The Employment Interview and Free Labor

And, I am back! I am so glad that spring semester is over–it was a rough one. During the semester (and before grad school) I had been, and continue to be, job hunting. I am a critic of unpaid internships, so I  have been thinking about the topic of extraction of free labor during the job interview for quite some time. This post will by no means be a scholarly approach to the topic. That is, some discussions only require common sense.

I don’t think that people should work for free. You give people, corporations, and small businesses an inch, and they will take a mile. I speak from experience, as I have worked somewhat independently for the past seven years. I was a practicing clinical massage therapist. In short, I’ve done my share of free labor for marketing, and it did nothing for my business. People and potential clients took me for granted. They would come to my chair or table without showering, and wouldn’t tip because they felt as if I was making enough, or simply did not care. Perhaps they thought I was on public assistance? In any case, I was an excellent massage therapist, who took special pride in my work and clients.

Side Bar: Schools are notorious for recommending that students (undergraduate, graduate, and so on) work for free. They know that students have expenses and STUDENT LOANS to pay for, yet, they continue to promote this to the student body and local businesses. My current school/program does this, and it is a bad practice. These companies (located in a major metropolitan area) can, at least, afford to pay minimum wage.

I stopped practicing because I was investing more money than I received, or I was not getting a good return on my investment. I did what a business person does; called clients, participated in networking events, and talked to friends to build my business. And it did not work. I just had a former client call me for a massage after avoiding me for five years. She wanted a specific modality that I hadn’t practiced in two years, so I tried to find her a referral. Here is where my story of free labor begins.

I spent several days trying to track down a massage therapist for her (as she said that she had gotten sicker since we last saw each other.) At the end of this process I wasted many unpaid hours, and she had found a therapist on her own. Why on earth did she not do that in the first place? And why on earth did I do that for her? I learned from that. I felt sorry for her, but she has access to more resources than me. She is well off and has access to the most expensive health care in my region. This is called “falling for the okedoke.”

I had a conversation with a person on Twitter about how not to give away your best ideas in an interview. Her complaint was that she had been on several interviews where she gave out her best ideas, heard that the company had implemented some if not all of them, and did not hire her. I’ve had similar experiences, and I am sure there are many who have had the same experience. I have been on several interviews where the interviewers asked “What would you do with this website? What would you do for this blog?,” etc. They took down my ideas with no intention to hire me. It’s possible that they have the position filled with an inside person, but do the interviews anyway. There are many explanations–even that they “found someone more qualified.” But there is still the problem of free labor.

My suggestion was to create a template of ideas, ideas that she didn’t feel emotionally attached to, and then use those. That was the only suggestion that I could come up with. I mean, we all want to impress potential employers, but the work begins in the first interview, and we are not compensated for ideas that they may use.

What do you think? Are there any solutions to this problem? I would love to get some feedback on it. In this age of free content (Twitter, blogs, etc.) What can the unemployed do to preserve some dignity?

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