Red flags when looking for a writing job or internship.

I saw a surprising spike in followers following my entry about unpaid internships, which I appreciated very much. However, because I wrote the entry at work (naughty me!) I wasn’t able to go as in-depth as I would have liked. I also remembered a few things on the drive home that I should have mentioned, thus I figured I would post a follow-up.

Here are some red flags to look for when applying for an internship or your first writing job:

  1. The ad states, “We can’t afford to pay you right now.” If you’re searching for an internship, this is not the definition of an internship. A publication which takes on a writer or editor whom they do not intend to pay because they cannot afford it is not looking to provide scholarship and value experience; they are looking for free labour. Spend your dirt-broke intern days in a position where you can learn something.
  2. The job ad is looking to pay bloggers to do remote blogging about “any subject you want!” I have worked this kind of job before. These kinds of employers are almost always looking for general-knowledge bloggers to contribute to pages with entries containing certain keywords so that they can make an easy buck on advertising. The work you end up doing will be far too time-consuming for your compensation — which for me was somewhere around 1.25 cents a word. You usually also won’t be able to get to attach your name to the work and you will rarely be writing anything that you can put in a portfolio.
  3. A posting advertising an internship states that having your own equipment (i.e. camera, recorder) is an asset. Again, this is an indication of a company who cannot afford to provide you with the tools you need. While it’s fine to ask for experience with these things, internships are about learning. This is a sign that the company is trying to benefit from you, while an ideal internship benefits the intern more than it benefits the company.
  4. A paid writing job which charges per word/article charges less than $0.06 per word. $0.10 is standard for professionals.
  5. The job posting is for a brand new publications (raise a second red flag if they won’t even say the name of the publication). They’ll say things like “join our growing family!” With this kind of job you will find the same problems indicated in 1) and 3). Unfortunately in major cities full of general and specialty publications, these publications are not likely to last. Don’t take a chance on these things while you’re still young and starting out — you don’t want to risk going through the process of finding a new job only a few more months down the road. Save these risks for when you’re further established in your career. Get your first job with a more established publication if you can, where you can learn the ropes from people who learned years ago, not people who are learning as they go along.