“Paid internship for writers with the possibility for full-time employment.” The ad grabbed my attention at the top of a list of jobs I’d already applied for or had already learned weren’t for me. The bright blue link stood on top of a long list of worn out grey job calls I’d already clicked on. It was a Sunday night and like all Sunday nights for the past five months I was fighting off a mild panic attack due to yet another completed week without work. Resumes sent out, cover letters written and rewritten and my inbox remained empty. Well, not completely empty there was a forwarded email from a friend for a copyeditor job that I was vastly underqualified for, five to seven years experience editing for a major newspaper required, not even close, and there was an email from my mom I’d yet to open with the subject line, “How’s the job search going?”
Initially I enjoyed unemployment. I worked on my writing, even completing a draft of a short memoir, read a ton, watched old movies and drank a beer at 2:00pm on a Tuesday if I felt like it. But after a while, the months moved on and I went to job interviews where I walked out feeling like I nailed it only to be passed over for someone with more experience, or sometimes I never even heard from them again. I got discouraged, and I was so worried about paying rent that I couldn’t focus on writing, I found myself watching Game of Thrones more than I read, and drinking on a weekday afternoon made me feel like I had a problem.
I applied to at least 10 jobs a week. By month four I didn’t even anticipate a response. Just receiving an email telling me I wasn’t right for the position seemed like a small victory. Ninety percent of the jobs I applied to didn’t even give me the courtesy of a response email. Not even to my follow-ups: “I was just checking in to see if you received my resume. Has the position been filled?” Nothing.
When I sent my resume, cover letter and writing samples off to the paid internship with the possibility of full-time work I didn’t think much of it. I’d been burned too many times before when I got my hopes up. To my amazement the next morning I read this in my inbox.
Congratulations! You have been selected for the Collective Clicks Paid Writing Internship. You were chosen from amongst a large pool of candidates primarily because we loved your style of writing when you explained why you think you deserve to be accepted as an intern. In the past, writing interns have ended up being employed by Collective Clicks post-internship - so yes, there is a chance for employment after the internship; although obviously no guarantee!
It all sounded pretty good. I was invited to take an online class valued at $150 and I’d have to complete four writing assignments, which would be published if they were up to the high standards of Creative Clicks. If I completed everything correctly I’d have the opportunity to continue.
I consider myself a pretty sharp guy and I realized the email was just a form letter they most likely send to everyone who applies, but I figured what else do I have to do? I’d already watched every episode of Game of Thrones and just thinking about drinking in the afternoon made me consider going to an AA meeting.
The first week was actually kind of fun. I followed the online lessons and then completed a quiz at the end of each one. I learned a few things about search engine optimization and how to draw attention to things posted online. Most of it was basic stuff I already knew. It focused on WordPress, which I’d already been using a year and actually learned after a short lesson from my girlfriend, but I really prided myself on getting a 10 out of 10 on every quiz. I took diligent notes and paid close attention to every detail. I completed both classes with a final score of 49 out of 50. I was tempted to hang the results up on my refrigerator.
The next task was to use what I’d learned and write four product reviews and post them in a WordPress account. Each review would be judged on spelling and grammar was well as proper use of key words, tags and SEO descriptions. I could review any product I wanted. It wasn’t necessary, but was encouraged that I use or own the product. I’m not a huge consumer. Most of my appliances are hand-me-downs from friends, and I found my TV in a parking garage next to a dumpster six years ago and have never considered replacing it.
I looked around my apartment and was able to find four relatively new items to review. I chose my MP3 player, my podcast microphone, a pair of running shoes and a pair of casual shoes. I enjoyed analyzing these products and figuring out the pros and cons. Are they worth what they cost? Since it’s rare for me to purchase anything without consulting a review or someone who owns the product already I took writing these reviews seriously. If someone wants to know what I think about Asics running shoes I’m going to tell them the stuff I love as well as the areas I think need improvement.
The four reviews were individually graded out of 15 points for a total of 60. The following Monday morning I received an email saying I’d scored 58 points out of 60. I lost points because one of my images was not set as the “featured” image when I loaded it into WordPress, and in a different review I included a link to an external website. I only did that because in the example of a “quality” review there was an external link. But 58 out of 60 ain’t bad. I was told I was eligible to continue and to wait further instructions.
Moments later I received an email explaining that completing the internship required three more weeks. I would have to write five reviews a week at $2 per review for a grand total of $30 upon completion. I would only be eligible to receive the money if I completed all 15 reviews to a satisfactory standard. I would also receive $2 for the pervious four reviews I wrote. I chose the review subjects randomly from a large spreadsheet. I was told it didn’t matter if I’d used or seen the product before. I could get all my information from Google and Amazon.
My first review was for a Men's Reserve Chronograph Blue Dial Stainless Steel Chronograph Watch. I know nothing about watches. Even before I carried a cell phone in my pocket I never wore one. I could never remember to put it on in the morning and the few times I did it just ended up getting in the way or feeling uncomfortable. I asked for a pocket watch for Christmas when I was 16 and it lasted two weeks until I fell off my skateboard and landed on it.
The watch I had to review was retailed at $1500. A $1500 watch is a luxury item I have absolutely no desire for. I like nice clothes, nice shoes and nice things, but even if I was a rich man I don’t think a designer watch would interest me.
As per the lesson my first step was to type the watch name into Google. There were 5,000 results. I read a little description on Amazon and barely understood the terminology. Flame-fusion, unidirectional stainless-steel bazel, Swiss Quartz, the terms were foreign to me. Not only have I never worn a watch, I know little to nothing about them, but like I did in college when I had to write a paper on something I knew little about, I did some research while taking what I read and rewriting it in my own words. I had become pretty good at this while writing papers in college on topics like The Parthenon and ancient medieval instruments. It took me about an hour to reach 400 words. I said things like, “The Swiss made watches are exclusively hand-made and represent a pinnacle in superiority for the discerning aficionado.”
I stepped away from the computer, had some coffee and washed the mirror in my bathroom, then sat back down, revised it and sent it off. The whole process took about 90 minutes.
The following morning I was told my review was up to their high quality standard and approved. My next task was a Gucci watch strap. Not a watch, just a strap. A pink leather strap designed for women with petite wrists. I thought I knew nothing about watches, but I really know nothing about Gucci watch straps designed for women with petite wrists.
I plugged the name into Google and waited for the results. There were fewer than the day before, but still well over 1000. I surfed through a few of the top results, but couldn’t find much information. I found a lot of pictures but no descriptions or reviews. I typed what I saw and was able to find some details about features and turn those into sentences, but at around 200 words I felt like I’d said all I could. This time I implemented a tactic I’d practiced in high school when I’d written a three page paper about the breeding habits of barracudas, but needed to hand in a five page paper on the breeding habits of barracudas. I rewrote the piece stretching out every sentence. “Secure fold over safety clasp” became “The safety clasp securely folds over your petite wrist.” It was a struggle, and a shame I couldn’t just put the whole thing in Courier New, but after a few hours of adding every extra word I could think of I reached 401 words.
The next day I had to review another watch strap. It was stainless steel with no discernable qualities. After about 45 minutes of research and not a single word written I asked myself, “What am I doing?”
I’m reviewing products I’ve never touched or know anything about. My name is going to be attached to 15 wordy-watch reviews. If someone is looking to drop $1500 on a product, I don’t feel comfortable with them reading my uneducated review.
There are two things I ask myself when faced with doing something I’m not totally sure I want to do. Will it make me happy and/or will it make me money?
I didn’t know enough about the project to answer those questions. I sent an email to the guy in charge.
I have a few questions about the internship. How many people are usually hired on for full-time positions after the internship is complete? Is the full-time position 40 hours a week? What's the average pay? How many people usually complete the internship?
I also Googled Izzy and found out that he lives in Florida. The original Criagslist ad said there was an office in Pioneer Square, Seattle, where I live, and the potential for full-time employment. I tried to find the ad and it had been removed. Knowing I was dealing with a guy named Izzy from Florida made me think clearer. If you don’t rip on rhythm guitar and you call yourself Izzy it’s hard for me to trust you, and being from Florida doesn’t help.
We usually ask most interns to stay on as freelance writers for us, on an as neede [sic] basis. We pay freelance writers per piece, depending on thier [sic] level of expertise. Price per piece starts at $4.
Please let me know if you have any additional questions/concerns.
It didn’t make me too confident to see that the guy who’s been judging my writing made two obvious spelling errors in his email. I’ve been working as a freelance writer for the past few years and I’m always looking for new opportunities. Maybe I didn’t understand what the project was all about.
Does that mean there is no opportunity for full-time employment?
There is no full-time employment, as in 9 to 5, rather we work with our writers on a freelance basis.
Is the only possible work after the internship to write 400 word reviews at four dollars a pop?
I'm sorry if I sound like I'm being difficult I'm just trying to figure out what the incentive is to complete the internship and work with you guys.
The incentive is that it's excellent work experience - you have a chance to learn specific skills (through the workshops) and then apply them in a real life setting and receive feedback. The feedback we receive from interns who have gone all the way to the end has only been positive.
Here is some real feedback from real people:
- Thank you so much for everything! I learned a lot during my time writing with Collective Clicks and truly enjoyed the experience. I appreciate all you did, thanks!
- Thank you so much for all your guidance... have truly enjoyed working with you!
- Thank you so much for this opportunity...I really got a lot out of it, and had a great time, too. :)
This is obviously besides for [sic] getting the certification. I hope that clears things up for you.
I'm not going to learn anything new from writing 12 more reviews on watches I've never seen. I was "accepted" to this internship from "a large pool of people" based on my writing samples, so clearly I don't need to add 15 watch reviews to it. This feels to me like a way to exploit new/young writers for cheap labor. Your ad has been removed from Craigslist but there was mention of a Pioneer Square office, which I can't find any evidence of. Also, your certificate holds no accreditations in the writing world so that "certificate" means nothing. I guess it's my own fault for trusting someone named Izzy from Florida.
As a freelance writer, having quality writing samples is important. I have newspaper and blog experience that showcases my writing ability. Including 15 watch reviews wouldn’t help my portfolio. Will this make me happy? No. Will this make me money? No. Creative Clicks is exploiting young and new writers by promising them experience, but really just using it as an excuse to get cheap labor. I did some research and couldn’t find any evidence that the certificate they were offering holds any sort of merit in the business-writing world. Izzy never responded to my last email and I didn’t continue with the internship, meaning that I wouldn’t receive the $12 for the six reviews I wrote. I could barely buy a sandwich and Coke with that so I wasn’t too worried.
I think I would have realized this was a bad opportunity much earlier if I wasn’t so desperate for work these days. It’s closing in on five months and I’m losing faith in myself. A paid writing job is ideal, but I’m ready for almost anything. Except, of course, writing about watch straps for women with petite wrists.