The publishing company that ran what’s been called The worst job posting ever? for an unpaid internship has been shocked by the outcry it triggered – but claims it was “a modest proposal” and that interships offer a valuable way for young people to “prove themselves” to employers.

In an email exchange with a reporter for the Irish Times, John O’Brien, the director of Dalkey Archive Press, wrote:

“The advertisement was a modest proposal. Serious and not-serious at one and the same time. I’ve been swamped with emails (I wish they’d stop: I’ve work to do), and with job applications. I certainly have been called an ‘asshole’ before, but not as many times within a 24-hour period.

“Strangely, no one (except the applicants) seem to have noticed that jobs are being offered: when does this happen with internships? In brief, I take internships very seriously, and take on only people I think might be a future employee. Since coming to Ireland, I’ve seen so many applications to Dalkey in which CVs list upwards of six internships, which tend to smack of ‘we looked, we evaluated, and didn’t think the person was good enough to keep’. And my 25 years of experience with interns has been very mixed: the most common problem being that they aren’t prepared, don’t know what to expect, hope that a job might be at the end of the rainbow, and yet don’t have a clue as to what an employer is looking for. Employers wind up frustrated that they put in so much time, and the interns wonder why a job wasn’t forthcoming.

“Employers do not offer internships out of the goodness of their heart (well, perhaps some due); they want the internships to be the grounds on which people prove themselves. And yet they are strange situations: interns aren’t employees; they don’t quite fit into a well-defined category at the company; they have to do something worthwhile for the company or why else have them around; but, at the same time, they don’t have much to offer because they don’t have the knowledge or experience to do very much.

“So, the tongue-in-cheek advertisement was a call to apply for the internships (and the two possible positions) if you’re going to be serious and are ready; if not, then let’s not waste each other’s time. Usually this is couched in the sanitised language of ‘must be deadline-oriented, well-organised, ambitious’, etc. But as I think we’ve known for a long time, the age of irony is dead, and I’m a fossil.

“This is my ‘official’ reaction to the hornet’s nest.” 

Mr O’Brien did not make clear whether he was still intending to hire unpaid workers for these positions in his company.

Should Dalkey Archive Press apologise for this advert – and promise to re-think their position? Do you think the company director understands why so many young people were so upset by this advert? Should it be illegal to advertise unpaid internships?

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