My never-ending unpaid internship
There was this time that I had decided to go mainstream and seek a normal 9-5 job. I’d grown tired from the uncertainty of not knowing when the next gig would come, and my tired had become more tired from the uncertainty of not knowing if or when the clients would pay.
Therefore, to bring a semblance of stability into my rocky predicament, I chose a quiet Monday afternoon to peruse the online job market for any opportunity. Sitting on my work desk in my humble Rongai abode, I opened my laptop and clicked ‘job offers in Kenya’. I found several sites that offered concurrence between employers and job seekers.
Elated, I perused through the zillion offers. Most of them required a job seeker to have a minimum 5 years prior experience, a masters’ degree in the relevant field. Some asked for a valid driving license on top of the other requirements, excellent people skills and basic accounting skills. A positive attitude, as an irreducible minimum. Most offers also indicated that job-seekers needed to be able to work in a ‘high pressure environment’. Oh, and you needed to be an avid reader and be in the know on what was current. Social media skills, or the lack thereof was a deal breaker since the world was ‘going digital’.
Luckily, I’m not one to be easily dissuaded so I applied to anything that I imagine I was suited. It’s important to spread risks, no? After I was done, I kicked back, opened a can of white cap lager and waited for any response. Nothing came through, and over time, I forgot all about the applications.
As I was bumming in my humble Rongai abode one Tuesday – about six months later, with a cold one at hand to celebrate the completion of a client’s assignment, I received a call.
”Hello, am I speaking to Howard. My name is Jennifer, I am calling you from Tangoja Ltd. You had made an application for the position of intern in our organisation, and I am happy to inform you that an opening has appeared. You are required to avail yourself at our offices at 8am tomorrow for an interview. Bring your resume with you and make sure it is up to date with what you have been up to since you contacted us. Any questions?” said the voice on the other side.
”No, no questions. I shall be there on time”, I said with excitement.
The Wednesday after, I woke up much earlier than I had done in years. By 6.30am, I was in a bus headed to the CBD, where I would get another to Westlands where the Jennifer lady had said Tangoja offices were located. By 8pm, I’d arrived and settled at the reception area waiting for the interview to begin. At about 8.05am, a woman came and introduced herself. I recognized the voice as Jennifer’s.
”The interviewers are ready for you”, she said, smiling. ”
I got into the interview room where a panel of three sat, adorning mean faces you’d think they were waiting to devour me whole. Two ladies and a gentleman. I introduced myself and waited for their signal to take a seat.
”Welcome. Can we offer you anything?”, one lady asked.
”Umm, I’m okay. But a glass of water, warm water, would be fine”.
She dialed the PBX system and says, ”Jennifer, bring a glass of water, please”.
Seconds later, a lukewarm glass of water had been laid down in front of me. The interview began.
” First let me do the introductions. As you must have already gathered, we are the interview panel. My name is Robert. To my left is Jane and to my right Patricia. So, tell us about yourself”, the gent asked, leaning forward attentively.
”Well, I am a freelance designer and writer. I graduated with a bachelors degree in economics from the University of Nrb. I chose the field because I’ve a natural ability to decipher numbers. Plus, my family and friends said it leads to amazing career options.”
”So how did you find yourself in the freelance section?” asked Jane.
”When I was in my final year, I decided that economics was too economical for my liking. Haha!” I was met by silent stares and stone faces. Patricia attempted a faint smile.
”Anyway”, I continued, ”I decided to pursue the arts because that is where my heart was. That is how my career in the freelance was birthed.”
‘What will you bring to this organisation, if we hired you?’, Robert asked.
”Well, apart from myself? Haha”, I went at it once more. Again, stone faces. ”I’ve got a wealth of skills.” I said, turning my laptop to showcase my portfolio. ”As you can see, I’ve handled very serious clients”, I was exuding confidence.
They nodded. You’ve got to give credit where its due. The rest of the interview was uneventful. However, towards the end, Robert asked, ”in terms of remuneration, how much are you expecting?”
”Not less than 70k. Net of 70k.” I replied, rubbing my hands. ”I’m saying this because I understand the value I shall be bringing to your organisation”.
The three leaned in to hold a conversation in hushed tones. After a moment, Jane broke the ice, ”Well, Howard, we have looked at your portfolio, you’ve accomplished quite a lot, and your references give quite a recommendation for you.”
I knew there was a but or a however coming.
”However, here at Tangoja, we like to instill the value of patience in our staff. Patience is one of our core values because nothing comes easy”, she said.
”So we, the panel, have a counter-offer for you. You shall begin as an unpaid intern for three months to give you time to get oriented with the company. After the internship, the company shall absorb you in but place you under probation for another three months. You’ll be paid about 30k every month.”
”You’ll be placed under a supervisor”, Robert chipped in, ”the three months will be crucial to to determine whether you’ll be eligible for full employment benefits including the salary you mentioned earlier”.
I was flabbergasted.
”You should be happy!” said Patricia, ”there are many jobless Kenyans who would heartily take our offer without blinking. You are lucky!”
”Be optimistic. The reason most young people miss out on opportunities is because opportunities are disguised as work. No one is patient enough to do the work diligently, faithfully. Young people have a general bad attitude towards time. Here at Tangoja, you’ll learn patience”, said Robert.
I had little options. I accepted the internship. Took Robert’s advice too – every time I felt a complaint trying to make its way out of my mouth, I took a gulp of water. Water was in plenty. Optimism too.
When you’re waiting for something, three months seem like a lifetime. At Tangoja, the three months seemed like a decade. However, they came to an end. The Monday that followed the elapse of my probation, I wore a suit, the same one I keep for special occasions. I arrived earlier than usual at the office. I found that Robert had arrived before me and as soon as he saw me, he ushered me to his office, closed the door behind him and said to me, ‘‘Howard, the company is downsizing. Covid has hit us hard! As a result, I regret to inform you that we can no longer retain you. We applaud your patience here at Tangoja. We shall let you know if the situation changes.”
There and then, I decided that I would not seek any other form of office employment.