I'm in a dire professional situation. Please help me process what just happened and plan my next move. I just got fired from an internship in my last week after slaving away for six months with little appreciation.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (53 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I apologize for the length but this story has many layers and I’m having trouble telling which are important.
I’m 30 years old. I finished college at a later age (28) because of severe depression, but managed to persevere and graduate from a good school. I discovered while working on my thesis project that I loved and had a knack for casting. After college I spent a year saving up money working at a cafe so I could move to NY and start my career. I was a supervisor there and the staff loved me, which boosted my confidence. I also did a part time internship at a local casting agency. The staff there praised my hard work and reliability. The only weakness they gave me feedback on was that they felt I was too anxious and shy to handle the demands of a permanent assistant position. Still, I left with a great letter of recommendation. I found an agency in NY that I thought would be a good fit for my skills. I had a few doubts going in that I chose to ignore. I got an off vibe from the boss when I interviewed there based on how she spoke to her employees and I also felt uncomfortable with the fact that I was told on my first day that an intern can be fired at will without explanation.
There are two female bosses: let’s call them Gwen and Sandra. Gwen is the boss-boss. They are close friends and very similar but Gwen is overtly abrasive and critical while Sandra is a bit nicer on the surface. They are both self-absorbed, harsh people.
A junior supervisor (I’ll call him David) took me under his wing and was warm by comparison to the others. He knew I was looking for a place to live and offered to let me sublet a room in his apartment. Although it was a great deal, I had obvious concerns about the arrangement, but he turned out to be very nice and we became good friends.
The internship started out intense and Gwen was super demanding but I put everything into my work. Two months in Gwen and Sandra both praised me, called me a “gem.” Sandra told me she was impressed by my work and excited to see how I evolved.
Around this time I made a couple of serious mistakes. I volunteered to come in five days a week rather than three, and, in a burst of overconfidence, I quit my job at the cafe. My reasoning for coming in more was that at my previous part time internship I never felt my bosses had the chance to get to know my abilities. Because I’m shy, I feel that people sometimes need more exposure to me appreciate my potential. I also hoped my bosses would be impressed by my work ethic. I was already thinking of quitting my job at the café because one of the bosses there was a nightmare and about half of the other staff had already left. But I quit that job intending to immediately look for another. Instead, I found that I was given so much work at the internship that I was spending my weekends working as well and it would have been impossible for me to squeeze in more commitments. I still had enough money to support myself for a few months but I was running low.
A temporary assistant position opened up that seemed like a good fit for me. David said he would put in a good word for me, and he did. Ultimately she decided she wanted somebody with more experience, which seemed fair.
I ended up working longer and longer hours, more than any other intern, partly because Gwen kept demanding more from me the more I got involved. It was a massive project that required about twice the number of staff, so I was doing the job of two or three people. Often I would stay until midnight or work on the weekends because she kept piling on more and demand instant completion. I was losing sleep. Meanwhile she had decided not to hire an assistant and was basically using me as a free assistant while she spent thousands of dollars on clothes, bikini waxes and retreats (all of which I had to invoice).
She was working on a film and I ended up planning 90% of the details of a huge cross country research trip she did as well as finding and interviewing local assistants for her. I know that I did good work as my research panned out. But she seemed more critical of me and rarely thanked me. Concerned friends and other interns approached me and said they felt I was being exploited. I wanted to cut back my days but I felt trapped because, given her personality, I feared she would think less of me if I did. I didn’t want to destroy all of the work I had contributed. I’ve always had trouble asserting my boundaries and often find myself in compromised situations with narcissists. I also don’t have high self-confidence and I feel that I have to overcompensate for my weaknesses, like my shyness, in order to gain approval. At this time I was still in good standing with her, although I increasingly got the sense she didn’t much respect or like me. The more critical she became, the more tense and awkward I felt in her presence. Sometimes my voice would shake or the wrong words would tumble out. Despite knowing how damaging insecurity is in a professional setting, I couldn’t seem to fake confidence.
I’m good when it comes to research, management and creative planning but organization and details are not my strength. Unfortunately both Gwen and Sandra are control freaks despite being messes themselves. One day I opened a document I had saved to the server to discover that none of my changes had been saved. It wasn’t an important document and David told me this happens with the server all the time but Gwen fixated on it even after he explained to her that it wasn’t my fault. I later found out from David that she had wanted to fire me at this point but he had talked her out of it.
The day after this happened she left for the two-month trip that I had planned without ever thanking me for my work. With her absence I hoped things would settle down but even from afar she was micromanaging and emailing me constantly with more demands. Around this time Sandra asked for my help with a project. I did my best to be on my toes but despite triple checking an excel document I overlooked another typo in an email. She complained that I had made two errors. One was the typo but the other mistake was actually hers --I had copied down an email address she had written for me incorrectly.
This was the only mistake I had ever made working with her but after this she no longer wanted my help and started developing another intern who is more organized but worse at research. It was such a disappointment because I had worked closely with her on a much more difficult project which I actually managed for a day while she was away and she had praised me at the time. In general in that office it always felt like all that mattered was the present, and one slip could erase months of good work.
I decided that instead of working on my weaknesses maybe it would be better for me to focus on my strengths, so I started helping them more with research and also scouting for people on the street. I did a test scout for Gwen and she praised me on the people I found.
David also told me that Gwen was actually considering hiring me to scout for her on a new job that had just come in. That weekend I volunteered to scout at a large festival, which was expensive and put a serious hole in my pocket. David thought it was odd that Gwen never offered to cover my expenses as she had for past interns who had scouted at events for her. I spent three straight days on my feet in the heat for 10 hours at a time approaching strangers. I came back that Monday feeling exhausted but proud of my effort.
That night while I was in the office with David, Gwen called his cell. I could tell she was being very critical of me because he repeatedly defended me saying, “well, she IS good at research, hard working, and she has a good eye.” After he got off the phone I said to him, “she was trashing me…” and he said, “Yes.” He told me that basically Sandra had told Gwen earlier that day that I’m “not good at anything.” Gwen had been considering hiring me to scout but decided not to after talking to Sandra, even though neither had bothered to even look at my photos yet.
I was devastated. I have basically devoted all of my spare time to this job, and I knew I had done good work and contributed a ton. It’s true that my organization isn’t perfect but neither of them has ever criticized my research.
Then David revealed to me that both women had been extremely negative about me from the day I first started. A month in they complained that I was “weird” and had an “off energy” but could never point to anything specifically that I did wrong. Neither had wanted me to work with them on an important project because they didn’t want me around clients, but David had convinced them to give me a chance. In the end they had been very pleased with my work and had thanked him for recommending me. It was hard to hear this. I often fear that I come off awkwardly because of my social anxiety and it’s something I try so much to control. I remember how hard I was trying that week to be helpful and efficient, totally unaware of how they were picking me apart me behind my back.
Anyway a few days after this conversation Gwen looked at my photos and acknowledged that I had found good people. She suggested that I spend the next weekend scouting again but she didn’t offer to pay me for my work. She also hired another more experienced scout whom she did pay.
Again I spent two 10-hour days on my feet under the sun.
It took her a week to look at my photos despite checking out the other scout’s photos immediately and deciding they weren’t satisfactory. When she finally did, she said that my work was much better.
That night when I came home I made a terrible mistake. Our office had received hundreds of audition videos over the last few months. I emailed one of the videos I was excited about to a trusted old friend who is a fellow appreciator of actors. It was an audition of a non-actor. He’s somebody outside the industry who would never share that material with a soul. In retrospect I realize how wrong it was, but at the time I was unaware of the legal ramifications as I had barely skimmed the NDA I signed at the beginning of my internship (completely my fault).
A few minutes later I received a call from my Gwen. It was midnight so I knew something was wrong. She told me that she had received a phone call from somebody and gave my friend’s name. She asked me who he was. I told her. She said, “No, we didn’t receive a call. We saw your email with the video that you sent to your friend. My assistant showed it to me.” She told me that I was fired. The rest of the conversation is a blur but it came to light that her assistant had been snooping in my personal email from the office because he got a notification that a video was downloaded from their server.
That night David called Gwen to calm her down. He told me that she was afraid of what I would do next because she thinks I’m “crazy obsessive” and “have no life.”
The next morning I received a strangely warm (and possibly manipulative) email from her reiterating why I had been fired but also complimenting me on my “wonderful dedication” and “great eye.”
I wrote her back a long apology. I asked whether I would be able to use her as a reference so I could salvage the company as a line on my resume. I told her I would understand if she didn’t feel comfortable giving me one but just to let me know either way. She never responded.
Later that day I got a message from Sandra saying that she was sorry about how things had unfolded and that she had appreciated the recent work I had done for her. She ended the email by asking whether I would “give up” the contact information of the people I had scouted so they could use them for a project (I had only given them the photographs so far). Again, I felt manipulated but I didn’t want to antagonize them further so I sent her all of the information that she requested. I also hoped that she might give me a reference even if Gwen would not.
That night I got another email from her asking for more contacts and saying that she wanted to “gently remind” me that their company owned all rights to the photos I had taken. I could tell Gwen had put her up to writing this as Sandra seemed apologetic and uneasy in the email. I was pretty disturbed as I had never been paid for my work, my expenses hadn’t even been covered, and I had done it on my own time, voluntarily, using my own equipment. I had planned to use some of the photos in a portfolio for myself to get work with other companies, but now that wouldn’t even be possible. But still I wrote back that I was fine with that arrangement. I asked her if she would personally give me a reference. She never responded.
I have to say this is by far the most discouraging professional experience I’ve had. Never have I worked so hard for so little appreciation. It was particularly devastating for me to hear that they were against me from the start because they found me “weird” in some vague way. I’m starting to wonder whether I’ll be able to ever get my foot in the door at any company.
I know I that have talent and ability but I’m concerned that I’ll never have the opportunity to properly show it. It’s true that personality is important in the industry but I haven't been so personally scrutinized for my demeanor since middle school. Are there ways of working around this for somebody who is socially awkward? I thought doing good work and being reliable would be enough but it obviously isn’t.
Advice on moving forward and what to do differently next time?