This one is for the horrible bosses, insensitive agencies and the screwed perceptions that so many in people our society have about interns being their educated, desperate-for-jobs personal slaves who’re oh-so-ready to slog for free! Sir/ Ma’am, you may be senior to us, but you couldn’t be more wrong!
I was in the second year of my Masters, and my Dean had arranged for me an interview with the nation’s leading advertising agency. Even though I hadn’t really heard of people having great experiences at this place, I thought it would look good on my resume. And since the interview had already been arranged and I had to honour my Dean’s word, I thought I’d give it a shot. After all, how bad could it be? Surely I could do three months. And so I went. A sprawling office, on the sixth floor in Gurgaon high-rise, welcomed me. I was asked to wait for 10 minutes, and then a woman walked up to me in a hurry, collected my resume, asked me the reason I wanted to join, told me to mail her a sample press release by the next day - and left.
The “interview” wrapped up in all but 2 minutes, and even though it was for ONLY for an internship, I felt slightly disappointed. Anyway, I returned home, worked on my assignment and mailed it to her.
I was selected. On 1st May, that year, I dressed up for my “BIG” internship, walked in on time and was met by the guard again, who asked me to wait till someone from my department came for me. About 40 minutes passed, and then the HR rep came down to take me a floor above, where the Public Relations department sat. Only, when we did reach there, there was nobody around. Apparently, they’d had all gone out for lunch or something. Some time later, my seniors walked in, quite surprised to see me because they weren’t expecting another intern. (They had already recruited five interns, when they only needed three, and I was their sixth - and this goof-up was because of some internal lack of communication.) What it meant for me was no place to sit, no work to do, no senior to report to and nowhere to go to! The HR rep told me they’d work it out - and so I patiently spent a week coming in on time (like all interns are expected to), looking for a seat, fruitlessly asking everyone for some work, and then after being idle for the ENTIRE day - asking for permission in the evening to leave.
A week later, I had became everyone’s “call and fetch” girl, doing odd stuff like making calls for them, getting printouts and magazines, fetching coffee and even water. A month passed, and I knew I’d had enough. I realized I wasn’t going to learn anything at this place, and there really was no point to wasting my parents’ money in commuting every day. (Nope, they weren’t paying me any stipend, or covering my travel costs - nothing!)
But just then, I heard that the other interns had completed their internship and I was to take over their work now. Things looked bright - it looked like I hadn’t waited for nothing. But I couldn’t be more wrong, for the worst was yet to come.
In a matter of two days, I was helping two separate bosses on two separate clients - coming in waaay earlier and leaving very late. I remember those days all too well - suddenly there were less people and more work, and however much I slogged, it was never enough.
Those days, I worked harder than I ever have, and I worked under so much stress - because my boss would call out my name in that open department and shout at me for missing the deadlines for daily reports, or making slight mistakes. I used to sit for hours at the edge of my chair and just keep working, missing lunch on a few days, grabbing a quick bite on others.
My boss was just never satisfied. I remember everything he said to me those days - rather, shouted at me for everyone else to hear too. “Are you CRAZY, Nikita? Don’t you ever want a job? Because, trust me, no one is ever going to hire you. Bosses want smart people, not people with low IQ. I don’t understand what is the problem with you.”
Another day, when another senior had asked me to help her with something, he went ballistic and yelled at me again. “Nikita, come here right now. How dare you tell anyone you were free? You are not free. You are working for me. Do you hear that? Is that clear to you? Do you understand what am I saying to you?”
Both those times, I was too humiliated, too shocked to even defend myself. So often I used to run to the washroom and cry my heart out. I am not trying to be judgemental here, but there were two other interns who’d recently joined, who honestly made far more mistakes, or simply refused work that they found boring right to this man’s face - but the difference was that, unlike me, they used to butter him up, crack jokes with him and simply get away with everything.
It kept happening day in and out… And one fine day, I told my Dean I would not take it anymore. She told me to give in a 15-day notice period and leave. Those 15 days I thought I would get past - but never had anything been so difficult. My boss wasn’t even happy letting me go - even though, according to him, I wasn’t doing anything right. He went on to lecture me on professionalism, and actually went on to say: ‘We are not paying, and that is why there should be more drive in you to work and learn.” I just kept my silence. The worst part was how everybody else, who observed my daily humiliation - and was nicer to me earlier - came to think something was wrong with me. And somewhere down the line, even I started doubting myself. If it hadn't been for my friends back at my colony, I know I would never have gotten past it.
On my last day, I didn’t get any farewell (obviously!), but a few other interns took me out during lunch. And, well, my boss called and shouted me at for leaving work and “partying” even then. I just collected my recommendation letter, got his sign-off it and packed my stuff to leave. One of the other seniors, who had been nice to me sometimes, remarked to my boss how he had been tough on me. He just turned to me, shrugged and said, “It’s for your own good. I hope you learn. Good luck.”
I went home to my friends and cried out of relief. I wasn’t to go to that horrible place again. Today, I am in a place I love, amongst people who are helping me grow each day - and I am happy. All I ever got from my internship was a bad experience, humiliation, harsh words that haunt, self-doubt and cervical problems from working long hours in uncomfortable conditions. I didn’t deserve it. Nobody does.
* Names changed to protect privacy.
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Published on Sep 28, 2015