Th Mchga Diy Wdnsdy March 28, 2007
It might look good in the brochure, but hundreds of
students are finding out that the position that seemed
like a dream job is actually a nightmare.
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QUOTES OF THE WEEK
"You know, you really have
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An advertised base pay of$13.65.
Set your own hours. Great resum6e
Sounds good, right?
That's what Kinesiology senior
Anjani Mahabir thought.
It was June 2004. Her part-
time summer job wasn't giving
her enough hours, and an exten-
sive job search yielded nothing.
Then a Vector Marketing business
card appeared on the windshield
of her car, promising high wages
and flexible hours. She dialed the
number on the card.
"It was sort of an act of desper-
ation," she said. "I thought 'I'll just
try this thing.' So I did."
After a round of strange inter-
views and a whirlwind three-day
orientation (unpaid), she found
herself among the legions of inde-
pendently contracted college stu-
dents who solicit Cutco Cutlery
knives through Vector Marketing.
Students sign on with companies
like Vector, ColorWorks Collegiate
Painters and the Southwestern
Company to chase promises of
high wages and resum6-building
experience. For some students who
aren't nurturing entrepreneurial
dreams - and even some that are
- internships like these turn out
to be truly terrible. Long hours of
drudgery in the heat is hardly what
most people have in mind when
writing their cover letters. But the
job itself doesn't always match up
to recruitment flyers. And if you're
trying to sell a bad job, students
desperate for summer work are an
easy group to prey on.
Mahabir's act of desperation
turned into an embarrassing,
exasperating job. Making sales
appointments wasn't as easy as
her managers made it seem. The
knives were expensive; some sets
costing as much as $2,000. Asking
family and friends to buy them felt
like begging. The aggressive sales
pitch in Vector's employee manual
sounded rude as it came out of her
She was making money, but
not as much as she'd thought. The
$13.65 base wage only applied dur-
ing sales appointments, which
made up fewer than 10 hours of
her work week. Mahabir earned
between 10 and 25 percent com-
mission on her sales, but the 20
hours per week she spent mak-
ing appointments and driving to
customer's homes was unpaid.
Although she sold more than most
of her peers, she made about $13
per hour over the course of the
The drop-out rates for these
jobs are high. Of the 25 students
who went through orientation
with her, Mahabir said about 80
percent didn't finish the summer.
The Southwestern Company,
which hires students to sell edu-
cational books during the summer,
expects 30 percent of its employ-
ees to quit before school starts.
Although some ex-employees
tell tales of quasi-exploitation,
most of these companies are legiti-
mate businesses. Vector Campus
Relations Manager Renee Hiegel
said the company tries to be up
front with prospective employ-
ees during the interview process.
Interviewers give an hour-long
job description, showing them
the knives they'll be selling and
explaining the pay process.
"Every now and then you have a
person that it's not for them," she
In her eight years as a manager,
Hiegel said it's common for stu-
dents go through the interview
and three-day orientation without
realizing they are working a sales
Amy Hoag, the University's
Career Center internship coordi-
nator, said she hasn't heard of an
outright internship scam targeting
college students in quite a while.
Still, Hoag said, students should
be skeptical of internships that
promise high earnings without
giving a detailed description of
what the employee will actually do
during the summer. These jobs are
not necessarily scams, she said,
but students sometimes go into
them with misconceptions.
LSA junior Artur Glants knows
what that's like. He worked for
ColorWorks on a college painting
crew from February to July 2005,
part-time at first and then full-
time after school got out.
Managers told him that if he
worked hard, he could reel in
$10,000 over the course of the
He worked in a West Bloomfield
neighborhood, knocking on doors
and pleading with homeowners
to let his crew paint their houses.
He and his crew found the work
tedious, and continually ran into
glitches. Their ladders were too
Make sure your
you exactly what
you'll be doing.
short to reach high places on cer-
It was a long, hard, hot summer.
The only thing that kept him going
was pride and the promise of earn-
ings. By July, he'd had enough.
Upon approaching his boss with
his decision, he was reminded of a
contract that managers had quick-
ly glossed over during orientation.
In taking the job, he agreed to pay
a $500 penalty if he decided to quit
He was irate.
After subtracting the cost of
supplies and the penalty, his six
months of work had netted him
THE MORE YOU KNOW
Glants felt like he'd been lied to.
Other former ColorWorks employ-
ees reported a similar misconcep-
tions and misrepresentation. The
company either briefly mentioned
or did not divulge important
aspects of the job, like the quit-
early penalty and the high cost of
various materials crew managers
would have to purchase.
Vague or unclear descriptions of
job responsibilities should raise a
red flag, Hoagsaid. Studentsshould
be cautious of company recruiters
who won't reveal details outside
special presentation sessions.
"Employers that are very forth-
coming with info tend to be more
credible," she said.
Looking at these companies'
websites shows that some are
much more informative than oth-
A Google search of"ColorWorks
painting houses" or similar com-
binations finds only a smattering
of directory listings and student
resumes, no corporate website.
The Better Business Bureau lists
the company's website as www.
thegolorworks.com, but the web-
site does not exist.
Vector Marketing does have a
website, but its job descriptions
are hazy. The description closest
to what Mahabir experienced says
only that Cutco products are sold
"directly to the customer, through
pre-scheduled in-home appoint-
ments." There's a description of
the base wage ($10 to $18, depend-
ing on area), but no mention of
Comparatively, the Southwest-
ern Company's website is a tell-
all. Potential employees read that
the most successful interns work
75-plus hours each week, they sell
educational books on foot in neigh-
borhoods, the money isn't guaran-
teed, they'll have to pay their own
expenses, and they'll have to pur-
chase a $225 demo kit at cost.
Consequently, when LSA soph-
omore Reed Eriksson was prepar-
ing to spend last summer selling
Southwestern products in Greens-
boro, N.C., he knew what he was
getting into. During his first inter-
view, his recruiter listed out the
pros and cons of the job, letting
Eriksson and his friends know up
front- about the heavy time com-
mitment and necessary costs.
Eriksson made $6,000 last sum-
mer working for Southwestern.
He's coming back for a second
round, and this year he hopes to
make at least $20,000. Of the 25
interns he worked with last sum-
mer, almost all finished the sum-
ILLUSTRATION BY JOHN OQUIST
mer and about half are returning.
Eriksson is not an anomaly.
Some students are well-suited
to solicitation jobs and do suc-
ceed every summer. Although she
hated the job, Mahabir acknowl-
edged that one of her co-workers,
who was on his second summer at
Vector, made more than $10,000
during the summer. Glants, too,
said at least one of his friends
made a lot of money at Color-
Works. Hoag cautions students
considering these types of jobs
to determine whether it fits with
their personality and career inter-
ests first, and not be afraid to ask
"I really encourage students if
they have that gut feeling - some-
thing is not right about this - to
ask about it," she said. She added
that it's reasonable to ask a com-
pany to put you in touch with past
interns to see what they thought
about the program.
Anyone trying to find a job can
tell you summer internships and
summer jobs cab be all the dif-
ference between getting hired or
overlooked. There's no employer
that doesn't want to see real-life
work experience. But does as job
as a door-to-door knife salesman
qualify as experience in leader-
ship? With a little artful resum6
building it might - a stint at Vec-
tor can become "managed local
sales for nationwide company,"
and when all your other peers quit,
you just become the "branch's top
salesman by a very generous mar-
But if you're looking into law or
science or politics - it doesn't mat-
ter how you frame it, a job painting
houses isn't going to look as good
as an internship in the field you're
going into. Plan ahead and make
an effort to get the office job, the
copyediting internship or the lab
position. If that doesn't work out,
figure out ahead of time if you're
going to be peddling $2,000 knife
sets to the surly occupants of sub-
urban neighborhoods. And if that's
your kind of thing, no problem.
You can always be creative on your
Three things you can talk about this week:
1. German 302: Coming to Terms with Germany
2. Iranian territorial waters
And three things you
Y. Tommy Amaker
2. Your unfortunate
3. Prince William
and Prince H arry
getting smashed w
BY T HE NUMBERS
Number of seconds by which University student Michael Phelps
broke the existing world record in the 200-meter freestyle
Phelps's age when he won eight medals at the 2004
Olympics, six of which were gold
Number of individual events in which Phelps holds world records
Source: The Washington Post
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Hiundreds of worship- .VV 'i ..~~a~a
either you push forward with
"pers shivered at Lich- the things that you were doing
field Cathedral after yesterday or you start dying."
being told to change - ELIZABETH EDWARDS, wife of Democratic
their overcoats for presidential candidate John Edwards, on her recent
floral prints suitable for diagnosis with cancer.
a warm spring day." "You're a fucking grown-up!
Act like a grown-up! You're not
- The London Times reporting on the BBC's
acknowledgement that it taped specials a baby!"
for Christmas and Easter back-to-back last
December. The network received complaints - DAVID 0. RUSSELL, director of "I Heart Huckabees,"
it was trying to trick viewers. BBC officials said in an outtake video released on the Internet last week
the economy shoot is normal and that all it that shows him exploding at star Lily Tomlin and throw-
required was a change in flowers and lighting. ing papers on the set of the 2005 comedy.
OBD graces the set
of 'Top Model'
"Those boys are silly. Silly, silly,
silly!" slurs gawky nerd-babe Shan-
It's the 2003 season of "America's
Next Top Model," in the late hours
after a particularlyinterestingtriple
contestant/former Walgreen's clerk
Shandi referring to?
Kinetic (eh), the RZA (better) and
the inimitable ODB (brilliant). Yes,
it's Wu-Tang Clan on "America's
Next Top Model."
Whichever creative producers
behind the'Tyra Banks-helmed TV
program decided to offer a fancy
date (including transportation by
Hummer limo, as Shandi notes)
complete with 01' Dirty Bastard as a
prize for winning a dance-off on the
set of Tyra's music video "Shake Ya
Body" were genius.
Watch Shandi get cozy with
Kinetic. Watch the RZA make jokes
about the "model special" appetizer
with one calorie and zero grams of
fat. And watch ODB just own this
clip. R.IP. Russell Jones.
See this and other YouTube videos of
the week at
THEMED PARTY SUGGESTION
Ernest Hemingway short story party - Dress in
khaki. Prepare for rainy weather. Offer each other
ambiguous lines of dialogue. And drink. A lot.
Throwing this party? Let us know. TheStatement@umich.edu
A NEW WAY TO WASTE
TIME ON WIKIPEDIA
The Wikipedia challenge
Make use of the pointless time you spend on Wikipedia
by transforming it into an equally pointless game (convert
into a drinking game at will):
1. Get a topic with a Wikipedia page (can be anything - the Bush
administration, the movie "Ghost," The Washington Post).
2. Go to wikipedia.org and click "Random article" on the task bar at
the left side of the page.
3. From that page, you are allowed five clicks to find the original
Example topic: Magnetisim
Random aritice: Zooplankton
Progression: Zooplankton > Marine biology > Penguins > Antartica > South
Pole > Magnetism