How to process bad internship experience?
June 23, 2014 11:38 PM   Subscribe

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.

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?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (53 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
These two women don't represent all people. I have no idea how socially awkward you are, but I don't see a reason to give up your dream based on what you've written here. After all, you have had other coworkers who did appreciate you, and the people you scouted were comfortable enough.
posted by amtho at 11:47 PM on June 23, 2014

Yeah, so, you were vastly taken advantage of by two catty women who apparently got a whiff of your insecurity and used it as an opportunity to dig in and be sort of evil. Which bullies do sometimes. It's how they work. And it sounds like you did a lot of work at their company and you won't get much out of it. You didn't make a vast mistake by sending off the video to the non-industry person, you made a normal human type error and you took the fall because these people had decided in advance that they didn't like you, except when they were whimsical enough to admit that they appreciated everything you did for them.

But here's the thing - you had a part in the way everything went down because you 1. decided to work for their company for free, 2. decided to work ridiculous hours and bend over backwards for people who were apparently not giving you any monetary compensation or appreciation whatsoever, 3. didn't stand up to them at any point (or leave) despite their repeatedly egregious treatment toward someone who was essentially working for free. They were using you to a ridiculous extent, but you were also proffering yourself up to be their doormat.

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.

This is so incorrect. I feel your pain because I am shy too and I struggle with this, but you're wrong that she would have thought less of you if you had laid down your boundaries and made it clear what you would and would not accept. It seems like all your actual work is fine - if you have anything to prove to people, just work on proving that you deserve decent treatment/working conditions.

Anyway, cut your losses because although it sucks, it's more a matter of wasted time and effort than some black mark on your resume. I've had personal "crossroads" moments in my life where the choice was between believing that the reason I was rejected for something or by someone was because I was permanently deficient or believing that I'm imperfect but essentially good enough and smart enough so fuck them. This might be your crossroads moment where you choose how you cast this in your internal narrative. I would advise if you have any further communication with the ex-bosses that it be terse and possibly skirting the boundary of bitchy as if to say, "Screw you too" if in not so many words. Because better late than never!
posted by mermily at 12:16 AM on June 24, 2014 [34 favorites]

You got your foot in the door here. You'll get in somewhere else, too. Ask David if he'll be a reference, since it sounds like he appreciates your work, and start looking for a new job and/or internship.

In most companies, doing good work and being reliable is what matters--I've seen some amazingly awkward people remain in positions because they were great at that one thing. That this one company doesn't work like that doesn't mean that they all will.

Also, in the future, if people are treating you badly disengage. Don't work harder and harder trying to impress them--my experience is that it pretty much never works, and you end up stressed, burnt out, and no further ahead than you started out. This situation had a lot of red flags, and your lack of self-confidence convinced you to ignore all of them. You deserve better than this.
posted by MeghanC at 12:18 AM on June 24, 2014 [35 favorites]

You are going to be OK. You can bounce back from this.

1. You made a bad mistake by leaking company information. So don't do that again.

They weren't 'snooping' in your email. It was company email that they were entitled to access. You erred in using company email for personal uses, and then again in leaking confidential information. Best practice is to never use work email for personal stuff. Keep your Gmail or whatever open in another browser window and use that for personal communications, or use your phone.

2. You know you were not bad at this job. You were good at it, by your description. But you need to accept that your bosses were exploitative, manipulate assholes. Your bosses' crappy ad-hominem criticisms are unlikely to actually have been about you personally. I have worked with this kind of person before - they think that the best way to extract the most value and best performance with you is to always be dissatisfied with your work (whether it's good work or not), to force to you always be working harder to satisfy them (which you can't do). They didn't care about you as a person, they weren't interested in training you. You were just a tool. It was not feasible for you to get the kind of positive feedback you were looking for.

3. You need to learn to set boundaries. They were able to force you work crazy hours because you were too afraid to say no, because you are new to the industry and eager to please. Don't feel bad about this - it's very common. However, in future, when faced with unreasonable requests, you need to learn to say "I'm sorry, that won't be possible". You need to speak up when workloads become unmanageable - this is not only bad for you personally, but bad for the company as work quality will decline and deadlines will be missed when you are overworked.

4. Not all bosses and companies are going to be like these two assholes. You will be able to find another outfit that is run by decent human beings. So update that resume and start sending them out! You can spin this as a 6 month internship that came to an end. Great experience yada yada, but now you need to find something which (a) pays, and (b) allows you a bit more responsibility. This may take time, but be patient. Looking for jobs is hard work.

5. References. You can't use either of your crackerjack ex-bosses as a reference. Even if they decide that they are willing, you cannot trust them. Ask David to be your reference.

People get fired every day. They feel crappy about it for a while. Then they get on with their lives, apply for new jobs, and eventually get one. This is not a career-ender for you. It's just a bump in the road.

Good luck.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 12:19 AM on June 24, 2014 [5 favorites]

Just to clarify they were snooping in my personal email, not my company email.

Goddamn, that's fucked. You are better off out of this place.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 12:24 AM on June 24, 2014 [11 favorites]

I'm sorry this has happened, and your anxiety is understandable. If you really want to reflect on what went down, I think one thing to consider is how much trait ascription bias may have been at play on both sides. The judgments you heard made about you second-hand sound to me a bit like some of the judgments you made about Gwen and Sandra. You're all probably much more variable than you perceived each other to be, but by chance, with David, you enjoyed the positivity effect, and with the others, you faced the opposite. Then, you screwed up with the video, and that was the end of the job. That's all.

I don't know anything about your industry, but I do have two suggestions about general interpersonal stuff. One is be ultra careful about ownership of work product, separating work and personal email, and not sharing things you see or learn about at work, because that was a lapse in judgment, and I think it really was the main issue here--even someone who liked you might have had to let you go for that. But two, learn to recognize when someone tends to err in your favor or not so that you get out of bad situations sooner and associate with people who're more often on your side. It's natural to wish for it, but don't seek approval from people who don't seem to like you. Move on to other situations where people who do like you genuinely appreciate your hard work. If you're able to manage that, the 'shyness,' 'weirdness,' etc.--all of which is hard to differentiate from mythologization and cognitive distortion anyway--at least won't have as much practical impact, even if you're still worried about it.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 12:26 AM on June 24, 2014 [4 favorites]

Incidentally, the assistant who snooped in your personal email is a whole separate ball of crap. At a minimum, that's appalling.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 12:30 AM on June 24, 2014

It's worth remembering in the future that, generally speaking, if you're accessing your personal email on a work computer/phone/whatever, work now has the right to read your personal email. You probably signed something when you started that acknowledged that you computer use might be monitored--this is pretty much what they mean when they say that. If keeping your information private is important to you, don't access it through company-provided anything, ever. If you really really have to, don't leave yourself logged in and cross your fingers that they don't have a keylogger running.

Everywhere I've ever worked has had a policy whereby if you're caught sharing confidential information, with anyone, you're going to be fired. It's probably best to assume that this is the policy everywhere.
posted by MeghanC at 12:51 AM on June 24, 2014 [8 favorites]

Try to frame your "bad internship experience" as a stepping stone, because it gave you the opportunity to gain a deeper self-awareness that will be very valuable in your personal and professional development.

Hopefully you emerged through this with a better understanding of your strengths, of what workplace treatment you will not tolerate, of the value in learning how to process discouraging experiences constructively and with faith in better things to come.
posted by tackypink at 1:42 AM on June 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yeah, you were taken advantage of, but you also really, really fucked up. Sorry, but I worked in the entertainment industry and NDA's and other confidential documents are serious shit. Stop minimizing your mistake. I had a recurring nightmare when I worked at [Redacted Studio] about accidentally emailing confidential info to the wrong people.

I apologize for the length but this story has many layers and I’m having trouble telling which are important.

The layer that's important is that you shared confidential information that should not have been shared. And you got fired for it.


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).

is why you were fired.

Everywhere I've ever worked has had a policy whereby if you're caught sharing confidential information, with anyone, you're going to be fired. It's probably best to assume that this is the policy everywhere.

Yep. They weren't snooping your personal email if you were at work using their server. Sorry.

For the rest of it:

If you're not a good fit at a company, cut your losses and try to find a new position elsewhere. For whatever reason, your boss didn't like you. Instead of dwelling on why, and oh it's so unfair, and blah blah blah - suck it up and muddle through until you get what you need out of the experience, or move on. I was a producer's assistant on a TV show and my boss hated me, but I think she also liked having me around because she brought me back for a second season. I did my job, I made friends with other departments, and I got the fuck out of there. If I had found a better job while I was working there, I would have happily jumped ship. Don't make it personal. It's not personal. It's business. Check your ego and your feelings at the door as much as possible. You're a human being, I know, but try to not let the stupid stuff get you down. Even trying - just trying - will make it better. Try to rise above, and you will.

You mention feeling unappreciated. No one feels appreciated at their jobs in glamour fields. It's a rough working environment, kiddo. Toughen up. I got out because I wanted to do something else, but I am forever grateful for my thick, thick skin.

You also bring up frustration with the expectation that entry level employees need to be hyper organized while bosses can be messy. Guess what? That's the pretty much par for the course in every industry.

Sara C. has written some great posts about how to transition from working as an intern to working as a paid employee and I hope she chimes in, but anyway: Whenever I have had the opportunity to hire an intern for a paid gig, or to hire anyone for an entry level gig, I've picked someone who was good at the job that I needed them to do. Not someone who was super nice and had put in the time, but someone who made everyone else's life easier. Maybe you were that person and you were unfairly passed over. But it's possible that you weren't, so try to figure out how to be that person for the next job.

And for the love of god, do not share confidential information with people who shouldn't have it.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 2:14 AM on June 24, 2014 [28 favorites]

Keep your Gmail or whatever open in another browser window and use that for personal communications, or use your phone.

Don't do that. Some people hold that any data going through company pond is their data. Use your phone (and not through company wi-fi).
posted by hal_c_on at 3:19 AM on June 24, 2014 [6 favorites]

Just to clarify they were snooping in my personal email, not my company email.

Damn. Yeah. First you are better off without them. Second, never ever use any company pond for any personal business.
posted by hal_c_on at 3:21 AM on June 24, 2014

I think you are one of those people who doesn't realize how much drama you invite into your own life. In your persoective, everything is something that has happened to you but there are so many points in this story when you could have asserted yourself and stopped playing a victim.

You were manipulated because you allowed yourself to be. At the same time most real jobs aren't like college where there is constant praise for doing well. I think you're too focused on liking everyone - you will not get along with some people you work with but they can still respect you. You basically allowed your bosses to disrespect you because you never respected yourself.

And as stated above, consider anything you do on a work computer to be monitored. You're responsible for knowing what anything you sign says, regardless of whether you actually read it.

You'll get through this, but adknowledge the part you played.
posted by Aranquis at 3:21 AM on June 24, 2014 [17 favorites]

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).

There is no excuse for this, especially not "I didn't read what I signed". Your work environment sucked, your bosses sucked. Your colleagues sucked. But you messed up big time.

1. Read everything you sign.
2. Abide by it.
3. Don't do personal stuff on company pond.
posted by hal_c_on at 3:25 AM on June 24, 2014

I didn't read all your post.. but about half. Sorry you've had this hellish time. A few quick thoughts before I fly out the door! - Check out Tim Fields work on workplace bullying.. know the script and your vulnerabilities to better take care of them next time.

Somewhere earlier in life you were likely taught you had to give everything away for little in return and by the way.. it's truly ok to feel really fucking angry about that! Think about therapy to start flushing this out and learning 'another language'.

Don't be quick to assume they didn't like you personally (believe me I get how that assumption feels!).. my guess would be they never really saw you.. you were an object to them and/or there is a buried layer of envy somewhere. Personally the worst workplace bullying I ever had seemed to be from older women and this has resonated with other women I've spoken to.

In the future, it's possible you may be uber-sensitive to behaviours you perceive as similar to some of the stuff displayed by those two so think about what could help with that.. an invisible shield you pull around you as and when?

The weirdest one I ever had was a narc older female boss who'd given me a load of crap. I saw her trotting across the carpark and was dreading our interaction. I forced myself to go against myself and was very warm and welcoming. By the end she was eating out my hand. It was just strange. Did I feel fake? yep.. it was grim. It was also self protective.

Think about who people in authority become to you and working with a therapist to try and heal the initial wound. Good luck, I hear it's do-able.
posted by tanktop at 3:41 AM on June 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

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.... she was afraid of what I would do next because she thinks I’m “crazy obsessive” and “have no life.”

See what happened there? All of the extra effort you put into your internship got spun as a negative.

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.

Think about working on this. You channeled your anxiety into hard work. Good, in theory. In practice it meant that you spent all your time doing work instead of making Sandra and Gwen feel good about themselves, possibly because you were really anxious about interacting with them.

My impression of the entertainment industry is that it doesn't have a lot of room for shy, anxious people. Those personality traits are why we have jobs like accounting, pathology, and programming. So you really need to address those issues.
posted by deanc at 3:48 AM on June 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Ask David for a reference and advice/contacts for landing your next job.
posted by Jacqueline at 4:27 AM on June 24, 2014 [7 favorites]

They sound like horrible bosses so you'll be better off in the long run. One lesson to take away from this is never be the workplace martyr- you won't be praised for your efforts and sacrifice, you'll be viewed as naive and weak and get stuck with all the lousy tasks no one else wants to do.
posted by emd3737 at 4:35 AM on June 24, 2014 [5 favorites]

Keep your Gmail or whatever open in another browser window and use that for personal communications, or use your phone.

Don't do that. Some people hold that any data going through company pond is their data. Use your phone (and not through company wi-fi).

Technically, hal_c_on is correct on this. In practice, vanishingly few employers are scrutinising their data streams like this. But be risk adverse, use your phone.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:52 AM on June 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

The layer that's important is that you shared confidential information that should not have been shared. And you got fired for it.

Worth repeating. This is why you were fired. It was a very bad mistake, and arguably warranted your being firing. But it doesn't have to end your career. And in any case, you were in a toxic work environment. Getting fired from that job will almost certainly be a a good thing for you in the long run.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:56 AM on June 24, 2014 [9 favorites]

The reason it's important that you realize why you got fired here is because all of the rest of your story is essentially about making yourself feel better, which suggests that you may have a hard time learning from your mistake here. That mistake was sharing company information with someone outside of the company. That's why you got fired, and you would have gotten fired from a good place to work as rapidly as you got fired from this allegedly bad place to work.

I'm frankly not sure what to believe in your wall of text, especially in relation to other questions you have asked here. I would suggest that you consider how you are contributing to situations that become dramatic sinks for your time, attention, and self-worth. For instance, you are not in a "dire professional situation." As near as I can tell, you got fired for cause from an unpaid job. You are arguably in a better situation now than you were before you emailed company IP to someone who had no business receiving it.
posted by OmieWise at 5:14 AM on June 24, 2014 [26 favorites]

You were definitely taken advantage of, but it was a good lesson to learn: you can't get people to like you by not standing up for yourself. You might think they like you better, but they're just being friendly so they can take advantage. And they're losing respect for you.

You are better off without this place, they were obviously never going to offer you any kind of pay when you would work for free. In my reading, this is honestly the best case scenario. You got the experience, and a significant amount of it. If you'd continued working there, you would have just kept getting stretched thinner and thinner and using up your savings. From how you describe them, Gwen and Sandra never had enough integrity to be dependable references any way that this might have ended, even if you felt that it was on a positive note. Now, you've been forced to quit this dead-end opportunity, you have David as a reference, and you're in a great spot to look for work that pays you. Plus, it seems like it would be easy for you to find work in a cafe while you look for a job in your field, so you have a viable plan for pulling money in, and rebuilding your confidence.
posted by geegollygosh at 5:38 AM on June 24, 2014 [6 favorites]

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.

Just use David as your reference.

Anyway, I can see that you feel taken advantage of, and you were. I will note though that you write this as though letting yourself be taken advantage of is some kind of positive thing that people should respond to by giving you stuff or appreciating you. It's not. It's a shitty quality and in fact, it makes other people feel bad even if they benefit from it. So try not to do it anymore.
posted by the young rope-rider at 5:56 AM on June 24, 2014 [16 favorites]

Also, I mean, you sent some person's casting video to a random outside person. There are two options here:

1. Your friend doesn't work in the business, but you thought it was amusing, interesting, hot, whatever. Well, the person in the video didn't make it for your consumption and your friends' amusement. They made it to try to get a job, and they had an expectation of privacy. This is the equivalent of sending a friend someone's resume for kicks. It's not okay, no matter what you signed.

2. Your friend does work in the business, and you were sending them confidential business materials, which is so obviously no OK from a business & ethical perspective that I won't even take the time to explain it.

It doesn't matter if you were Super Doormat before then. You can't earn the right to do shitty, thoughtless things because you were really martyr-iffic. Or, to simplify, two wrongs don't make a right.

Start being responsible, genuinely responsible, for taking care of yourself and for doing the right thing. Or continue to experience these situations where people refuse to parent you as deep betrayals. Your call.
posted by the young rope-rider at 6:05 AM on June 24, 2014 [28 favorites]

I’ve always had trouble asserting my boundaries and often find myself in compromised situations with narcissists.

To be blunt, if you cannot grow a massive amount of spine to stand up for yourself, you should not be in the entertainment industry, because it is *filled* with people that will extract every bit of value from everyone they come across and discard them with little thought. Recall the recent story of the camerawoman who was killed while shooting a movie on the railway bridge. They're not always nasty and malicious like the two women you dealt with - often they're very charming - but it sounds like you will let yourself get used and used.

Their treatment of you sounds illegal under labor law - a company cannot simply declare a position to be an internship and not have to pay for it. There's rules regulating it which it doesn't sound like they came close to meeting.

You are a perfect victim who ignored repeated multiple red flags and effectively paid your hard earned money to build their business. Do you have it in you to change so this doesn't happen again? I would give some honest thought to filing labor law claims against them, getting a settlement, and leaving the industry.
posted by Candleman at 6:19 AM on June 24, 2014 [9 favorites]

I think you learned at least a couple of valuable lessons from this internship:

1. Piling on work and setting no boundaries doesn't result in your getting promoted, hired, or even appreciated. You need to set limits on what you are able to and willing to do and stick by them. People tend to keep adding to your workload until you either tell them to stop or make a mistake.

2. Attention to detail is super-important. Small mistakes can mean a big difference in someone's work product, so always be incredibly careful with work that goes out in your name.

3. Being "good at" your job isn't always enough. Being better at an aspect of your job doesn't trump being the person someone wants to work with.

4. Never, EVER share company confidential information. It doesn't matter if you didn't read your NDA were an intern, but you're not 19, so you should know that company property is company property and you can't just send it to your friends on a whim.
posted by xingcat at 6:22 AM on June 24, 2014 [3 favorites]

How did they get into your personal email? That may even be illegal. It will help you a lot if you develop a more critical approach to others, not just yourself. Write a sample recommendation based on the excellent work you did, send it to them and tell them you expect a positive reference based on your excellent unpaid work.

I recently read one of those motivational articles which said People will treat you the way you let them. It's true in my case, it's hard to develop the confidence to not get hurt by assholes, but in reality, the world is full of jerks, and full of okay people who will be jerks when things get difficult. Developing a more assertive approach, while trying not to be a jerk, is the only way to protect yourself.
posted by theora55 at 6:26 AM on June 24, 2014 [3 favorites]

You did do something wrong, but you leaked essentially worthless information to an otherwise uninterested 3rd party. This was harmless this time but would be bad if you had actually leaked internal company information that actually had significant financial value or legal restrictions around it. That said, if you had been in the good graces of your employers, I can see how you would have had an expectation of getting away with a reprimand. But consider what happened here-- you did all that extra work and your contributions were not considered valuable enough that your employers thought they couldn't do without you-- in fact they seem to have felt a degree of relief that you weren't working with them.

If you want to stay in the entertainment industry, it sounds like you will have to do some soul searching about who you want to be as a person and whether you can change, or whether you should look for fields in which brute force hard work is more likely to pay off.
posted by deanc at 6:28 AM on June 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Unpaid internships like this are illegal. That's not to say that you might not decide to take something similar again, but I would think long and hard about it, and technically, you probably have a case against them. Like others have said, the entertainment industry also might be a tough fit for your personality. The people you worked for sound terrible, but probably also not so unusual, and you have to be thick-skinned enough to stand up for yourself. You can practice that now by writing a sample recommendation letter, as suggested above, and then requesting that they write a letter for you. At a minimum, ask David for a reference letter.

Bottom line, how to process what happened: it seems like there was a lot to learn in this experience. Maybe you could make a list of both the business-related skills you learned and a list of the things you've learned that you need to work on. That's useful information that you can take into your next job.
posted by three_red_balloons at 6:49 AM on June 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm going to ask you to do something difficult but if you can, try to look at this situation objectively so you can learn from it. What did you do right? You worked really hard at this gig.

What could you have done better? Besides the thing that got you fired, you let people walk all over you. I'd also say that it was a mistake to quit your cafe job because while it sounds like it also sucked, it made you less dependent on this job working out well. When you started seeing red flags about this job, you did not start applying for different gigs. You didn't do any networking along the way. You were told that being shy was problematic but instead of trying to be more assertive, you put in more hours.

Also, was this casting internship unpaid? Unpaid internships should not get that much of your time. When Gwen got really demanding, you didn't draw boundaries. "Hi Gwen, it's 6:30 p.m. so I'm heading out for the night but I'll work on that first thing Monday morning. Have a great weekend!" And instead of waiting for thank yous, ask how you're doing and what you could be doing better. It seems like you assumed that this internship would turn into a job. That's not how most internships work. Internships are supposed to be learning experiences, not slave labor.

In most jobs, you can get fired at any time for any reason, just as you can quit at any time for any reason. I try to put in the amount of work that I feel is appropriate and go home at the end of the day. I can make myself crazy by trying to do all of the things to the best of my ability and invent other things to do or I can put in the 40 hours of week that they are paying me to do, make the most of those 40 hours, then go home and pet my cat. I'm not a jerk about it - I don't start a timer at my desk and leave when it goes off, and I obviously stick around when needed. But I'm a professional adult and I believe that I should be compensated appropriately for my work and my time. Last year, a colleague was organizing volunteers for a weekend event and my director said that volunteers would get comp time - game on! This year, same event, no comp time - sorry, can't help.

I had two shitty jobs with unpleasant bosses right out of college. I got fired from one and felt devastated. But it was a good thing. I hated the kind of work that I was doing, I wasn't doing it well, and my colleagues weren't really nice to work with. Eventually I found a job where I had wonderful colleagues, did work I loved, and I was good at it. That sweet spot is hard to find but it is amazing when you find it. So don't stop looking for it until you do.

Side note: If/when, in your next interview, someone asks why you got fired, keep it very short and simple. My husband recently interviewed someone who told them a bonkers story about why he got fired which, while I'm inclined to believe that it's true, does not portray him in a positive light. People screw up and get fired. Things happen. But what matters is whether you learn from it and how you talk about it. Someone can probably offer a better way to phrase it than this but "I made a mistake related to a company policy that I was confused about. Now I know that I need to thoroughly understand policies so that doesn't happen again. I look forward to learning about the policies at this organization."
posted by kat518 at 7:07 AM on June 24, 2014 [14 favorites]

I understand your frustration. I just want to gently point out some misconceptions you seem to have in your post. These misconceptions seem to be helping you to focus too much on what others did wrong, in your mind, rather than on what you could've done differently.

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.

First, just so you know, that's the case for most of us in the working world here in the US. Unless you are working on a contract, or unless you're in a state that adds a few wrinkles to at-will employment, anyone can be fired for any reason- good cause, or because the management just doesn't want you around anymore.

Second, try not to take any more unpaid internships. My experience is that they don't help someone get future employment. On the contrary, they can hurt in many ways... to be frank with you, hiring managers see this sort of thing and wonder "if they're talented enough that they're worth me hiring them, why did they spend so long working for free?" Plus, there's the fact that these kinds of internships are flat out exploitative. I know that the film/TV/stage industry uses them and people will tell you they are expected in that industry, more than in any other industry, but still... too often they end up being a poor situation for an intern, and too often they're exploitative.

The day after this happened she left for the two-month trip that I had planned without ever thanking me for my work.

Third, unfortunately this is de rigeur in most jobs. If you rely too much on hearing praise and encouragement from your boss, you're going to be disappointed. I think most managers have the opinion that the pay you receive, or good comments on reviews, or simply continuing employment is thanks enough. I'm not commenting on whether that is right, I'm just saying that this is how it is in most workplaces in my experience.

That weekend I volunteered to scout at a large festival, which was expensive and put a serious hole in my pocket.

Fourth, you have to have some agency and some responsibility for what you volunteer for. In any job that's the case. If I go in to my boss's office today and volunteer to start a new project, I'm taking on the ups and downs that are related. You've got to think ahead about what you're volunteering to do, and about what you'll need to do it well (while maintaining your own sanity and wellbeing). You needed to volunteer for that festival while saying "and I'd be happy to go if you guys can cover the cost of X, Y, and Z. Bosses actually prefer people who do that. It shows that you can think ahead, anticipate expenses, have a realistic expectation about what a body of work will include, et cetera. Someone who just launches headfirst into a project is someone who can come off as foolhardy, immature, or ignorant.

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.

Fifth, managers are going to think these kinds of things about employees. It happens. While it's a bit ignorant or simplistic of your bosses to boil it down to that, and while it's awful to say this... I can understand why they'd think little of someone who lets them walk all over them, or someone that exhibits some of the behaviors you are describing of yourself, like having a hard time speaking, being extremely nervous, having a shaky voice, et cetera. See what I mean?

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.

Last, to me it sounds like nobody was snooping here. IT or an assistant noted that company information was being downloaded personally from their server for an unapproved purpose. Here's what's going through their minds: are we being hacked? Is someone trying to steal our info? Is our private info public on the web somewhere? Is this going to cost us money? When any job sees this happening they are going to get IT to dig in and find out what's going on, and most jobs have you sign an agreement stating that you accept that all of your communications using work equipment are open to investigation. This is certainly a case where just about any job would feel that investigation was warranted. Moving forward, you need to know that your communications shouldn't be raising red flags. But if they are, this kind of thing will happen, and it's likely you signed an agreement or a portion of your NDAs allowing them to investigate.

I won't get into the problems with sharing the video, which is a huge business no-no, as others have covered that already.

As others have pointed out, most of you wrote seems to be an effort to make yourself feel better and to downplay the mistakes you made, or the things you weren't aware of. I understand why- you're very disappointed right now. But if you want to find more success and satisfaction in your future jobs, you need to embrace and apply the lessons above.
posted by Old Man McKay at 7:10 AM on June 24, 2014 [17 favorites]

You can still use this experience on your resume, but you need to demonstrate that you've learned something from it. Listing experiences on your resume ≠ references.

I'd apply for other jobs with other agencies, when called in for an interview, condense your experience thusly, "I learned a lot with Ass and Hat Casting, I worked long hours, I handled some really interesting projects. The internship ended, and now I'm looking for a full-time position."

You may be asked about having learned something important, or a time when you really screwed up, this is what I'd say, "At Ass and Hat Casting, I was responsible for coordinating video submissions. I found one really compelling and shared it with a friend. I realize now that it was a huge lapse in judgment, and based on their policies, they ended my internship. I learned a lot from the internship, most importantly, non-disclosure and privacy are very important and I am responsible for protecting the company's interests."

I will tell you something about the entertainment industry. Nearly everyone in it is going to be like this. My sister worked in Hollywood and in nearly every intstance, the people she worked for were sociopathic in some way.

If you can't protect yourself and work in your own interests, this industry will eat you alive. Do not work for free anymore, accept no more internships. Find regular, paying work in your industry.

People in the entertainment industry are users, they have to be, it's the nature of the beast. No one EVER got a job because they were super-subserviant and never said no. It doesn't happen.

Have a work ethic, but don't be a doormat.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:38 AM on June 24, 2014 [5 favorites]

You'll probably find other work, but you have got to get a hold of yourself. The entertainment industry is filled with terrifying intense people and you have to be able to deal with them. Go to an urgent care or medical clinic and get on one of the cheap anti-anxiety medications so you can actually process right vs wrong and not just spin like a top.

Also, David was part of this. As a professional contact he may be fine, but do not tell any more of your business to him and do not believe things he tells you. The three of them had a grand old time messing with you.

You have to figure out the difference between being a hard worker with confidence and boundaries* and being a people-pleaser getting taken advantage of - and played with - by insane people. Now, insane people are a major resource in your industry of choice, so you also need to develop skills for dealing with them that are proactive, not reactive.

*If you cannot be this, then all the talent in the world is not going to make you successful.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:37 AM on June 24, 2014 [8 favorites]

This is a good time of year to get jobs in political canvassing. That'll kick the shy right out of you. Basically, practice.

People aren't responding poorly because you're shy, though. They're responding because you're acting dependent on them in a way that makes them uncomfortable. When you rely on them to set boundaries on your behalf and make sure you don't work too hard, you're asking them to do something you should be doing yourself. When you do things you don't want to do and then have unspoken expectations of renumeration, you make people feel guilty and like they're unwillingly in your debt. These are the major issues I'm seeing with your social behavior here. If you did well as a manager at a cafe you're probably fine as a boss. Your self-management skills as an employee are what need work.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:07 AM on June 24, 2014 [6 favorites]

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.

You won't make that mistake again, then, will you? Because now that you've been sucked in, chewed up and spat out by a sick system, you know exactly what that off vibe was warning you about.
posted by flabdablet at 10:37 AM on June 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

What gets me is that none of that seemed to matter to them.

That's right. None of it matters. Because at the end of the day, people get the job because you're 'one of them'. Now, in the entertainment industry, 'one of them' means, outgoing, personable, capable, smart, sharp, can read a room and can cover up a screw up quickly and without drama.

It sounds like you want a cookie for doing intership level tasks well. Ultimately the quality of your work is adequate. You did what was expected. People will not fall all over themselves just because you came in and did what was asked of you. It was nice of your employers to acknowledge that you had a talent for the work, but that's the bare minimum.

My sister worked for a producer as a production assistant. She was a production assistant by day, and she was a babysitter at night, providing entertainment for the producer's son AND one of the child actors on the set (this was on location in Texas.) Talk about beating your brains in. Sissy would work all day, wrangling extras, running errands, doing the ultimate scut work, and then, when the rest of the crew went off to drink and bitch, Sissy THEN took the kids for dinner, and roller skating, movies, swimming, whatever. Nightmare.

When it was all over, Sissy asked for a similar job that the previous PA had, script reading and evaluating properties for purchase. The Producer told her, "You don't have the initiative for that work. You only do what's asked of you, you act as though you're too good for some of these tasks, and frankly, I don't think you have what it takes." Now, that was a really shitty thing for someone to say, and to this day, I'm not giving that producer dime one of my money (and she did some really famous movies in the nineties and now does TV shows on Nick at Nite.) But, to some extent, she was right.

Sissy thought that by being a PA, and doing everything well, that it was the total extent of the whole, 'work your way up in Hollywood' thing. It's not. The ranks are full of young hopefuls who just don't have 'it.' IT being the killer instinct, or the ability to read a room, or to have an easy-going, pleasing personality, or the ability to eat imperial quarts of shit if need be.

If you can't see that you did the job you signed on for, that they promised you nothing and you were MORE than happy with that arrangement, and that YOU really did screw up in such a way that they HAD no choice but to let you go, then I'm afraid that there's nothing any of us can say here that's going to make the world conform to your way of viewing it.

Things to avoid in future jobs:

1. Don't use company resources to check your personal email.

2. Don't work for free

3. Don't give up paying work to work more hours for free

4. Don't assume that doing really good work for free will suddenly make people think, "Hey, she's working for us 60 hours a week for free, let's pay her!" That will NEVER happen.

5. Read NDAs and any other papers they put in front of you. If you sign it, understand it.

6. Know that anyone can be fired for anything, or for nothing. Have NO expectation that you're owed a job.

7. Really know if you can hack it in the entertainment business. It is entirely possible that you're not cut out for it.

Sissy gave up her dreams and is now in advertising. Make of that what you will.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:41 AM on June 24, 2014 [9 favorites]

I think everyone is saying it is irrelevant whether your work was good. Entertainment is absolutely not a meritocracy, ever. Brilliant actors and filmmakers and screenwriters and casting directors toil in obscurity and die unknown every day because there just aren't enough slots for everybody. I got an unemployed filmmaker in the next room, they're just littering the place.

It's not a huge field. You can't just be talented, you have to be talented AND in the right place at the right time AND amazing enough to work with that you have a reputation as such, and even awful people - because these folks don't sound like prizewinners - have to like working with you. Being talented does not entitle you to anything.

(And from what I hear, NY casting is a way sicker system than LA casting. Like, I've known two people who didn't just wash out after a couple of years at entry level in NY, they burned out and left the country to do things that are basically the opposite.)

You're asking how to process a bad experience. People are telling you that a) you can't control how other people act, b) you do have to control how you act. And that basically means that no matter what flavor of bullshit gets aimed in your direction, you cannot show any fear. You did. They exploited it. That's not fair, but it's never going to be fair. If you want to fix the part of that which is in your control, in all honestly therapy is probably going to be involved for you to grow a thick enough skin, and sharp enough people-instincts to know when to be normal-grade professional and when to be super-hyper-vigilant.

Per your last update - your public beating-up in this thread is exactly what you cannot do at work. No complaining, no whining, no expecting anyone to feel sorry for you, and when someone offers you a lesson you have to pretend to take it (ideally you then keep the ones that help you).
posted by Lyn Never at 10:44 AM on June 24, 2014 [15 favorites]

My first boss out of college was an abusive boundary-pusher, and I've spent a long time getting over the pain she inflicted on me. I'm sorry you're going through this now. While it was certainly wrong of you to send that video on, I think some of the other posters here are piling on and underestimating just how much this kind of boss can get under your skin and make you internalize the idea that you must be incompetent at life. My old boss played the exact same "I had a weird vibe about you from the beginning" card; I've only recently started believing that everyone in the world doesn't think I'm strange and defective from the get-go. This shit's insidious.

That said; you come off as if you're seeking...revenge is too strong a word, but some kind of external validation that your bosses were horrible, that leaving was the right thing to do. Metafilter's given you that in spades, any friends you talk to in real life will probably offer their sympathies too. But as much as you want to inflict pain on your bosses and burn their building down, your workplace will probably continue on. Accepting the situation as the sick system it was and moving on has to come from within you. Only you can talk back to the little voice saying "you'll never be cut out for any professional thing you want to do ever" and say "actually I am good at some things, fuck you."

Here are the things that have helped me most since my work disaster:

1) Therapy. Lots of it. Learning to see what I went through at that first job as legitimately fucked up, getting more social confidence, learning to not be so terrified of coming off as weird, taking some assessments to see what kinds of skills I'm really good at. Medication helped a lot with the social confidence part too.

2) Taking a series of unexceptional day jobs with clear-cut tasks and bosses who valued my time. None of these jobs have been in my dream fields, but they've allowed me to learn some new professional skills while also having a healthy social life and time to take classes towards jobs that interest me more. My bosses in these positions have been encouraging, never demeaning towards my work, and clear on the fact that work gets left at work. That said, they have also been fairly hands-off. It sounds like you require constant feedback and praise from your bosses and see the absence of that as evidence that you're not doing a good job. It would be good for you to have the experience of a boss who's encouraging but not effusive or constantly hovering over you. This may seem like a magical unicorn proposition, but I am here to tell you that such bosses exist.

3) Not trying to process the experience of that first job until later. I'm a little over four years past quitting that position; after trying many times to write about the experience, I'm finally doing it now. You may look back on this and have entirely different insights in a few years. Don't rush it.

For what it's worth, I did decide that the field my first job was in ultimately wasn't for me, but I'm about to pursue schooling in an adjacent field. (Neither of these fields are entertainment-related.) Maybe there's an entertainment-adjacent field that would love to have you. I don't have any insights there, but maybe folks here with more knowledge of the industry will.

Best of luck!
posted by ActionPopulated at 11:14 AM on June 24, 2014 [3 favorites]

Brilliant actors and filmmakers and screenwriters and casting directors toil in obscurity and die unknown every day because there just aren't enough slots for everybody.

This this this. Not just entertainment, any creative field. You have to be really, really determined and persistent. That's all. It doesn't mean you'll succeed, of course, but without connections it's all you can do.

I also agree with everyone saying that as an adult or in a "real" job, you're rarely if ever going to be praised for your work, even if it's good. You have to sort of learn to evaluate whether you did well on your own (which actually it sounds as if you're perfectly capable of already) and not depend on others to tell you.

I really do sympathize with you, when I was about your age I worked for these evil women's evil triplet, Midwestern edition. So, how do you process a bad experience? First you figure out what you learned from it, and apply that lesson. In your case maybe you learned a lot about casting, and also how to spot red flags in employment situations, and to not work for free again. I'm sure you learned to never email company property to outsiders again. There might be other, more specific lessons, you have to think about it and pinpoint what they are. Then you use it to make you more determined and persistent.

I'll just add that I have known people in the entertainment industry who were pretty quiet and just went about their work and may well have been shy and anxious, though that wasn't apparent on the surface. It's just that they were not about to take any bullshit. People can sense that, somehow. I don't think you necessarily have to change your whole personality*, just that one very important aspect of it.

*Or maybe you do, I've never worked in a casting agency. But start with the not putting up with bullshit part.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 11:14 AM on June 24, 2014 [3 favorites]

What I'm looking for is encouragement

Well, that's clear. Look, I'm "new" around these parts, but it doesn't seem like you are really using this forum as intended; you don't appear to be truly hearing the (admittedly frank) advice and suggestions that your question has engendered. It's almost like you want a venue to vent, and then direct the responses. That's what facebook is for.

Case in point: The email thing. How they found out about it -- while potentially inappropriate -- has no bearing on the larger fact. Namely, that you did the wrong thing. Whether you'd been found out or not, you still did something that was against workplace regulations. Your concern here should be less about adding "invasion of privacy" to your martyrdom list, and more about having done something straight-up unethical. Stop dying in that ditch.

Anyway, advice/suggestions: I have had several jobs where I felt under-appreciated and overworked. It sucks. They were also jobs, so at least I was keeping a roof over my head. I see no upside to going through that shit for free. If internships are the norm for breaking into your industry, then your supposedly strong work will speak for itself when you move on to the one that isn't totally dysfunctional. I've also had the experience of not clicking with my coworkers. That sucks, too. In fact, even in my best jobs, I've noticed a tendency to feel martyred. It's a serious personality flaw for me, and I'm always working on it. I can't help but feel that this should be an area of focus for you, as well; your question is just a litany of the ways you put in extra work, without pay or thanks. People without a penchant for maltreatment either never notice those sorts of patterns, or they just walk as soon as they become apparent.

Why? Because these sorts of situations can't be improved by doubling down, or sticking around. The only thing you can change is yourself. You can work on your "getting along" skills, to better avoid being seen as the odd person out. You can work on spotting toxic individuals or workplace cultures in advance, or develop coping strategies for when they are revealed. You can learn that it's entirely possible -- nay, even normal -- to set firm-but-friendly work/not-work boundaries. And by improving your base level of confidence in these ways, you show manipulative/using employers that they won't have the pleasure of pushing you around. You are effectively removing yourself from consideration for crap jobs.
posted by credible hulk at 11:17 AM on June 24, 2014 [14 favorites]

At no place of employment is talent, hard work and reliability enough. Bosses are jerks, sometimes mean, don't always say thank you. As other people have pointed out, most of us can be fired at will without explanation. And just because you're good at something doesn't guarantee you a career in that field.

You didn't do any of the things your own instinct was telling you to do – cut back your hours, not do extra work for free – and you still got fired. Seems to me you could have done those things, at least held on to your self-respect, and you would have been in the same position you are right now. Next time try having a little faith in yourself. If you know you have talent, act on that.

Never complain, never explain. If you are reprimanded for something ordinary, even unjustly so, just say "okay, I understand." That's it. If you made two typos and only one was rightly yours, just apologize, say you'll use spell check going forward, and end it. If you have a complaint, try to offer a better solution. Always been quantitative and definitive whenever possible.

Next time around, ask about being reimbursed up front. Don't volunteer your time and resources without even asking about the possibility of being paid back. If you don't value your own time, effort, resources, and talents enough to ask to be financially compensated, no one else is going to do so either.

Being shy is okay. Making other people bear the burden of your own self- worth is not. Overall you sound as though you require a lot of positive reinforcement & praise from other people. That can be exhausting on the other people (like your bosses), and that's one of the soft-skills people are talking about in this thread. Sometimes the second-best person for the job can simply makes the boss' emotional life easier, and that counts for a lot.

Finally, your relationship with David sounds a little, off. IMHO, anyone who passes on criticism second-hand is not as altruistic as they might want you to think.
posted by lyssabee at 11:35 AM on June 24, 2014 [7 favorites]

I'm sorry for the pain you are experiencing, but I do have to agree with what others have said: I think you should see this as an opportunity to reflect on whether this is the right industry for you. My own gut instinct--and this is just a hunch--is that you'd be better off in a different line of work.

I worked for about four years as a casting assistant. This was in a smaller market and many years ago, but I think at least some of my experience is relevant to your situation.

You seem to think you have some talent that has gone unappreciated by your bosses; this may well be true. However, "casting work," in my experience at least, has very little to do with discovering "new faces" or scouting people at soda fountains and festivals. The majority of the low-level work is organizational, i.e., organizing casting sessions, etc, and the majority of the upper-level work is client relations, i.e., drumming up business and working with corporate clients, film production companies, etc. It sounds like neither is really your forte. You have said organization is not your thing, and I don't think client relations would be your thing either. There is a reason why they sent the unpaid intern to the festival to do the scouting: this just isn't the main thing that casting directors do.

I'm very sorry to be a downer. I really don't want to rain on your parade. But I do want to encourage you to think more about what you like about casting and whether you can satisfy that itch in some other field or hobby (maybe a street photography blog or something?). It is a brutal industry and one with thousands of people (often out of work or otherwise frustrated actors) willing to work for free, and it would make sense to take some time to think about whether your skill set is suited to this line of work.
posted by girl flaneur at 11:48 AM on June 24, 2014 [8 favorites]

Don't work for free. I'm so sick of unpaid internships. If you're doing work you need to get paid for that work. The lame excuse people give when posting them saying you'll get experience and a foot in the door is utter BS. If you are doing work you should be paid. It's that simple. I run a small design company and hire a lot of interns. They all get paid even though I know I am working with people who still have a lot to learn. If everyone would just stop working for free the industries would actually start paying because it's not like they are not going to do the work. It's simple exploitation.

The only exceptions to this should be true internships where you are not doing any client-facing work and are in an educational situation.
posted by misterpatrick at 12:32 PM on June 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

I feel like people are disregarding the fact that the quality of my work may have been very good. The research I did panned out in terms of her finding the kind of people she was looking for and she did praise me on my scouting abilities. What gets me is that none of that seemed to matter to them.

Right! Because that's the nature of your industry! Doing a good job and working hard and being good at what you do are not as valuable as soft skills-- possibly because there are many more people with your skills than there are jobs available or simply because doing a slightly-not-as-great job as you do doesn't have a negative impact on the bottom line.

Some industries reward hard work and tangible results more heavily than others, which value social connections and soft skills. So maybe work on your soft skills and schmoozing.

Very few of us are natural hustlers. So we have to teach it to ourselves. Maybe take some acting and improv classes (I second poltical canvassing for becoming less shy). But it is also worth considering if going into the entertainment industry is going to turn you into a person you actually want to be and if that life is going to make you happy.
posted by deanc at 12:42 PM on June 24, 2014 [3 favorites]

Oh, and I want to echo what girl flaneur said:

Most casting work is organizational. It's more important that you are organized and on top of your shit than anything else. There isn't a lot of room for creativity. Research and scouting isn't that important, and soft skills/social skills are very, very important.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 1:12 PM on June 24, 2014

There seem to be three separate things going on here:

1. You violated your company's non-disclosure agreement, and were fired for it. That seems fairly cut and dried. You might have a case against them since they snooped into your personal email, but you violated the NDA nonetheless, and many companies have computer/internet policies that give them the right to monitor anything you've done on your work computer, personal or professional - if you've ever entered a password on your work computer, they have it and can use it. Which is shitty, but it's pretty standard in the workplace.

2. You put a ton of hard work into this internship, and got relatively little out of it, and thus feel like you've been taken advantage of. I don't blame you. However, the sad reality is that in many work environments, hard work is rewarded with... more hard work. The more competitive and desirable the industry, the crueler it is to hard-working people-pleasers. You have comparatively little power, but if you don't at least try to hold your ground you will get run over. Practice being assertive - and it does take practice, but you can improve. Reframe how you view yourself as an employee: instead of attempting to prove your value, consider yourself an already-proven professional, whose work speaks for itself. Convince yourself that you are worth more, and others will follow.

3. Then there's all the interpersonal/social/office-politicky stuff. Your ex-bosses sound awful; even if you were still employed there, with decent hours and fair compensation, we'd probably all tell you to get out and find a new job with a less toxic work environment. On the other hand, sometimes people just don't really fit together, no matter how good they are at their jobs, and fit is more important than you might think. Sometimes there's an obvious villain/bully/asshole, in which case the only thing you can do is get out. Sometimes there's no explanation; it's just a lack of chemistry. And, to be honest, sometimes there's that one person who's just "weird." I want to make it perfectly clear that I don't mean this as criticism; I'm weird too, and so are many of the kindest, smartest, and most fascinating people I've known. "Weird" is just the word people use when there's one particular person who doesn't quite fit in. It's not an objective or universal measurement: people can seem weird in one group but fit right in with another. And weirdness does not excuse other people being jerks (and your bosses were jerks, so fuck them and fuck their opinion). But, unfortunately, shyness and social anxiety will increase your chances of being seen as "weird," and that can hinder your professional progress. Your options are to find a job where shyness is okay, or to work on overcoming it; for best results, do some of both. You asked how to get past your anxiety, and there are a lot of things you can try: therapy, joining meetup groups, acting classes, Toastmasters, anything else that gets you around other people. It won't be easy, but it can be done.
posted by Metroid Baby at 1:26 PM on June 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Just wanted to say that you should change your passwords for at least your email and any other personal accounts you signed into while logged onto their work machines/network. (If you haven't already.)
posted by tyrantkitty at 1:31 PM on June 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

No more free work!

I would suggest that your next "real" job be for a large corporation (whether in the entertainment industry or not). The reason I say this is that large corprations tend to have things like mid year and year end reviews where your boss discusses your work quality and career goals with you and for some entry level positions they have clear paths you can be groomed for to advance. You want to be careful not to just accept all the shit work, as it will hold you back (see this question for related advice on that angle). A corprate environment might be a good transition between school - like progress and feedback to the small organization every man for themselves no feedback clusterfuck type situation you experienced in the casting agency.

(For what it's worth, I worked a free internship in a casting agency for 2 weeks (years ago), walked out, and have never regretted that decision ever.)
posted by WeekendJen at 2:06 PM on June 24, 2014

"No, I emailed the video from home"
Emailing the casting video to someone else was not a good thing to do--no matter where you were when you emailed it or what email account you used. This act was the excuse she needed to fire you. It's proprietary material--you signed an NDA.
But if your bosses had loved you, and wanted to keep you, you might have been forgiven but it was still big transgression.
In general, going by this Ask and the other casting-related ones, I think you need to take a step back and get a sense of perspective on your actions.
Shyness is a personality trait, which may or may not hinder your job performance. I think your eagerness for approval and headpats probably got on your bosses' nerves--they're already surrounded by eager actors, desperate for a break--they don't need an employee who shows the same traits. That's what they meant by "off energy". (Do you watch Orange is the New Black? You don't want to be Pennsatucky, and that's the vibe I get from these posts. I could be wrong.)
If the festival was so expensive, why didn't you submit an expense report so you could be reimbursed? Waiting for someone notice you and to open the petty cash box isn't professional.
Don't worry so much about the reference--give people a chance to regroup. How can they miss you if you won't go away?
posted by Ideefixe at 2:26 PM on June 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

There's a lot to unpack here.

1) Learn to read all of the documentation relevant to your employer and your position. Know company policy inside and out, and then abide by it even when it hurts. It seems like you're starting to get how royally you screwed up, so learn from it.

2) Get confident, but do NOT get comfortable. In the event that you do get too confident, you should really keep the next one in mind:

3) Do not play a game of thrones with your workplace unless your skin and your job are absolutely bulletproof. Do not assume that you have allies (your immediate supervisor, David, is NOT your ally. Recognize that immediately). Most people are too immersed in their personal daily grind to try to save you when you're in trouble, especially when you've made yourself a liability.

4) Meritocracy is a big ugly myth, and quality of your work will not protect you. Ever. Do not expect to be appreciated for your work. Reframe your work as part of a transaction: for [x amount of work], you receive [salary]. People will attempt to get [Y amount of work] out of you at every turn, and if you don't draw a hard line, you will find yourself overworked and underpaid. When you stop being useful, you WILL be transitioned out. And you WILL be squeezed for every last ounce of your talent on the way if you let them.

5) In that vein, learn the elegant power of the word "no" and its many forms (examples of which people have already given you). The more you believe in the value of your time, the stronger you will feel about people trying to get it for free, and the harder a line you'll draw about your workload. It is a hard muscle to flex if you're afraid of your superiors' wrath, but that fear lessens with your confidence.

5) The answers people gave me to this question are AWESOME, and you would do well to check them out alongside the stellar answers people have given you here. Because:

6) For people like you and I, knowing how to swiftly extract yourself from a nasty situation is an acquired skill. But you have to learn it, and it appears that you've got your first lesson. Don't make the same mistake of staying again. I sure as hell won't.

All of this sounds incredibly grim. It is. Be warm and amicable, but you may need to consider your work a cold, feelings-free transaction. The faster you shake off the notion that a workplace is supposed to nurture you and help you self-actualize, the better. If you're lucky, you will find a workplace that contains people who are supportive of you. But do not, for the love of god, forget that the above advice still applies, if not more so under ideal circumstances.

Good luck.
posted by Ashen at 2:48 PM on June 24, 2014 [3 favorites]

You got a lot of feedback about NDAs and so forth, so I won't repeat that. I'll give you a more overall perspective: the entertainment business is a people business. That means, it's going to be tough for anyone who is shy by nature and has social phobias. The way most people get jobs in this industry is through contacts, networking and knowing people - which means being a "people person" is at least a fake it until you make it type situation if you are not a people person by nature. The moment you get your foot in the door, you must try to establish a network of contacts. You worked for months at that casting agency. Did you establish any contacts? If you have not, that was a huge mistake. Next time, don't make that mistake. Here's how it would've helped you. People's reputations precede them. You ask around. If you hear that a certain casting agency is run by people who are horrible to their interns, yeah, don't go to work there. If you don't establish any contacts anywhere, how would you hear that? You wouldn't, that what. Had you socialized and made contacts, you could've asked questions and spared yourself that entire ordeal.

When I worked at a talent agency for a number of years, I saw a lot of that dynamic. Starting out at the bottom is hell - you are put through a boot camp type experience, where you are basically exploited and if you can't swim, you sink. Now, as a lowly assistant to an agent, you might be asked to put up with mind-boggling abuse... and you'll do it! BUT. You'll only do it, because after you've put in your time (usually 1 year), you are out of there and into whatever it is you want to do in the industry. That's the time when your indentured servitude and abuse pays off - that agent who abused and exploited you, now will be a fantastic resource to help you obtain a position that you wanted in the entertainment industry - s/he'll make the calls, cash in some chips and even twist some arms. Not because they're fair and loyal (at least not always), but because it's in their interest. They can place "their" guy/gal in a position somewhere and then they have access and a great ally. So sure, they'll do what they can to get you that development position. Then as you rise through the ranks, they benefit by being able to call you for favors. The higher you go, the better for them.

That's how it's supposed to work.

Now for the bad eggs. Sometimes, there will be an agent, who doesn't keep up their part of the bargain. They'll abuse and exploit you and then do nothing for you down the road. That was the case with one agent at the agency where I worked - he was a co-founder of the agency and pretty old, so he really wasn't interested in grooming someone who might be useful to him 10 years or more down the road, he only dealt with the very top people in the industry (heads of studios etc.), so the odds that you'd reach the top before he hit retirement or the grave were pretty much zero. So he did nothing for you. Well. That's obviously a bad deal. You get all the abuse, but none of the payoff. So when you worked in the mailroom, you maneuvered so that you won't end up on this asshole's desk. If you were a good guy/gal who established contacts with other assistants and supervisors, you would get to know the rep of that agent and that it's not a good position to lobby for just to get out of the mailroom. Who got stuck on that thankless desk? The clueless, the less social, the weirdos who didn't play well with others, the outsiders. They'd have a horrible experience and then they'd wash out. Don't be that person.

The entertainment industry is a people's industry. If you are not a social person, or you're someone who hates to socialize and network and schmooze, then at least fake it. Because you will need that social capital, the tips, information, the contacts and the helping hands. Given the nature of this industry, do you want to persist? If so, ask yourself how psychologically flexible are you willing to be, and whether the cost is worth the payoff. Because you won't get anywhere without relying on your network, the creation and constant maintenance of which is your responsibility. What happened here in this case was probably avoidable - but unless you change your approach, what reason is there to think that you will not strike out next time? Assholes and bad fits are a fact of life - they will always be there... what are you going to do, not to be tripped up by the inevitable asshole next time around?
posted by VikingSword at 3:12 PM on June 24, 2014 [3 favorites]

I think you're getting some great advice here, though I'm not sure about the "no unpaid internships" bit as I know that a lot of interns in NYC don't get paid for media jobs, which is a sad fact but true. When I worked on film festivals ten years ago I didn't get paid, and people offered me internships and even year long contracts where the pay was incredibly low if it was there at all (Partially why I ran away from that type of work forever). I'd trust someone with experience in your field on that one. I know some people have already touched on it.

I agree that working on your shyness is really important. I understand your frustration though - my whole childhood and some of my early adulthood people were like "don't be shy!" and I had NO IDEA how, and then they would yell and scream at me about "don't be shy! have more confidence!" and I had no idea how to do any of it, what the steps were.

A lot of it is about faking it till you make it and practice. You can do this! As Metroid Baby says: therapy, joining meetup groups, acting classes, Toastmasters, anything else that gets you around other people. It won't be easy, but it can be done.

In addition to the above, which are all great, I recommend improv classes, because they teach you a lot about how social interaction is perceived by other people. It's important to make a scene work. If one person comes into a scene and has body language that reads as timid and afraid - the other actors will react accordingly - either by taking the opposite stance and acting dominating and confident, or by mimicking the scared actor. You also learn about tone of voice and how that fuels expression, and how to reach agreement with other people. This is because improv actors need to establish a character and work with other actors' created characters in a matter of seconds, and they do this by playing on broad social trends about how people perceive each other in social situations, so it's a good place to learn those perceptions.

If that's not possible, try attending a performance or two and noticing how the actors react to each other in a scene. Lots of improv in NYC.
posted by sweetkid at 3:19 PM on June 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

I feel like people are disregarding the fact that the quality of my work may have been very good. The research I did panned out in terms of her finding the kind of people she was looking for and she did praise me on my scouting abilities. What gets me is that none of that seemed to matter to them.

Ok, this is going to sound harsh, but you are kind of arguing with the (awesome!) advice you are being given so I am going to say it. Part of doing a good job and being a capable employee is being assertive, having confidence and an accurate sense of your own value. That is part of what is going to make people perceive you as a capable person who is able to operate effectively in their professional environment. Whatever tasks you did I have no doubt you did a very nice job on, but part of your value as an employee is your ability to work with others, and part of your ability to work with others that you seem to be lacking in is your level of willingness to put up with bullshit from others and just take it (your level - high, ideal level - low). I wouldn't get too caught up in the fact that you feel shy and your voice shakes. You can feel shy and quietly and calmly tell someone (even with a shaky voice), "No thank you, there is no way in hell I am doing that. I appreciate your consideration though." And you've done what you needed to do to assert your boundaries, however scared you felt doing it. I say this as a recovering shy person, it is possible.

But what you haven't shown at all so far is any willingness to ask yourself, "What went wrong in this situation that I personally have ownership of and can fix?" And you really, really need to do that. We're all given certain personality inclinations due to our genetics or whatever but 90% of this is fixable, by being aware of it and wanting to change it.
posted by mermily at 6:24 AM on June 25, 2014 [7 favorites]

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