Archive for July 2013

Every employer under the sun, whether the job is online or in your face, wants to hire qualified employees. This is why, when applying for work, we’re often asked for a resume or cover letter. The person hiring you wants to know that you can do the job efficiently with as little training as possible. When I worked for Amazon.com doing customer service, training was Monday through Friday, 9-5, and it was paid at minimum wage. The entire time I was in training, I didn’t take one customer service call. I really did no work for Amazon or the company that hired me, Alpine Access. And yet, I was still paid. Minimum wage might be a shitty worthless amount to pay someone but before taxes those two weeks earned me a shiny $600. So why pay me to train when I’m not even taking calls? Because it is in their best interest to make sure that when I do start taking calls, that I am knowledgable and the best at my job. When I started training I figured I would never be able to do the job. By the time training was over I was confident in what I’d learned. The training I received made me a better worker, which benefitted the company I worked for. That’s why I was paid.

Also, a person’s education level and work history are the two beacons of light that shine so brightly on a person’s work potential. I see a psychologist once a week. He received his Ph.D from Hofstra. He was hired based on his level of education and work experience. Once it was determined that he was properly qualified, he was hired and paid for his work. Nowhere under the sun will you find employers expecting educated, qualified individuals to do work for free. Unless you’re a freelance writer.

Recently, I applied for a job on Craigslist to be the editor of a romance website. It actually later turned out that the guy hiring me was a crook (Google “Alex Hammer” and the word “scam”), but it didn’t occur to me that his requests were extreme or unfair (24 articles in 2 weeks, for no pay, as some sort of “trial”), and that’s because in the world of freelance writing and editing, you are almost always asked to either write or edit something before getting hired. For free. A large majority of these companies are not scam artists. I worked as a transcription editor for a very legitimate company. I sent them my resume, which explained my work history and my Masters degree. And yet, when they responded to my application, it was to send me a “test,” to see how efficient I would be at editing some transcribed audio interviews. Why? I have an MA in English. I spent almost nine years learning how to write and how to edit. I know what makes good grammar good, and I know what makes good grammar great. I know what a semi-colon is and when to use it; I know what a dangling modifier is and where to put punctuation within quotation marks. I know about the Oxford comma. In fact, the job only required a Bachelors degree, so not only was I qualified and in no need of a “test,” but I was overly qualified. To make matters worse, the people who hired me supply all editors with a .pdf of all their grammar and style rules, thereby rendering a test useless. And yet, a test I was sent. Now I had a choice to not take the test; I’m sure some do refuse. But if I’d refused I wouldn’t have been hired, so what do you do when you need money and there are hundreds if not thousands of people just like you willing to do start-off work for free. So I completed the test, passed it, and was promptly hired.

But should I have declined? It seems that my field is the only field in which this type of thing is not only accepted but seen as downright normal. Can you imagine a doctor applying for a job, straight out of med school, done with his residency, and his employer says, “You seem to have all the right stuff. Here’s a guy with an illness. Fix him and then send us the results. We’ll get back to you within 72 hours.” Never. It’s so ridiculous it’s laughable. My mother was a teacher for 35 years. No one ever said, “Oh, you have a degree in Education? OK, teach these kids for free for a few days and if we like your style we’ll hire you.” Would never happen. My father owned his own barber shop so he didn’t have a boss. But can you imagine if somoene had hired him and asked him to do a few haircuts for free? He’d refuse, because he has a degree from the Vaughn School of Barbering (that’s a real place, or at least it was). His final exam was to shave a balloon without making it pop. No one would “test” him. No one would be that presumptuous.

And yet, in my field not only is it usually almost always expected of you, it’s glossed over as some sort of standard aspect of the job application process. And it shouldn’t be. I have an MA in English. I have written and edited all over this fucking world wide web and I’m damn good at what I do. I’m versatile; I know WordPress (obviously), and I am versed in many different formats. I also ran my own editing website for some time, so not only do I know how to edit, I also know how to run a business.

But none of this matters. As it always has been, so it always will be. The next time I need a job, I’ll send in my application and in return I’ll get an email with a buttload of information. I’m supposed to do work for free so that strangers can use said work to assess whether or not I’m good enough for their company. But you’d be surprised the level of work people do when they aren’t getting paid for it. Refusal is pointless. All that does is give someone else your spot and your money. What really needs to happen is for all the freelance writers and editors to band together and form a real coalition in which we strongly and openly refuse to work for free. Until that happens, we’re allowing ourselves to be ripped off by greedy employers who are simply taking advantage of young people’s desperation in this bad economy. If you wouldn’t ask a doctor, teacher, barber, bus driver, waiter, or astronaut to do free work and call it a “test,” then why ask writers? Intellectual property is still property. And the sooner we ALL realize that, the sooner we can start getting paid.