How I Got Conned Into An Unpaid Internship

Many times I’ve heard that the first job experience tends to be distasteful in every person’s life. Or as most people from my age group will say – “It sucks, dude.”

I don’t know the technicality of the world, but I would like to put my first internship experience in that category as well. The ones who walk around with internship/training/job experiences will understand when I say that working (in general) is not all fun and games. It pushes your limits and can be a test to your patience.

We tend to take our first step towards our careers with utmost sincerity and almost dreamy beliefs. Just like you, I too got a chance to showcase my skills and put them to some use. This should have made me feel proud that I was finally contributing my time and effort towards something productive. Yes, you read it correctly – “should have”. But, it didn’t.

In most non-engineering disciplines, there is a popular concept called ‘an unpaid internship’. Students all over India willingly invest their precious time in such internships because let’s get real – it’s all about the certificate, right?

But even then, they are given myopic tasks that are so small but time consuming that the employees of the organisations tend to avoid them. Hence, those tasks get assigned to the interns. It just sounds like a win-win situation for everyone because the students get exposed to the real working environment, get a certificate at the end and the organisations get these tasks done by them, for free.

But, what happens when someone fools you into working for their startup, asks for your bank details to pay you in the end, gets a lot of work done, making you work overtime and refuses to pay in the end? You will feel cheated, won’t you?

I did too.

I found my internship through Internshala where one can find paid internships in their respective cities. For those of you who are unaware, employers are neither allowed to post any unpaid internships nor can they offer stipend lower than advertised in pre-interviews or offer letters.

Much to my dismay, I wasn’t aware of this policy either. Even though it was mentioned that we would get ₹6000-12,000 for two months, I accepted the offer to work with an employer who agreed to hire me as an ‘incentive-based intern’. An incentive based stipend refers to a monetary pay provided to an employee/intern based on performance, which is thought of as one way to entice the employee to continue delivering positive results.

This whole agreement implied that if I would have worked hard and delivered a good performance for two months, I should have received ₹12,000 and if not, then only ₹6,000. The two months period was preferable, not mandatory, as mentioned in that post.

I fell into the trap and joined that mess of a startup, a placement consultancy as an HR (recruitment) intern. I was asked for my bank account details along with other documents on my first day, thus clearly implying that I wasn’t hired as an unpaid intern.

I worked hard with utmost sincerity and dedication towards my employer and our team which consisted of 6 more interns. Even though I was simultaneously preparing for MBA entrance exams and time was a crucial resource for me, I accepted the long working hours as it wasn’t supposed to be an unpaid internship with shorter or flexible working hours.

There were days when our employer (also, the founder and owner of that startup) had some personal errands to run so he’d make us stay till 6:30pm-6:45 pm in his office while he was out. There were days when I was made to stay back alone to finish assigned tasks that needed his approval simply because he was busy surfing internet in our agreed working hours.

Even though I was hired as an HR intern, I did all sorts of tasks that any start-up demands like social media marketing, promotions and content writing. I was the only content writer given my interest in writing and my luck in getting the grammar and spellings right.

It wasn’t all rainbows and butterflies working in a startup, but I don’t mind putting in efforts as long as I know I will be rewarded accordingly. See, I would have gladly worked for free, but then I should have been given the luxury of smaller working hours and lesser work load.

My time was crucial for me. It could have been a win-win situation for me as well, had I joined some unpaid internship where my work might have been limited to working on MS Excel, MS Word or MS Powerpoint for 4-5 hours, allowing me to concentrate more on my preparations for future entrance exams.

But, what’s done is done. I got fooled.

After completing my 45 days in that startup, I was given a farewell with a certificate and a certificate only. I called my employer after a week to inquire as to when he will transfer my deserved stipend in my bank account. He told me in the sweetest tone that he could have faked – “I am sorry for the delay. I am really busy right now, but I’ll look into it.”

After that, I, along with four other interns, called him multiple times to enquire about the stipend and he kept dodging the dates by saying the same thing to everyone. That is when I sensed his intentions of not paying us.

So, I confided in my parents (who I kept well informed through out the internship) about the issue, and my father decided to call him one night. He told my father that I was lying and I had agreed to work for free. Then guess what happened the next day?

I received a harsh email from the employer saying that I haven’t fulfilled my promise of working for two months, lied about the internship not being unpaid and misguided my father on the same.

He refused to pay me after sucking all my time, energy and efforts for 45 days. And instead, put this baseless blame on me to find an escape from paying the promised and agreed stipend.

I wanted to take legal actions against him, but since, I am still preparing for entrances and handling the final year of my graduation side by side, I don’t have that kind of time in my hands. Nevertheless, I replied to his email in a tone that he deserved to give him a reality check. I also reported him on Internshala to get his company blocked, for good.

He turned out to be a con artist, and this experience turned out to be bad. But, I have moved on.

Today, I’ve written my story with a hope that readers would share it with their near and dear ones to save any other millennial from falling into the traps on any such frauds hiding behind a decent smile.

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