National / International News
The Chicago office of ad agency Havas Worldwide uses its lobby as a gallery, with picture windows facing the street. This summer’s exhibit: The company’s interns, doing their jobs, working around a long black table. Signs in the windows — like the one that said “feeding the interns is permitted and appreciated” — suggested a zoo exhibit as much as performance art.
The interns made out like working in public view was no big deal.
"Like every now and then we’ll look up when there’s like people peering through between the signs, trying to figure out what’s going on," Tori Dubray said.
That might be because they applied for the job — or the right word may be "auditioned" for it — in public.
"This year’s internship program was entirely cast and recruited through Instagram," said Jason Peterson, who runs the 500-person office and designed the internship.
To apply, potential interns posted to Instagram.
"It was a hashtag, Iamheretotakeyourjob," said intern Chris Hainey. That’s I. Am. Here. To. Take. Your. Job. "So, basically you challenged an employee that works here, and kind of posted something on Instagram saying why you would be better-suited for the position."
Hainey posted a stop-motion video — it showed an airplane flying in front of a colorful line of suitcases — with a suggestion that current Havas workers start packing.
Photography student Anna Russett took a different route. Havas offered two internships to people who could show they had more than 50,000 Instagram followers. When we met, she was at 111,000.
"That’s basically my resume," she said. "Showing that I can gain that many followers."
She applied through a smartphone app called Popular Pays — a startup with offices at Havas. Popular Pays allows users get free stuff from local businesses if they agree to post photos of those rewards to a big enough group of Instagram followers.
"That’s currency," Peterson said, "because I can go into Antique Taco and I can go: OK, because I have a thousand followers, I can exchange that currency for a free milkshake."
"You will share that photo with that amount of people," Russett said. "Like, guaranteed."
This prompted a question: "So, you’re saying, like: I will pimp myself out to a hundred thousand people for a milkshake?"
"Well…" Russett began.
Peterson interrupted, "Whoa, whoa, whoa. First of all, have you been to Antique Taco? It’s a horchata milkshake? It’s delicious!"
Among the interns’ duties this summer: Coaching Havas employees on making better use of social media.
I want you to close your eyes for a Labor Day thought experiment.
Okay, no. This is not a mattress sale. It's a conversation about work, and what we learn from it.
Think back to your first job. Maybe the person you were when you earned your first paycheck.
I was in high school in Washington, DC. And I spent my swampy 17-year-old summer working at a sandwich shop and café called A.K.A. Friscos (menu items were named for different places in San Francisco).
In rapid and terrifying order, I learned to prep food, slap together sandwiches for hostile, hungry journalists (the café was across the street from the local CBS affiliate), run the cash register, and bus tables.
We were quick, we were friendly, we cored lettuce with remarkable dexterity (I can still do it).
And I picked up a few lessons that stick with me.
1) Work ethic matters. There’s simply no substitute for it. The shop’s assistant manager, Mesfin, had the most impressive work ethic I’ve ever seen. He was supporting a wife and a new baby while running the café, managing catering orders, helping open a new location, and supervising the high school kid…me.
2) Laugh. Things invariably go wrong. Really, really wrong. Like mistaking-one-spice-for-another-in-the-chili wrong. I wish I could tell my younger self to laugh at these things instead of crying over them or getting mad. Chalk that one up to a lesson perhaps only learned with time.
3) Tip. Like just about anyone who’s waited tables, I tip egregiously. In part because I was always shocked by the messes people left behind. But also because I think we don’t, as a society, place enough value on the work done in the service sector. Being on your feet and being pleasant can be hard, hard work. When I look at the growth in low wage jobs post-recession, I really worry. Hence, I continue to tip.
Just about everyone has a story or two from their first job. Love it, hate it, I bet you still carry it somewhere inside you. Come tell us about it. I’m @lizzieohreally, and the show is @marketplacewknd.
I might even make you a sandwich.