BY TOLLY WRIGHT | In October, Condé Nast — the publisher of Vogue, Vanity Fair and The New Yorker — announced the end of its internship programs, as a result of former interns suing for fair pay. I hope this will start a trend in companies relying less on unpaid labor, which would be good news for soon-to-be graduates, like me, since the unemployment rate has hovered near 10 percent the past few years. Yet, for now, Craigslist and other sites are still overrun with listings for positions with little or no compensation.
As a senior at The New School, with negligible financial assistance from my parents, I have thought of turning to a job in the service industry to pay the rent and those hefty student loans. Unfortunately, an expensive college degree doesn’t make it any easier to find an elusive restaurant gig.
If I checked the listings in the food and hospitality section on Craigslist, on any given day, I was bound to see the same requirement: “MUST have at least two years New York City experience.” Fair enough if the restaurant was Zagat reviewed, but is it really necessary to wait tables at a nameless sandwich dive off Seventh Ave.?
I couldn’t blame these places for wanting people with stellar résumés — the industry has its share of inadequate wait staffs. If a potential employee has been at a similar job for years, then competence can be presumed.
My problem was, if I wanted work in Manhattan or many places in Brooklyn and Queens, I needed experience in the city. Yet, I couldn’t get experience without work. Even if I had been a waiter for years in my hometown — not a particularly small city — managers might still be inclined to stick up their sophisticated noses at my presence.
I asked other twenty-somethings I knew living in the city how they found their opportunity. Each time I asked, I was met by exasperation at my naïveté, followed by the answer that was obvious to each of them: “You just make up your résumé.”
This was accepted as common knowledge. I heard it from my two high school classmates, roommates, cast members in rehearsals, and even a mother for whom I babysat. It was the easy solution they had all either subscribed to — or had known someone else to have done. The other way in was to know somebody already working at a restaurant.
I was not willing to embellish my résumé to such an extent. I turned to my friends to ask for help getting me in at their jobs — some of them great jobs at bars on Christopher St. or on Greenwich Ave. They were almost always willing to help. But then they would follow up by warning about all the people they didn’t like at their work: “We have so much fun, but don’t get on the owner’s bad side. She’ll fire you for having frizzy hair,” or “The cook is going to try to feel you up, but he’s harmless.”
I thought about it for a month, and decided I was better off babysitting children. If I’m working at a restaurant and don’t meet customers’ demands fast enough or mix up their orders, my pay is directly affected. But if one of the kids says something mean to me or tries to get fresh, they’re the ones in “timeout,” and I am not at risk of being fired.
I chose the right survival job for me, yet I can’t help but sometimes think about the other choice and be annoyed. Something should be done about the faulty hiring system that seems to reward liars and nepotism, and doesn’t allow for otherwise qualified people, including those with high G.P.A.’s and strong interpersonal skills, in for an interview.
Had I picked that path, two years from now — after either having lied or charmed my way into a job — my past work history would finally be up to restaurant standards. I would be able to get an interview on the strength of my résumé alone.
Of course, by then, I would have spent months in an over-glorified diner and nowhere near the desired careers I hoped my college degree would get me. No, instead of spending time fighting for the right restaurant job, I’ll be fighting for one of those paid internships that should start cropping up any day now.