An Interview With Someone Who Got Fired for Not Having a ‘Hunger for Marketing’

startup office
Not long ago, a friend told me he’d been fired from a West Coast marketing internship for not having a “hunger for marketing.” I asked him what that could possibly mean, which turned into a far longer story about post-graduate floundering, awful-seeming marketing software, and the perils (or subtle benefits) of showing one’s utter lack of enthusiasm in the workplace.

I asked if he would share the story in an interview and he agreed, provided that I let him remain anonymous. Here is the story of the guy who got fired for failing to have, or express, a “hunger for marketing.”

Tell me about your marketing internship. What was the internship?

I was looking for jobs after college and I had these aspirations that whatever job I took, I was just looking for a way to pay for rent, a 9-to-5 that I was tangentially interested in. I was like, honestly, I’m going to be doing comedy stuff after work, why does it really matter what I’m doing during the day?

Before this, you had moved to the Bay Area without a job.

Yes, but the day I got there I had my final interview for this job I ended up getting.

So you already had the interview set up.

Yeah, I had a phone interview, and I think one of the reasons I felt comfortable buying the ticket was because I felt this was going to come through. And it did. So that came through, and basically I knew nothing about marketing and I had a friend who was a liberal arts major, like myself, at the same university, who was working there. She was like, “Don’t worry, I don’t know anything about marketing either; I was an American Studies major, you’ll learn. That’s the point of the internship.” I was like, OK. My parents definitely put a good amount of pressure on me to be self-supporting and be working and to not bum around. They didn’t really encourage me to do the whole food-service, post-liberal arts college thing. They didn’t see the point of me becoming a waiter, like a lot of my friends did after college. I might as well explore a career path and decide it’s not for me, or explore a career path that I know I want and do that in whatever way presents itself.

So my initial plan was marketing—I maybe could be good at that! And then in the evenings I’ll go to comedy open mics. I was excited to work for this company because it was ranked in the “top 10 coolest tech companies to work for in San Francisco.” The website was really well done. It was like, We have ergonomic chairs, we have amazing snacks, we have beer cart happy hour on Fridays. And I was like, Hell yeah! Bay Area, cool startup, young people, this is going to be awesome!

And I get there, and right from the beginning, people aren’t that young and it turns out that my marketing team is a specific type of marketing team that works on Lead Generation. There was a pretty steep learning curve, although when I was eventually let go my boss informed me that my learning curve was insufficient and that maybe if I was more interested in the material it could have been accelerated. So there was a steep learning curve, and my idea of marketing was, maybe it’ll be doing boring writing, like writing a news brief or updating their Twitter feed. What it ended up being was: there’s this process that big fast-growing tech companies do in order to excavate and arrange for a better sales process where they use marketing software to find potential clients who would want to use the software that this company provides. So that’s called Lead Generation, because you’re basically finding potential clients and then you’re vetting them to make sure that they would be good prospects for the sales team to approach.

So they liked you at the beginning?

In my interview, I think they liked that I came from a pretty eclectic background. I had gone to a good school. And they liked me because I was personable and excited about the job, and eager to learn about what they do. A week went by and two weeks went by and I sort of learned more about what they did and I was like, Wow. Marketing may not be what I’m interested in, but this kind of marketing is definitely not what I’m interested in.

Why wasn’t it what you were interested in?

It was data analytics, basically. They taught me this job called Lead Qualification. And they would give me 100 potential companies, and using the set of metrics that they trained me in, I would place them in one of five buckets: good lead, maybe, maybe with reservations, not a good lead, etc. After the first week they were like, “This is an internship, we want you to be learning about Lead Generation Marketing, what do you like, what do you not like?” And I was like, “Well, you know, the lead qualifications thing is making my eyes bleed, it’s just a little bit repetitive.” And they were like, “Lead qualification is what your internship is pretty much going to be.” In my head I was like, “Shoot.” And out loud I was like, “I’m happy to just soak it all in, be in the environment.”

There was one other guy who was doing what I did exclusively. He was in his 30s, a temp employee, probably paid the same amount as me, which was well—a good hourly rate. But basically, after two weeks, I had learned everything I was going to learn there for the next six months.

Then what?

After the first two weeks, I just started feeling super questioning and doubtful. I was like, I know I don’t want to do this. Maybe this is a good way just to make money while I pursue my other passions. But there might be a better balance between work and play that’s not going to make me miserable five days a week, eight hours a day. I didn’t jibe culturally with the people on my team. Sometimes they would go to lunch. I learned slowly that if I saw them going to the bathroom around noon, I should ask where they’re going. A lot of times they would go eat lunch and just not tell me, and I would be like, I sit at my desk doing this monotonous task for eight hours, I need this social interaction during lunchtime.

That sounds miserable. How’d you deal with it?

We had these meetings every Friday with my direct supervisor, who, relative to the rest of the team, I was able to talk to. A lot of the people that I worked with were just Excel nerds who I had nothing in common with professionally or personally. So we had these meetings, and she’d say, “How are you?” And I’d say, “Good.” And she’d say, “Really? Because a lot of times it looks like you really don’t want to be here.” I was like, “No, as long as I keep learning I’ll be happy.” I kept sugarcoating it, but I wasn’t lying. I didn’t think it was worthwhile to lie and say I’m happy, because I don’t know who benefits from that, neither me nor them. And I got into a routine, I did all their work, probably not at the same rate as the temp they were hiring who embraced our menial task as our life’s work and took it very seriously.

Wait, can you repeat that?

The other contractor, who wasn’t a full-time employee and would sometimes complain that he wasn’t a full-time employee even though he’d been doing this job for nine months—he really embraced the task and took it very seriously and acted like it was some kind of complex art. That was sort of what he did so his job was meaningful and valuable. I was coming out of this liberal arts college and feeling very entitled, like, “My job has to align perfectly with my interests.” Which is a millennial mentality, like, well, I’m interested in pudding and complex mathematics, so I need to do something that perfectly combines the two of those things like I did in my thesis in college.

So I couldn’t do that. And I became increasingly weary. And we’d have these meetings every Friday. The first two meetings she said, “It really doesn’t seem like you want to be here.” And I was like, “Oh, I’m just getting adjusted to the nine-to-five lifestyle, I have a long commute.” I started looking for a lot of other jobs at work. And so I started lying in the meetings, like, “Yep, everything’s good, really getting into my groove with this task! I’m getting really good at it!”

Probably the month before they let me go, she said, “You’re doing your job and everything’s OK, but I don’t sense the hunger for marketing in you.” And my mistake was revealing my true career aspirations, which I would say set the mood for their skepticism about my own passion for the work I was doing. So they didn’t see the hunger. And I tried getting there early, I tried staying late, which was not what I wanted to do either, but it’s kind of a sacrifice you make. If you’re trying to work your way up from the mailroom at Goldman Sachs, you stay there 80 hours a week. For me, I was not interested in pursuing a career in this, so it wasn’t worth it for me to not be doing comedy stuff at night.

When did you get let go?

I went away for Thanksgiving. I came back on a Friday, and we were supposed to have a meeting to talk about our goals. It’s hard to say whether or not they would have trained me to do more stuff had they felt I was more competent or enthusiastic, but basically after I came back I took a day off where I said I was sick. We were supposed to have a meeting at 11:30 in the morning on Monday, and I got there on Monday and she said, “Let’s move the meeting up to 9:30.” And basically I brought my computer up—we got these fancy MacBook Pros, which was a nice perk, working at a company like that. And I brought my MacBook Pro Air to the office and put it down and my supervisor was like, “Oh, you won’t be needing that.” And I was like, “Oh, God.” And she was like, “We’re going to have to let you go.” And I was like, “Yeah?” She was like, “Here’s your paycheck for today. It’s just not working out.” So I went downstairs. I packed up my stuff. I didn’t say goodbye to anyone. And I went outside and called my mom and was like, “Yeah, I guess that needed to happen. And I guess the good part is I don’t have to go to that job I hate.”

But still, a part of me felt like I had been trying to fake it and make it work for two months. I essentially failed at hiding the fact that I didn’t like what I was doing. I don’t know if that’s a good way to fail. Maybe it’s good to fail at hiding something you don’t want to do, because you don’t get stuck doing it for 10 years. But it still hurts that I was maybe unqualified or wasn’t up to their standards. That was still an ego blow. I think my friends comforted me, and my family was basically like, “Once you’re doing something that you actually want to do, you’ll be a good employee! This wasn’t the right thing. And it didn’t make sense for you to be suffering.”

Yeah, that’s pretty much my story. I was upset for a little bit. I emailed the boss. I was like, “I know that we talked about how this wasn’t my primary field of interest, but I was an intern doing really menial work for you guys. And doing it well, and not messing anything up. Why’s it in your interest to let me go and not just keep me around? Why do you care whether I’m happy to be there?” And I think the problem is I think the startup mentality is that they want people who aren’t just going to do 9-to-5, log in their hours, and leave. They want people who are passionate about the work that they do, which I wasn’t. They’re literally the people who retarget you to ads that you don’t want. They’re the enemy for most Internet users.

And I expressed to them on multiple occasions that I really enjoy writing, I would love to take a stab at the blog, I would love to use this or that. There wasn’t really much room for me to explore. And she didn’t really want to teach me, because I guess it didn’t seem like I wanted to be there. My parents weren’t angry. They were like, “super weird experience to get fired right after college, you know?”

And they told you you didn’t have a “hunger for marketing.”

Yeah. The enthusiasm wasn’t there. They didn’t think the relationship was working because they didn’t see me wanting to learn more and tackling all these tasks that in my opinion weren’t presented to me. I was trying to do a lot of different stuff, but they weren’t really giving me any of it. They were like, “Be more enthusiastic about this really boring task.”

You found a new job.

Now I have a freelance job that doesn’t require me to march in every morning with a smile on my face and pretend to be the most fulfilled, happy intern in the world. For a while, it was like,
“Uh, oh, rent!” I wish I could have quit and given them two weeks’ notice so I could look for a job. So that was kind of daunting, that I didn’t have that buffer time in between to look for a new job. But in the end, it’s almost like being in a toxic relationship when someone breaks up with you first. You want to have the satisfaction of quitting, but it’s nice that they just pulled the plug because then it freed me up in a way. It hurt, but it freed me up to not have to be doing this thing that I hated. And I have other friends who are temping, who do stuff that they hate also, but haven’t had the same problems as me because they weren’t required to feign this enthusiasm for the work.

My brother made this pretty patronizing comment where he was like, “When I don’t like something, I buckle down and get it done, but unfortunately your personality is if you don’t like something, everybody has to know about it.” He said it in this tone that was like, There are some objective differences between us. But really it was like, Here’s something I’m able to do that you’re not because you’re an entitled little B-I-T-C-H. That’s how I interpreted it. But anyway, I think … I don’t know what the angle is you’re going with, but I don’t really blame the company. I don’t think they did anything wrong. I do think that there is sort of a movement—there’s a Dave Eggers book that just came out called The Circle that talks about these quality-of-life corporations, like Google and Facebook, who pay for your dry-cleaning and have tennis courts and kind of want to assure the overwhelming wellbeing of their employees. And at the company I was at, it wasn’t enough for them that I did the work. It was sort of imperative that the work I was doing for them was the most important thing in the world to me and that I was fully behind their operation.


Zach Schonfeld is a Newsweek reporter living in Brooklyn. He’s also written about internship woes for publications like The Nation and The Wire (RIP). He has an annoying handle on Twitter.

Photo: Startup Stock Photos



Show Comments

From Our Partners