valuable and they are a precious window of opportunity. Precious time you could be spending at an internship (or even a paid job!) where you could gain so much. But every day you spend at a place that doesn’t value or train you is a day that your employer is wasting that precious window of opportunity.

    The whole point of taking an internship is to gain those skills so future employers can confidently take you on, secure in the knowledge that you’ll at least have learned something of the business before you work for them. Now imagine another employer, offering a paid position, And they get an applicant who has a six month internship on their CV, but no portable skills or provable knowledge as a result of it. Would you employ that person? You current employer isn’t just wasting your time and your effort and good will, they’re damaging the quality of your CV.

    You don’t owe them any more time. They owe you. Leave, LW, and don’t look back.

  24. “(I)f you try to use that method (…), they will just shut down and become afraid to do anything at all because they have no idea what the odds are that you’re going to punish them for doing it.”

    Heyyyy, true in interpersonal relationships, too, as well as on the job.

    If you have one person in your life who consistently makes you feel that maybe you are the worst person to ever exist in the history of time, (even if they occasionally make you feel like you are the best person to ever exist in the history of time), PLEASE stop to consider that the problem is not necessarily you. There are lots & lots more people in your life, I imagine, who support you & encourage you & know you make mistakes & that you are more or less doing your best. People who imply that we are “the worst”, those things can get in our brains because it’s so close to our deepest irrational fears of ourselves, and so those mean unsupportive hurtful words have power that “Hey, good job today!” doesn’t have. But, “Hey, good job today!” is probably more realistic, I feel confident saying to you, even though I don’t know you.

    1. True in all kinds of situations!

      I actually spent some time sitting and staring at the post and some of these comments because they made me start wonder whether my issues with decision paralysis oh the decision paralysis and freak-outs and avoidance might not be because I am a weird autistic person with weird autistic issues but because I used to be a weird autistic kid who kept getting hit with “OMG you are so stupid how could you possibly do something so stupid, why did you not do what you were meant to do? lol what do you mean you want us to tell you what you’re meant to do ~everyone knows that already~ it’s ~obvious~” when ze tried to figure things out on eir own. I’d managed to link the two a little before, but the idea that resulting issues with being able to do shit are a common thing and happen even to neurotypical people is blowing my mind…

      1. It’s really, incredibly common, and you can do it to any animal that can learn via operant conditioning. It’s basically a form of learned helplessness–teach an organism that no matter what it does, it will be punished, there’s no way to predict when the punishment will happen or to avoid it, and eventually it will stop doing anything at all.

  25. LW here. Thank you so much for your response, Goat Lady, and thanks to the commentariat for your additional support.

    I am still in the internship. It’s got a little better – I’ve learned that there are things I can tell my boss I am doing and then do them, so I can at least claim I’ve learned some copy-editing and -writing skills – but other than that I’m still spending more of my day than not staring at the wall feeling guilty. I’m trying to plan an exit strategy, but as someone mentioned above there’s a possibility I might be easier to hire if I’m in employment, even if the employment I’m in sucks. I’m thinking of calling it quits at the end of this month (by which time there will be four more interns and the office will be overcrowded) so that I can at least say I did half the time, but there is a distinct possibility that I might snap and just stop turning up one day.

    Regarding the non-existent legality of unpaid internships, I live in the UK, which as some of you will know is currently having a hilarious debate about whether or not we should actually enforce the law against unpaid internships. As far as I can tell what I am doing is technically illegal but everyone does it anyway so it’s not actually.

    The press I’m at is legit as far as I can tell, but I’m not convinced it breaks even. The office is a house, and in the house everything is broken and/or old. The project we are currently working on was meant to be released this month and has been pushed back to April, and…I don’t want to go into the whole thing, but it’s not great.

    As I say, I’m planning my way out so that it causes as little friction as possible, just in case I do need to be on this guy’s decent side. The main thing I wonder now is: can I legitimately quit via email, or do I owe this guy a face-to-face “I’m breaking up with you, job” conversation?

    Thank you so much again for responding to me. I got a little teary-eyed reading this, but then there were goat pictures and I felt better.

    1. >>As far as I can tell what I am doing is technically illegal but everyone does it anyway

      This may or may not be helpful to you, but everyone *doesn’t* do it – there is a lot of media claiming that unpaid internships are endemic but a mate of mine (Charlie Ball at HECSU) did some research on it and found that less than 1% of graduates are doing unpaid internships six months after graduation. The media tends to hugely overstate the number of people doing unpaid internships and makes it sound like literally every graduate just has to do it to compete, which is completely untrue and I think is really, really unhelpful to graduates because it creates the pressure of feeling like you can’t not do it.

      It is true that a lot of the people who are doing them are in areas like publishing and media, and also that they are much more concentrated in London and nearly unknown in the rest of the country, so it may be that you have less choice if that’s the area you’re commited to, which really sucks. Bookcareers.com is really good for publishing-specific careers advice, and they are advertise paid internships in the industry, so if you haven’t looked at that yet do add it to your bookmarks.

      Good luck with finding something paid and making your decision!

    2. I am obviously a firm believer in the restorative powers of goats. My herd and I will wave some pompoms for you in the hopes things get better!

    3. If you’re in the UK, and anywhere near their locations, join the SYP. And yes, while the name is ‘Society of Young Publishers’ there isn’t an age limit, but they have tons of help and support for people wishing to start out or move on in publishing.

    4. So, in a month’s time, this company will consist of your boss, and seven unpaid ‘trainees’?

      This isn’t anything even approaching a work experience scheme, this is someone who thinks he’s hit on a brilliant plan for staffing his entire company for free. What an absolute asshat. My advice would be to send him a resignation e-mail, and then call the Pay and Work Rights Helpline (0800 917 2368) and ask how to shop him not only for not paying you, but for not paying anyone else there, either. It’s disgustingly exploitative.

  26. LW, I have been almost exactly where you were, but slightly to the left.

    I wasn’t an intern, I was a content provider. It was a small little company, and everyone involved was very nice, but the Guy In Charge was terrible at communicating. Big ideas, but no organization. He talked about really awesome things, though, and for awhile, it was easy to fall in line and be okay with it. But he wasn’t delivering on the experience he promised and he got mad when people didn’t read his mind or when things didn’t come together magically–he expected everyone to know what was expected of them, but never wanted to tell them what that was. At one point, I had to spend hours comforting an intern he reduced to hysterical tears. It was an awkward situation.

    And I still really didn’t want to leave, because he was A Guy Who Knew People, and he’d already introduced me to a few of those People, and he kept telling me what a Good Opportunity it was, and how the workplace was Like A Family and all that.

    As far as a workplace being Like A Family–it can be something of a siren song. Who doesn’t love the idea of being part of a crew of scrubby little misfits who make awesome things in spite of being so small and occasionally bickering. It’s like being on a TV show! Except…I already have one mildly dysfunctional family, and a group of friends who are Like A Family to provide me with all the extraneous drama I need to keep life interesting. Like A Family in that workplace scenario is just a kind of flim-flam to make it seem like you have to take all the problems with a grin (and no paycheck).

    The other thing–and this may be something you’re worried about too–is that careers like the publishing industry can depend on who you know. I drug out my leaving because I didn’t want a scenario down the line where some potential employer asked my old Guy In Charge over drinks: “So, how about ThatHat?” “Oh, she’s a flake. Up and left us. Couldn’t cut it.”

    What I realized after leaving: if your guy is difficult to work with? You are not the only person who has noticed. This doesn’t mean you should badmouth him–in fact, the golden rule is Don’t Talk Smack About Anyone. They might still be his friends. But if you say something like, “We never really clicked,” or even “I was never quite sure what he wanted me to do,” they will understand. And it’ll be fine.

    I wish you the best, and hope you find a nice internship that does help you acquire some good Future Skills.

    1. Oh god. Nothing is more of a Red Flag to me with regard to a job than the whole “WE ARE LIKE A FAMILY” statement. I already have a family, and I live, at minimum, 150 miles away from them at all times. So, thanks, but no thanks.

  27. This company is not healthy. In fact this company is dying. It’s dying now with no paid staff, it will almost certainly still die even if your boss wises up and starts paying someone, because they probably won’t be able to fix it before the cost of their wages hits the finances hard. And that’s okay because a company that could only survive by not paying its employees doesn’t deserve to survive.

    It’s also already taught you everything it’s going to. And being that a company is not a person you have no moral or ethical responsibility to stay and nurse it to a peaceful death. Your coworkers will understand why you’re leaving. Your boss probably won’t, but that’s on him. Personally I think you’d be within your rights to not even give notice, but I’d still give two weeks as Goat Lady says, for the benefit of your coworkers and your own principles if nothing else.

  28. “I’m betting that anyone who has done business with him for half a minute knows he is flakey as hell.”

    Yup. This. This this this. Publishing is a /very/ small world, and if someone is both incompetent and (ab)using interns to run their company, it won’t be a well-kept secret.

    Unpaid internships are unfortunately common in publishing in Canada (interns get a stipend at the end, but given that Canadian companies are based in the most expensive cities, it frequently doesn’t even cover living expenses), and I see a lot of resumes cross my desk where someone went from internship to internship at the same company, with the carrot of permanent employment permanently dangling just out of reach—and they were still getting /trained/ at the very least, LW. Get out of this situation, and don’t feel bad about it.

  29. I just want to say thank you for the Karen Pryor shout out! Don’t Shoot the Dog is a fantastic resource for anyone looking to alter behavior, whether it’s of an animal or a person.

    And 6.02×10^23ing the recommendations to get out. It’s not you, it’s him, and you deserve better. Especially for free!

  30. LW, I can relate SO HARD to this letter. I was in a really similar position when I graduated last year. Essentially I took a position in a Fancy, High Tech lab, where I was under the impression that I would learn Science-y Things about the equipment and techniques they were using. Six months in, turns out my job description solely consisted of mind-reading, emotional punching bag, and glorified dishwasher. I hung on so long because there was pay and no other job offers, but ultimately working at a place where the boss refuses to train you means you’ll never know what you should be doing, and have to spend your whole day trying to look busy while getting yelled at for being the the wrong kind of busy.

    It’s been three months since I quit, and while I haven’t found a job yet, I don’t regret leaving, nor is there any doubt in my mind that I made the right choice. Experience is good, but in having to choose between my mental well-being versus a resume bullet point (Without actually getting much experience out of the position itself due to the lack of training, the job did more for my resume than it did for me.), I chose the former and haven’t looked back.

    Problems you may run into: (because I ran into them; YMMV, so proceed with caution)

    -“Reason for leaving last position?”: Alternative to “not a good fit,” you could say that the position was only temporary, as you only intended to work there for 6 months. I say *alternatively* because it’s definitely good to keep why you didn’t work there short and sweet, as Goad Lady said. Also, the whole “Expected to read minds” thing? Without knowing the specifics of your situation it’s hard to say whether or not this is applicable, but another alternative is you could frame it as this position not allowing the professional growth you had hoped for. For my job, my boss shut down everything I tried to do – essentially, I couldn’t Take The Initiative because my efforts would invariably be wrong and stupid by his standards, which goes on my cover letter as “having leadership responsibilities,” and “ready to take on the title for these responsibility ” because he was asking me to run the lab without telling me what needed be done.

    -Having unemployment count against you: for some reason I’m in a society where one must have a job in order to get a job? I still don’t understand how that works, but the best advice I have for this is to send out loads of applications before you actually leave – and even try to position your last day earlier on in the month if possible, so your resume reads, “July – [current month],” for the dates that you worked there. From what I can tell, hiring managers will take that to mean you’re still working there, which counts towards one’s advantage for reasons I don’t understand. Plus this gives you an edge in terms of how long you worked there (+1 month experience). Obviously don’t say that you’re working there currently if you aren’t, but other than that, there’s a lot that can be implied by the time-of-employment spot on a resume or application.

    -Hiring managers wanting to use this boss as a reference, or finding it strange that you aren’t listing this reference. For some reason there’s also a tendency to want to use the most recent employer as a reference. There’s no easy way around this one – outright refusing them if they explicitly request it will not end well, nor will listing Awful Boss as a reference. My best advice for this – if they do explicitly ask, at least – is to either list the boss if you do manage to get out on good terms, or tell them that you’re no longer in contact with them or a refusal that simply states it’s “not possible at this time,” with little to no elaboration. Also, if there’s anyone else at the company who you’re on good terms with (or anyone else there period – beside four people + 1 cat), it would be worth considering them as a reference. And listing previous employers you’re an good terms with if you’ve had a former job, and professors from relevant subjects that you connected with are also fair game for references.

    Hope you get the awesome job you deserve!

  31. Can I ask a mostly related question? I was laid off last year from a manager position for a sales firm. That put me about three rungs down…I was head of my team, but there was a sales manager above me, and then the VP of the company and the president.

    The company president made it very clear at various points that she had zero respect for my position. My job was basically to make sure the sales peeps weren’t doing terrible, illegal things, and to fire them if they were. Which translated to her into a bunch of useless paperwork and interfering with making money.

    But the real issue was my direct boss. Really nice guy, but he put so many roadblocks in my way that I couldn’t do my job. I would catch someone doing something awful, but he would give that employee 3,4,5, or 6 more chances. Which made me look ineffective, of course. It wasn’t unique to him…EVERY head sales manager did this. When I got laid off, it was basically because he had made my position look so useless that it was really no wonder. At the same time, I felt obligated to protect him, because again…nice guy. So there were times I took the fall for stuff that was totally his call.

    So, the question…that sales manager has since moved on. I have a strong urge to contact the actual president of the company and ask for a meeting. I then want to explain what my position actually was and the value of it, and the various ways it actually SAVES the company money and hassle. Is this even worth an attempt?

    1. Short answer – no. All it would probably achieve is to get the president’s back up if she feels that you’re telling her how to run her company. The time for an impassioned defence of the worth of your role was before you were laid off – to do it after the fact gets you nothing and probably burns bridges as well.

      All those thoughts about how much value you brought to the company will sound fantastic as specific examples in your next job application/interview (minus any mention of how little they were valued of course). Hopefully next time you don’t have a back-stabby manager who’s nice to your face but lets you take the fall for his crap!

    2. Given the relationship you’ve described with the president, I would say not. If it was someone you had a good relationship with but who just didn’t understand your role, then it be worth a shot, but going in with the burden of expectation against you in an attempt to change her mind sounds exhausting and unproductive. Plus, if the best outcome you can hope for is that you get back a job in an unsupportive and negative environment, that’s not much of a incentive.

      What you could do is prepare the case you’d *like* to make – what you contribute to the company, how much money you save, specific targets and outcomes – and then use it to prepare your pitch to new ground. (That may be a mixed metaphor?) Take it to companies who you don’t have an existing relationship with and sell yourself there. I think if you use the energy and indignation you’ve got from wanting to show the ex-company what they’ve lost and get it all down on paper, and then work at it to make it more generalisable and positive about what you can bring to somewhere else, that might be a really positive and effective use of that negative experience.

      1. This is truth. Tired Caregiver, think of it this way: They had the chance to learn this, and chose not to because of poor management. Now go sell that knowledge & experience you have somewhere else, in a positive, forward-looking way where you can be confident about what you contribute. Don’t waste time on getting this company to see the light; they don’t want to, and it’s just gonna leave you feeling more upset.

    3. I guess logically I recognize this, and in other circumstances I would be willing to turn my back on this job without hesitation. Despite the ongoing frustration of being constantly road-blocked, the job had a schedule that was extremely flexible and allowed me to work from home…benefits that I’m unlikely to find again. Which is a real issue, since right now I can’t imagine working a 9-5….I mean, mom had three doctor’s appointments just this week, and she gets anxious and unsettled if I just go out to a movie, let alone leave for 8 hours. So it’s very hard to imagine working a ‘normal’ schedule.

      At the same time, obtaining a job is becoming CRITICAL. My cobra insurance will run out in the next month or two, and I haven’t been without insurance since I was 16. I can see about moving to individual insurance, which will of course cost much more. There’s also the issue that individual insurance and group insurance are different when it comes to pre-existing conditions, which I do have. And I have no idea how the new laws affect anything (though I did get the company’s insurance broker’s number, and will be asking her questions this week.)

      I actually still have enough savings despite being unemployed for over a year, but the insurance part is what will ultimately become disastrous. So I’m feeling particularly desperate, not just for ‘a’ job but for THAT job.

      Which I guess is all a moot point, since the VP just called me today to remind me about the insurance issue and didn’t mention anything about any openings, which is a clear message. So I guess I’m just flat-out screwed.

      1. I’m not sure what your background is, exactly, so I know that this may not work out for you. But I always refer people, especially people who are concerned about healthcare & other benefits, to look on the USAJobs.gov website. It may take some tweaking of your resume in order to show that your experience would make you a good candidate (and there are LOTS of books out there on how to find Federal jobs, write the type of resume the government wants & navigate the system), but the benefits can make it worth it. Not only will you get your choice of many different insurance plans from many different companies, pre-existing conditions aren’t a barrier to coverage and they don’t affect the rate you pay. And many agencies & departments now have flexitime (alternate work schedules) and flexiplace (telework and other options). If you have questions about employee benefits, check out OPM.gov. Even if you don’t think that there could possibly be a government job for someone with your background, it doesn’t hurt to try.

      2. I think I misunderstood your intentions – I was picturing a sort of retroactive “you were wrong to fire me” type discussion. It might make sense to ask if there are any new openings. Now that some time has elapsed and the management structure has changed, they might have missed having someone in your role. Or they might not. You lose nothing by asking. Good luck with the job search in any case!

  32. Gotta say I have extreme love for all the goat images/jokes in this post. It’s beautiful.

    And LW, I feel for you. I’m a person who doesn’t love confrontation stuff, but I’m going to have to go there soon with my internship. I have to do internships for my MSW, so I’m technically paying to be an intern. My present location has shown a whole host of issues, unfortunately, though the people are very nice. An instructor encouraged me the other day to contact the school-associated people who kind of run the logistics of this whole internship business and tell them there’s a problem because self-advocacy is a Big Deal in social work.

    The thing is, the whole point of interning is to develop one’s professional skills to be the best whatever that one can be. If one makes a true, honest effort, but doesn’t actually get anything of significance out of the experience? No good. It’s counterproductive to stay in it. Wishing you all the luck in future endeavors.

  33. Your boss isn’t giving away the books or magazines or whatever he is publishing, right? If he is making money off your labor, you deserve to be compensated for it. If he isn’t, then why does he want you there in the first place?

  34. a;sdfkjals GET OUT OF THERE THAT IS THE JOB WITH EVIL BEES. This letter reminds me of a job I had once, working for a new deli in my hometown that ended up going under after less than six months. I was upfront about my lack of experience, and yet they had me spend my training day cleaning a deli counter in preparation for a health inspection, then spent the rest of my time working for them treating me like I was an incompetent moron because I didn’t know how to do stuff like operate the cash register they tried to teach me to use DURING the lunch rush. I went home crying and feeling worthless almost every single day. They cut my hours and cut my pay until I was getting called in for two hours at half my original rate to scrape gunk off the windows instead of learning to do the job I’d been hired for, then sent home after one. It was a relief for everyone when I finally quit, and I *knew* it, because they spent the entire time being exasperated and treating me like an idiot. I made a fool of myself for a month and there is not a single connection I have kept from that place. I cringe at the thought of adding it to job applications, and the only reason I would ever want to see that boss ever again would be to chew him out for treating me like shit.

    Don’t let it get to that point with you. Leave. This guy has absolutely no clue what he’s doing, and neither does anyone else there. They may be very lovely people, but you are NOT getting paid, you are NOT learning anything, and when all’s said and done, you aren’t even networking, really, because unless he shapes up fast, this guy’s business is *going* to go under.

    As a general rule, I tend to avoid new businesses, especially if I can see signs that they’re being run by inexperienced owners who don’t know what they’re doing. Nobody there is going to have no idea how to train new employees, for one thing; for another, there’s a very strong chance that business will disappear off the face of the earth in six months’ time because the owners will run out of funding for their pipe dream and shut down. This may sound harsh, but it’s the truth. When you’re new to an industry, you want to go with an established employer that’s been around for a while, or at least that has tried this before and knows some of the ways it can go wrong. You want someplace where they have some idea of how to train new employees, especially those with little to no experience. Above all, you want a boss who knows what they’re doing, or at least who won’t take it out on you if they don’t. I’ve seen this even as a background extra: the more well-established the show, the better they treat the extras (and, presumably, the cast and crew as well) because they actually know what the fuck they’re doing (also because they have more money, but that’s another story).

    I still experience a lot of anxiety surrounding the idea of getting and having a job, especially in the food industry, because of how awful this deli job was. That was four years ago. I became a background extra largely because of that anxiety. Don’t let it get like that for you. Get out. Now.

    (I may be overreacting a little bit because of how unbearably awful my own experience was but you should still leave.)

    1. The weird thing is that this is not a new business – it’s been around since the ’80s, according to some of our records (some of which haven’t been updated since then, incidentally, and it was a lot of fun finding *that* out). The main problem seems to be that it is largely stuck there. The social media policy made me weep salty, delicious tears.

  35. Regarding references:

    In the extremely large Fortune 500 company I work at, the managers are not allowed to give references. The only thing they are allowed to do is confirm that you work/ed there. They do this for legal reasons; apparently you can get sued for giving bad references these days.

    It sucks for good employees, but perhaps there is a way to use this knowledge to help out people who left bad jobs. Maybe a “my employer will confirm that I worked there, but they are not permitted to give a reference” might be worth a try? You don’t need to tell the prospective employer that you’ve asked the old boss not to provide a reference.

    Any thoughts from anyone? Do you think it would work?

    1. I gave a general corporate HR number as company contact then listed a co-worker or an ex-manager who I knew would give a positive reference as a personal/work reference.

      Without a corporate number, it would be a little trickier but it could work. Or try to find someone who could be considered an immediate supervisor (wouldn’t work in this situation, but at another job it could be the person who trained you or who you answered to even if they didn’t have official title).

  36. I have no helpful/practical advice, but:

    And I keep wondering if the reason I’m not getting more out of this is not that I’m just lazy and expecting everything to be handed to me

    I kind of went “whoa!” when I read this in the letter. I mean, I understand how your jerkbrain + horrible boss can do this to you, but from where I’m standing… you just spent the letter talking about how the lack of work makes you frustrated and bored, how you *scrounge up* work for yourself, how you WANT to work but your boss isn’t giving you enough information to really do so. You sound like you’re dedicated, you *want* to be productive, and in general like you’re the polar opposite of lazy! Similarly, expecting to get trained in a training position, when you don’t have the knowledge to be able to do the work otherwise, is not expecting “everything to be handed to you.” It’s expecting the bare minimum that (a) was agreed on when you got this internship (b) you need to DO YOUR JOB.

    So – your jerkbrain is very very wrong and you should try not to listen to it! Trust me, I’m a complete stranger on the internet, I know these things. 😉

  37. One of the things I’m noticing in both the original letter and some of the responses is a tendency to look at this first as a personal relationship.

    It’s not.

    I’ve had a really outstanding boss that I told after five years, “I’m leaving because I got a better offer.” I’ve been a manager who had an employee leave because he got a better offer. This stuff happens in business. If your better offer is sitting on the beach for a month, which it just about sounds like it is, then that is not a personal judgment or slight; it’s just a fact. The business has the choice of improving its offer (if it can) or letting the fact remain.

    Where the personal relationships come into this is in being honest about things, and not unduly making things hard for people. If you can give the standard number of weeks of notice, and if you do what you can within that time to leave things in an organized state for whoever comes after you, then you’ve reasonably done your part and more. And, on the personal relationship side, that’s all anyone can ask of you; you don’t owe them staying in a bad business relationship — and you are not rejecting them as a person by leaving.

    1. I think this, more than anything else, is where I’m stuck at the moment. Intellectually I know you’re absolutely right – this is a business relationship first and foremost, and if the transaction isn’t being carried out correctly then I don’t owe it to my boss to hang around. But somewhere I’m still hung up on being seen as a big jerky meanface who quit the job before doing the allotted time that I *promised* I’d do. It’s something I’m trying to overcome for at least long enough to write the email that says “I quit this job and am going back to bed”.

      1. But somewhere I’m still hung up on being seen as a big jerky meanface who quit the job before doing the allotted time that I *promised* I’d do.

        You didn’t just promise, though, you made a deal with this bloke: you’d work for free, and in exchange, he’d train you and share his knowledge. He’s the one who broke the deal by not giving you any training (and then blaming you for not psychichally divining what you were supposed to do).

        If it helps, think of it this way: the training should be your pay for this job. Imagine if a friend told you about how she’s working what should be a six-month temp job, and after two months, not only has she not been paid (and it doesn’t look like she’ll be paid at all, ever) but her boss is snipily blaming her for not having been paid. You’d tell her to GTFO, right? And that she’s in no way obligated to stick out the full six months she committed to, if her boss isn’t gonna stick to his commitment to actually; you know, pay her?

        Treat yourself at least as well as you’d treat a friend. In fact, it may help to talk to that self-doubting voice the way you’d talk to that friend:

        “But I promised!”
        “And he promised to pay (train) you, and he didn’t. You are not the one reneging on a promise, here. GTFO.”
        “But he’ll be disappointed in me/think I’m mean and unreliable/guilt trip me/whatever!”
        “Yeah, well, dude isn’t exactly a shining example of professionalism himself, is he? GTFO.” “But —”

        (I know, it sounds smurfy as hell, but it’s worked for me in the past, and maybe it’ll work for you?)

  38. /disengage LURK MODE

    As others have said above, being used as an unpaid resource to provide more benefit to the employer than you receive in return falls firmly under Not Cool and Almost Certainly Illegal (at least in the United States).

    However, I wanted to add that if you are looking for legitimate work experience in publishing, you might want to check http://www.mediabistro.com for job openings at major publishers. I also suggest spending some time in the forums at Absolute Write (http://absolutewrite.com/forums/) and perhaps adding information about your experience to that publisher’s thread in the Bewares & Background Check section.

    Best of luck to you, LW!

    /re-engage LURK MODE

  39. Do not feel the least bit guilty about leaving the job. In fact, don’t feel the least bit guilty about ever leaving any job, especially at for-profit companies. They have a fiduciary duty to fire you the second they think it will be the last bit beneficial to them; you have a personal responsibility to return the favor.

    That having been said, that doesn’t mean that leaving now is the best thing, despite how bad it obviously is. It may be easier to find another position while you have this one. There may also be genuine opportunities to shine in a place to chaotic and poorly run. It’s completely your call and a personal decision, but don’t let the anxiety and unhappiness surrounding the situation, which is short-term even in the worst case, obscure the possibility that you can use it to your advantage.

  40. I’ve got a worse one for y’all: I thought I was just going to go hang out with my new friend at his office for a day or two, gab a bit, and help him get books out of boxes and onto shelves. Next thing I know I’m in that office two days a week, where he’s telling me every aspect of his (bizarre and multifaceted) business and expecting me to help organize the whole damn thing. AND be a writer for various of his publishing endeavors. AND be a research assistant. Oh, AND a therapist for his mommy issues. The whole while talking about “oh, I’d love to be paying you,” and “you do such good work, you deserve to be paid” and “oh, God, we have no money, I think my phone is going to get shut off” (yes, “we”), meanwhile getting $300- $400 worth of (more) baskets and bins for “organizational purposes”. Can ya tell I’m a bit bitter?
    I ended up writing him an e-mail, that if the situation continued that way I couldn’t keep doing it, and he basically told me “then I guess you should stop coming in”, though less straight forwardly. No wonder no one wanted to deal with him in any way…
    Also, as part of the larger discussion: http://cheezburger.com/7779064576

Comments are closed.