Well readers, between family commitments and the typical summer heat and humidity that always makes me feel sluggish and uninspired, I haven’t been able to write the internship update I promised over a month ago. I have been picking at it, writing a couple sentences a day, but the inspiring story of our country’s founders must have rubbed off on me because today is the day it is finally coming together.
So in a nutshell, I landed the coolest internship ever, and I feel like I have learned more in this first month of the internship than I do in a whole semester. But partly to keep you readers in suspense, but mostly because the process of seeking the internship was eventful too and worth sharing, I am going to focus on my application process in a two-part series. Part 2 is almost finished. I will probably finish it while my parents are at the fireworks. (I think I wrote an entry about my disinterest in fireworks in the early days of this journal). I should have it ready to post tomorrow. Then I will focus on the wonderful experiences I have had with this internship.
I think I mentioned in an entry I wrote last summer how excited I was for next summer (that is, now), when I would be eligible to do an internship. Actually, from the first day of my freshman year of college, I knew that four credits worth of internship experience was required for graduation at my college. But learning about this requirement brought back fond memories of an internship-like experience at a local newspaper arranged for me through my high school junior year, so this was a course requirement I was looking forward to, as internships are “classrooms without walls” where you get to do exciting grown-up stuff, rather than theoretical school work.
The only difference was that I would have to arrange this internship myself. My college has a career center where you can get help with things like writing a resume and cover letter or preparing for an interview. But as far as actually finding internships, you are on your own.
But this didn’t bother me for three reasons. First, it makes sense that by college, expectations would be set a little higher than merely writing an essay about why you want an internship and what your interests are, and then having a teacher do the leg work of actually arranging the internship. Second, once I graduate college, it won’t be Mom, Dad or a teacher’s responsibility to find me a job, so it is good to practice now when the stakes are only course credits rather than a roof over my head or food on the table, something I am sure the college recognized. But more importantly, arranging your own job/internship definitely falls under the category of “grown-up stuff” which I find exciting as I mentioned before.
So I made an appointment with career services to help me write my resume and cover letter, and spent a three hour shift at the switchboard introducing myself to the grown-up world with a profile on linkedin.com and writing a resume. My supervisor at the switchboard taught me how to make some formatting adjustments so that it looked better visually. But I emphasize the phrase “taught me”. She did not do it for me, so for all practical purposes, I formulated a resume all by myself.
The next shift I devoted to gathering writing samples, as all of the internships I had looked at applying to required at least two writing samples. Although I only had time to write one article for my student newspaper last year, I had written several articles freshman and sophomore years that were published. Unfortunately, I had written the articles on my old braille notetaker and didn’t have or know how to use thumb drives, so when my old notetaker was traded in for the Apex last year, I lost my articles. Fortunately however, the newspaper was archived online. The editor had made a few changes to the articles, but from what I remembered, they had been so minor that I figured it wouldn’t matter that I didn’t have the original pieces.
Before I continue, I should tell you that I had made a vow to myself that with the exception of driving me to interviews, I was going to do everything independently. Generally I have nothing against asking for help, especially when Gilbert and I are traveling in an unfamiliar area, or even when we are in a familiar area and I have a brain freeze or a change in the environment throws me off course, such as a large crowd in an environment that is usually quiet. But I felt like internships were different. An employer is not going to care so much about whether I can travel independently since most likely, I will have an office job where traveling won’t be necessary. But when there is still a 70 percent unemployment rate for blind people, what would an employer think if they found out I couldn’t navigate their web site independently to submit my application, or if it is apparent that someone else wrote my resume for me? Granted, this was only a temporary summer internship, but I might want to network with those people when I was ready for a permanent job, or I have also heard that sometimes, employers will hire the intern on full-time. Thus, I really wanted to make a good impression and demonstrate that blindness didn’t stop me from being as independent as anyone else. Since I have heard that first impressions are lasting, I wanted to start proving my independence starting with the application process.
So I went to the web site of the newspaper, found two really well written articles from my freshman and sophomore years, selected the text of each article, then copied and pasted each article in to a microsoft word document. When the articles were published online, I discovered paragraph indentations had been lost, but that was no problem. I didn’t remember how I divided up paragraphs when I originally wrote the articles, but I just re-indented where I thought were the logical places for new paragraphs. For the third sample, I chose an article I wrote for a feature writing class first semester about Fashion Xchange, a consignment shop where people could buy designer brands of clothing used, and thus for a lower price. This article had been written in my new braille notetaker and for once, I was smart and did not delete that article at the start of second semester.
“Perfect!” I thought to myself, beaming with excitement. “I have my resume done, and my writing samples ready to go. All that is left is going online and submitting everything. That will be a piece of cake!” As usual, I was wrong.
The first position I wanted to apply for was with Reader’s Digest. I have been receiving Reader’s Digest in braille since eighth grade and absolutely love it. To my excitement, I found out that Reader’s Digest has an office in my area and that they were looking for interns. I didn’t have enough course credits to apply last year, but made a mental note to apply there next year, which was this year before I knew it. I had hoped to submit my resume right after I had finished it and then add my writing samples later, but what would be the fun of an internship application process without technical difficulties, right?
Composing my resume took the whole shift, but after the shift, I had an hour to kill before an evening class, so I decided to go to the technology center and submit my resume before class. Well despite selecting the option to upload my resume, I still had to fill in edit boxes with my contact information, the type of employment I was seeking, whether or not I wanted course credit, stuff like that. “No problem,” I thought.
I successfully entered information in to the first form field, but when I hit tab to get to the next one, Jaws didn’t say anything. When I hit the down arrow repeatedly and then hit control home to try to just get to the top of the page and start over, Jaws continued repeating the prompt for the first field which I had already filled in so now I had no idea where I was on the page.
“Alright fine, I’ll close out and start over!” I decided.
So I navigated back to the page again and resolved that I would use arrow keys only, since I guess this page didn’t like the tab key for some reason. With this method, I was excited when I successfully completed the first section and clicked the button for the next section. (In all, there were six sections to complete.)
After clicking this button, I checked my clock and realized it was time to get to my evening class.
“That’s alright,” I thought. “Since I clicked the button to move to the next step, surely the information I already entered will be automatically saved.” I quickly arrowed through the page to see if there was a save button, and finding none, decided it had to have been automatically saved. But when I got home that night, went to the web site and entered my e-mail to retrieve my resume, I received a message that they had no resume on file with that address. It had not been saved!
This happened on a Thursday, but I decided I would try again Monday in a free hour I had before an English class after volunteering with Big Brothers Big Sisters. This decision was made partly because my home computer has an old version of JAWS that requires turning the forms mode on to fill in edit boxes, and then turning it off again to use the arrows making the process even more tedious than it already was, but mostly because I was so frustrated I needed to walk away from the whole thing for awhile. With renewed inspiration and confidence, I walked in to the computer lab Monday and successfully completed the first step, only to have the computer kick me off the site and shut down when I tried to proceed to the second step! By the time I got the computer restarted, it was time for class. Strike 2!
“Surely, the third attempt will be the charm,” I thought to myself as I sat down at the computer at the beginning of another three hour switchboard shift. “To make my odds of success even better, I had three hours if anything went wrong instead of only one!”
On the first attempt, I successfully got through five steps and was so excited and full of hope. And then it came to the step where I would upload my writing samples, but when I clicked on the button to start this process, it took me to some flash movie thing where I found a button to browse for the files I needed, but when I clicked it, nothing happened! When I typed the names of files in to the edit box and clicked the button again thinking maybe this site wouldn’t let you browse the computer folders, still nothing happened! There was another sighted student worker sitting right next to me whom I could have asked for help, but at that point, I still wanted to hold on to my promise to do everything by myself.
“Alright fine! I’ll just close out of this step, skip it and finish the rest of the application. Then tomorrow, I will contact Reader’s Digest, tell them I was blind and couldn’t figure out how to submit my writing samples on that site, and ask if maybe there was an alternative method by which I could submit them,” I decided. When I tried to exit that window using backspace and escape, nothing happened, and when I hit alt f4, it closed me out of the entire site, and again, the first five steps had not been saved! Strike 3!
By now, as you can see, I was furious and almost tempted to cut my losses and not waste any more time on such a frustrating site. And then I heard the voice of that teacher I wrote about last year in my head reminding me to “never never never give up”, and decided I wasn’t going to let this frustration get the better of me. After all, in a world where blind people are a minority, this certainly wouldn’t be the last time I would have to deal with a site that wasn’t friendly to blind people, so giving up was not a habit I wanted to start. So I went back to the web site, and finally submitted everything but the writing samples.
The next day, I didn’t have classes until the evening, so my dad said “you know, why don’t you e-mail me your writing samples, and I will go on to our computer and just see if I can figure out the problem or see if there was something you missed before you contact the company.” I decided this was acceptable. He wasn’t going to do it for me, just see what the site looks like and whether he had any trouble with it. So I sent him my samples. I was hoping he would not read them, just save them on the computer to see if he could browse for them, but my parents are the type that just cannot help themselves and since the family computer doesn’t have JAWS on it, I didn’t know what he was up to. But it turned out to be a good thing he did read them because he told me that some of the words were underlined with weird orange lines which he couldn’t figure out how to remove and which he said made the files look really sloppy. I had no idea about this because JAWS did not indicate anything like that. So he told me I would have to ask someone else for help removing the lines before submitting them.
Because I was falling behind on my other school work trying to deal with this fiasco, I actually forgot about Reader’s Digest until a couple weeks later when I received an e-mail thanking me for my interest in Reader’s Digest, but that I was missing the required writing samples. There was still time to submit them. The e-mail was sent on a Wednesday and I think it said they wanted my writing samples by the following Monday.
Then it occurred to me that no one ever mentioned anything about weird lines on files that came from my braille notetaker, so as silly as this sounds, I decided to try e-mailing the writing samples to the e-mail address I access with my braille notetaker, detach the files, and then e-mail them back to my school e-mail. I also e-mailed them to my dad, who said the lines were gone! Finally, success!
But the next day at work when I tried again to submit the samples, the web site was still being difficult, so had to resign myself to the fact that this once, I needed to ask for help from a sighted student to upload the files. But at last, the files were successfully uploaded and though it took three weeks longer than it should have, my first internship application was complete!
My next shift I devoted to creating an account with Milwaukeejobs.com where a lot of local companies post job and internship opportunities, and this site actually worked like a site should! In one shift, I successfully uploaded my resume and applied for another internship with the Wisconsin chapter of the Multiple Sclerosis Society. And to my jubilation, I discovered when I got home that this site was braille notetaker friendly, so I applied for another position that evening with sighted-person efficiency. This position was with OnMilwaukee.com, an online magazine that focuses on special events in Milwaukee, especially summer concerts.
Alright, now is where the story gets more interesting. I wasn’t sure if I should bother applying to OnMilwaukee.com because for one thing, the application deadline had passed, and for anther, I had read OnMilwaukee stuff in the past and it seemed more entertainment focused, and I was more interested in serious stuff like politics. But since the application process was so quick and easy, I decided it couldn’t hurt to apply. Since the deadline had passed, I would probably receive a polite rejection or nothing at all, so I would have nothing to worry about. I also remembered that my dad and my sister had both advised me to apply for a lot of internships, even if they weren’t exactly what I was interested in because given the bad economy and thus the competitiveness of both jobs and internships, I may have to take what I can get. If I didn’t enjoy it, I should just remember it was only for one summer, and no matter what I did, it would look good on a resume. This happened on Saint Patrick’s Day, and the next day after a public policy class with interesting discussions as usual, lunch at Noodles and Company with my sister who had come home to visit and a pie party in English, the pie being my contribution (a funny story for another entry), it was spring break at long last! As I mentioned in a previous entry, this year, spring break was two weeks later than it was my freshman and sophomore years, and thus although my dad said I should use spring break to apply for a bunch of internships, I decided I needed a real break, doing nothing but blogging, relaxing and celebrating birthdays. (Spring break began with my brother’s birthday and ended with my 21st birthday).
By the Wednesday of spring break week, I was just starting to feel a little guilty that I wasn’t using my time productively applying for internships when I checked my e-mails and lo and behold, a staff member from OnMilwaukee.com wanted me to come in for an interview! At that point, I forgot all about the fact that I wasn’t as interested in entertainment and was consumed by the thrilling realization that in this competitive job market, someone was actually interested in me! I immediately replied to the message and arranged to meet at their downtown office the following Monday at 11:00 in the morning.
As long as I already had to get help submitting my writing samples, I accepted Mom’s help choosing professional clothes to wear, but on Monday morning, Dad drove me to the office and Gilbert and I followed his voice to the door of the office and he waited outside as Gilbert and I entered the office, told the receptionist my name and that I was there for an interview at 11:00. We waited for the receptionist to call the person who would be interviewing me. This person came out of his back office and before he had time to be alarmed about my disability (I decided not to mention this on the application), I told him Gilbert and I could follow his voice and get to the room independently.
Gilbert would have loved to work there, as the guy interviewing me clearly loved him and told me that every Friday, the staff bring their dogs to the office! But when I walked out of the interview, I was sure I wouldn’t get the job. If only I had known I would land an interview so soon, maybe I would have taken advantage of the interview preparation services offered by the career center, but I didn’t and thus thought I sounded like an idiot.
“So what do you like about Milwaukee?” the interviewer asked first thing.
Why didn’t I think to prepare for this question when the job description was looking for people who “love everything Milwaukee”? Thinking fast and trying not to show it, I replied something like “I love the happy atmosphere with all the festivals and stuff in the summer.”
“What’s your favorite thing to do in Milwaukee?”
Before I could catch myself, I found myself saying “well, I don’t really come to Milwaukee that often. Mostly I stay in mn suburb or go to events at my college.” Then as an afterthought I added, “I do enjoy going to the state fair, and went to a one-man play that was a tribute to Hank Williams Sr., a legendary country music singer a couple months ago.” Then, since I felt I had already totally blown my chance of getting this job, I decided I might as well just be honest and say I followed serious news and politics more than entertainment. Then he asked if I had ever done any online writing, so I told him about this blog. To my surprise, he asked me to give the address of the blog, and while I generally love gushing about this blog to anyone who will listen, I hadn’t intended for it to be viewed by prospective internship employers. This blog is totally clean: there is no adult content and no inappropriate pictures. But as longtime readers know, I sometimes like to be silly and use this blog to get away from the scholarly tone required in my college writing. I warned him of this, and he assured me that they weren’t concerned so much with professional writing: they just wanted to see how I write. Still, when I got back in the car to head to school for my afternoon English class, I was just sure I would get a polite rejection from them and that they would hire someone more like my brother, who lives in and breathes the Milwaukee culture. But then the following Tuesday, I sat down at the computer next to the switchboard expecting another ordinary shift when I saw in my e-mail inbox a message from OnMilwaukee.com. Heart pounding, I opened it up and instead of reading something like “thank you for taking the time to come for an interview at the OnMilwaukee.com office. Unfortunately, we found a candidate with qualifications more suitable for this position, but don’t be discouraged”, the message that my dad, a much more seasoned member of the working world prepared me for, the sentence thanking me for taking the time to come for an interview was followed by “we would like to move forward with your application, and invite you to join us as part of the OnMilwaukee.com team!” The message also went on to say that since I expressed an interest in country music in my interview, I would be blogging at country music events! This didn’t sound like a rejection to me!
At that point, I forgot all about the fact that I wasn’t as interested in entertainment as I was in news and politics, and was instead totally consumed with the excitement of getting an internship offer after only one interview! I was so excited, my manager even said she would cover the switchboard so I could call my dad on my cell phone and reveal the exciting news. Then I sat back, thinking the rest of the semester would be smooth sailing. I told everyone who asked me what I would be doing over summer that I would be doing an internship with OnMilwaukee.com, and didn’t bother filling out any more applications. I had been accepted to an internship, so everything was in place to fulfill my internship requirement, right? Wrong again!
To make this story that is getting long short, I didn’t think to mention in the interview that to earn full credit for the internship, I had to work at least 150 hours and the assignments they had in mind for me wouldn’t even come close to that. I could still do the internship in addition to another one for full credit, but I would have to get going on applications again.