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  • Alex Priest 12:57 pm on August 3, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: americanlegacy, at will, , contract, , , letter, ms&l, quit, , senate, , theawl, unpaid   

    Don’t Be Afraid to Say “I Quit” To a Crap Internship 

    Remember how, at the beginning of your internship, you most likely signed a short contract saying you were an “at will” employee? You know how this means that you can be terminated–or that you can quit–for any time or any reason? Well one intern took this to heart, the quitting part, anyway. Check it out, courtesy of The Awl:

    From: [REDACTED]
    Date: Mon, Aug 2, 2010 at 12:34 AM
    To: [THE BOSS]


    This is not going to work out. After last week, I can no longer in good conscience stay at [NAME OF PUBLICATION]. I don’t think making bar graphs and quoting other websites is going to make me be a better writer. I quit.



    Now this got me thinking. The first reaction to this kind of letter might be, oh, what a spoiled little intern. But really, are they so spoiled? Was that intern really out of line with that kind of letter? I’m not so sure. There is absolutely something to be said for being a hard worker, sticking it out, holding true to your commitment, and networking within any high-profile organization. But it’s not hard for me to envision a scenario where it might just not be worth it.

    I’ve been extraordinarily fortunate to have some incredible internships, on Capitol Hill, with the American Legacy Foundation, with MS&L PR, and now with the Consumer Electronics Association. That said, had any of these internships been unpaid and not lived up to my expectations, I may have been tempted to write a similar letter of my own. But I will emphasize, this is especially in the case of unpaid internships.

    The legality and ethics of unpaid internships has been in question for some time. While I can’t realistically say I expect unpaid internships to disappear anytime soon, I can definitely say there should be an expectation of legitimate work and learning to take place in an unpaid internship. After all, if you aren’t making money, you should be at least learning something and improving your skills–otherwise what’s the point?

    In the case of the letter above, the intern makes an excellent point. “Making bar graphs and quoting other websites,” in all likelihood, will not make him or her a better writer. Those are skills any intern with half a brain already has, and there’s no excuse for any organization to be handing interns such menial tasks (except perhaps very infrequently). If that internship was making him or her connections and giving them access to people in a high-profile organization that they might not have had access to otherwise, then there’s probably some value you there. If not… well then good for them.

    My point? Interns–if you get stuck with a crap unpaid internship, don’t do it just for that extra line on your resume. Call it quits early on (don’t wait two months into your internship) with a well-written, concise letter like above (although perhaps more polite), and then tell that story next time you interview for an internship, they might very well be impressed. Intern employers–don’t be jerks.

    Update: Great points in the comments by AU Career Center advisor Marie Spaulding–I couldn’t agree more! There’s a lot to consider in a situation like this (see below).

    • Marie Spaulding 2:02 pm on August 3, 2010 Permalink | Reply


      While I understand the frustration the intern in question (let’s call him Gary) expressed, I suggest other options Gary might try before quitting.

      If Gary were an AU student, whether or not he had registered to earn credit for the internship, he ought to take advantage of the resources of the AU Career Center to discuss the situation. If he contacted one of the Career Advisors, I, as an advisor, would ask if Gary had met with his supervisor to express his desire to apply his research, analytical, presentation… skills to benefit the employer. And, Gary ought to refer to the ‘contract’ or job description details to remind the employer what he had detailed as the projects Gary would tackle during his internship.

      If Gary had a conversation with his employer and still did not get some new projects or duties, I would urge him to let me know so that we could discuss other options.

      Quitting may appear to be noble, but employers do not forget and they talk to each other. Washington is a small place where word travels fast. And, to be honest, all of us run into situations like the one described during our work lives and we need to learn how to remedy them, if at all possible.

      • Alex Priest 2:19 pm on August 3, 2010 Permalink | Reply

        Couldn’t agree more. I’m definitely *not* advocating quitting except for in extraordinary situations. And you make great points about utilizing the resources at our disposal in terms of the career center, etc. (congrats on the recent ranking, by the way!).

        Given the limited information given in the letter, I made some assumptions to fit the theme of my post–namely, that “Gary” had already evaluated the situation and gone through the advising process.

        You also make a great point about employers talking to each other. But that said, people quit their jobs every day because they don’t like them–that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it just depends on how you go out. I would *not* recommend burning bridges like “Gary” did, obviously, but I’m not so sure quitting an internship should be altogether thrown out as an option, either.

    • Francine Blume 2:10 pm on August 3, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      Alex!! Have we taught you nothing!

      You shouldn’t be stuck in a crap internship, but there’s a process. FIRST, know what you’re getting into before you start. A solid position description is 1000 times better than “work on some projects.” If you have chosen wisely and it still just clerical, ask for more substantive work. If you’re getting credit, involve the Career Center and/or your faculty to help lobby for you. If there’s no one to give it to you, or it isn’t going to happen, GIVE 2 WEEKS NOTICE, explaining graciously that it isn’t what you expected, that you needed more substance, but thanking them for the opportunity. NEVER burn bridges. It’s a small town and a small world. I had a project assistant suddenly quit on me ten years ago, and wasn’t I delighted to reject her application when she applied for another job years later in another city!

      You should never be stuck in an unpaid, clerical internship. But if you end up in that situation, leave gracefully.

      • Alex Priest 2:46 pm on August 4, 2010 Permalink | Reply

        Totally, totally agree. Just using this letter as a conversation starter… it worked! =P

      • Bee W 1:10 am on April 15, 2011 Permalink | Reply

        You rejected her application? If the lady was wrong for leaving, then two wrongs definitely don’t make a right. Spitefulness is never a good quality. There are no ifs ands or buts to justify it.

    • The HR Intern 4:51 pm on August 3, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      I’d agree with what Marie laid out above. The best course of action is definitely being up front with your supervisor and having a conversation about what you’re looking for and how you can work with the supervisor to better the organization while enhancing your own skills.

      And as much as I love the tone of the e-mail (and I’m sure everyone’s been there – fond memories of doing nothing but scanning documents for a summer are coming back to me…but I digress), I think maybe you should be a little more civil in the way you handle the resignation. I feel like approaching the supervisor and thanking them for the opportunity before proceeding to explain why it’s not exactly what you’re looking for may come across better. Employers do talk and it’s not the kind of reputation you want hanging around you.

      Nice entry! Love the topic!

      • Alex Priest 2:47 pm on August 4, 2010 Permalink | Reply

        Thanks for your comment! I thought this would spark a good discussion, and I’m glad it did. Lots to think about in that type of situation. Like I said in my entry, I’ve been extraordinarily fortunate with my internships–here’s hoping most of us never wind up in that situation at all!

  • Alex Priest 9:18 am on June 7, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , bicycling, , ces, , exercise, ms&l, pace,   

    A Change of Pace 

    So I’m settling in at my new internship and wow, it is a change of pace. In a good way, though, of course!

    Not only am I doing differing kinds of work at the CEA, but it’s also a very different kind of organization than any other that I’ve worked at in the past. The CEA is big–they have a beautiful building in Crystal City, lots of amazing resources, and a huge and talented team. It’s also organized; no more scrambling to find old records, archives, or juggling assignments not related to my actual job function. At CEA they’ve got their stuff together, and things just seem to work.

    That’s not belittle my past internships–they were all fantastic too!–nor do I want to appear naive. Every place of employment has its ups and downs, and I’m sure not everything always runs smoothly at the CEA. Just as it was in the Senate Majority Leader’s office on Capitol Hill, at the American Legacy Foundation, and at MS&L, there are always hiccups along the way. But that said, so far I’ve been extremely impressed, and I’m thrilled to part of such a unique and sophisticated organization.

    (More …)

  • Alex Priest 1:30 pm on May 24, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , ms&l, , summer, techchange   

    The End and New Beginnings 

    Since I’ve last written, much has happened–and rest assured, I’ll have plenty to talk about over the coming weeks. This past Wednesday was my final day interning at MS&L PR (which was a great experience, in case you missed my earlier posts!). Now I’m on to bigger (sort of) and better (hopefully!) things.

    This Wednesday I’ll begin work interning in the marketing department of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), organizer of the Consumer Electronics Show, held every January in Las Vegas. I think this is going to be an amazing opportunity, and something a little different from what I’ve done before. In the past my internships have been primarily communications and PR focused (appropriate for my B.A. in Communications), but this one fits well with my B.S. in Business and Marketing. I’m looking forward to doing more hands-on work, designing and creating things for our audiences to see, instead of doing so much of the background work, as I have in the past.

    In addition to my work at the CEA this summer I’ve also begun my first non-internship! My first job without “intern” in the title, I am now officially the Director of Social Media at a new organization called TechChange. We’ll be launching our social media presence–and getting the whole organization off the ground–in the coming weeks, and I’ll be sure to mention that on here as well.

    Now that we’re all caught up, I’m also resolving to write more here! With all that I’ve got going on in the coming weeks and months, I know I’ll be learning valuable lessons in the intern world each and every single day. Rest assured, I’ll do my best to capture them here. Thanks for reading!

  • Alex Priest 9:00 am on April 22, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , budget, class, crunchmode, ms&l, , , school,   

    The Challenge I Was Waiting For 

    This morning I got a fresh challenge at my internship–probably the kind of challenge I’ve really been wanting all semester. In recent weeks particularly, I’ve been occasionally frustrated with some of the tedious work I’ve been stuck doing, given that I’m the only part-time intern in the office. Today I was assigned to take on the brunt of the work for a brand new project–a big one–and one that I’ll spend considerable time on for for the remainder of my time at MS&L.

    Obviously I can’t give too much detail, but the challenge is two-fold: First, simply completing the project. This is something unlike anything I’ve ever done, and despite my briefing this morning, I’m still not 100% sure what to expect. I’m certainly hoping for smooth sailing, but in this job, smooth sailing is never, ever guaranteed. Secondly, it’s about completing the project on time and (hopefully) under budget.

    In PR agencies, we bill work by the hour. Because of that, the first step in a project is setting the budget and estimating the amount of time each position will require to fulfill their duties–not an exact science. For this project, we determined this morning that the initial budget issued me far too much time for what, as far as I can tell, should take a relatively small amount of time. So we cut my hours for that phase of the project in half. For another, we cut them by one third. For another, by a half again. In all, we cut several thousand dollars worth of time from the project. I’m not concerned, but in fact, I kind of like it. This project gives me a challenge–not only do I need to complete quality work, but I’ve got a timer, now, too.

    I’m realizing more and more that I work best in “crunch mode.” It’s stressful, and I usually freak out a little and don’t sleep much (hence I’m writing this at 3:09 a.m.), but it’s when I’m on a tight deadline, with lots of stuff to do, that I produce my best work in the most efficient way. It works.

    The next two weeks will put my endurance to the test like never before. In addition to tackling this project at work I’ll be completing my honors communication capstone project (sneak preview here, for those of you interested), finishing a final paper for my last (!) general education required course, preparing for three final exams, completing two final course portfolios, giving my final speech for public speaking, and trying to figure out what’s the next internship I’m going to tackle (but more on that in another post–soon). And of course, squeezing in a few more posts here before the end of the semester. It’s going to be an insane adventure, but I’m pumped for it.

  • Alex Priest 9:32 am on April 5, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , ideas, , ms&l, , , swot   

    What’s the “Big Idea?” 

    Last week involved juggling a myriad of different projects at the office–all fun, but all challenging me to keep myself more organized and productive than ever before. With juggling six classes, my honors communications capstone project, an apartment search, a job search, and more outside the office, I’m looking at more balls in the air than I’ve ever even imagined.

    But I’m surviving and I’m enjoying every minute of it.

    Also last week my fellow intern and I (the third intern has left to pursue a full-time job opportunity she was offered elsewhere) were hard at work brainstorming for our MS&L Intern Project. This semester, we are drafting a pitch for a future potential client, in a familiar industry with a topic that seems to be increasingly in the news. Now that we’ve identified a potential target audience, competitors, done a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis, and more, we need to come up with our “big idea.” This is the hard part.

    See the “big idea” for our project isn’t just deciding to target one group or another. And it’s not just about picking some ambitious, pie-in-the-sky, let’s-conquer-this-industry kind of idea to go with. We have to take into account practical things–like a limited budget–and strategic factors; We have to ask ourselves, “how does this idea relate back to our ultimate goal?” Basically, this is all a lot harder than it seems.

    Which leads me to my lesson for the morning: inspiration doesn’t come natural. No one is born with a “big idea” or a the talent to simply conjure up brilliant innovations without any forces from the outside world. We’re all impacted and influenced by our upbringing, our immediate environment, the people we surround ourselves with, and the paths we have taken to reach our current situation.

    For this intern project, we’re working closely together, in addition to receiving counsel and advice from multiple other colleagues. And it’s helping.

    We don’t quite have our “big idea” yet, but I can tell it’s well on the way. We have lots of brilliant ideas, now we just need a little focus and a heavy dose of practicality to start the ball rolling and, in the end, present an outstanding intern project. I’m excited.

  • Alex Priest 10:10 pm on March 20, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: full-time, ms&l, , schedule   

    The Part-Time / Full-Time Debate 

    Going into my internship at MS&L, I knew that there would be two other interns, but not much else. As it turns out, they had both already graduated–one with a master’s degree–and were to be working a full-time  internship with MS&L, 40+ hours a week.

    At first, I felt like the lame duck intern. Because of my course schedule, it’s only possible for me to intern on Tuesday and Friday afternoons, and full days on Wednesday. Roughly 20 hours a week, and not nearly the full presence in the office that the other two interns had. At first, I was a little worried this situation would cause problems.

    Because I wasn’t in the office as much, our colleagues tended to forget about me. They’d forget my schedule and, if they couldn’t find me, just pass on the assignment to another intern. For large assignments, some need a full-time presence, to attend meetings on Mondays or Thursdays and put in more hours than I could. This kind of left me in the dark.

    But not all is lost! Turns out, it just needed a little bit of time. Part-time internships are a fact of life for full-time students. I don’t have the financial capability to take off a semester for a full-time internship, nor did MS&L expect me to do such a thing. For me, it was just a matter of asserting myself, keeping in touch via e-mail if I’m not in the office, and making sure they knew they could rely on me, even if I wasn’t in the office every day.

    Now I have three large projects I’m involved in, as well as my hand in several others. I’m getting plenty of significant experience and I’m growing closer and closer with the team. I’m learning more every day, and learning that some of my colleagues make absolutely incredible mentors.

    If you’re stuck in a part-time internship and think you’re going to be left out–don’t worry. Just be sure to put yourself out there and make it known that you can perform just as well on a part-time schedule as you can on a full-time one.

  • Alex Priest 10:00 am on February 23, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: internslump, ms&l, , pitch, , , snowpocalypse,   

    Part of the Team 

    Hi all, my apologies for the delay since my last post! What with the blizzards ravaging the city, schoolwork consuming my life, and a couple slow days in the office, I just didn’t have a whole lot to say!

    As of last Friday though, things are really picking up at my internship. As I said before I’m interning with MS&L PR Worldwide, a major international public relations firm. As of last Wednesday and Friday, my work is starting to pile up–and it feels great!

    I’ll be honest, for the first weeks of my internship I fell into a bit of the part-time intern slump. At MS&L there are three of us interning, two of which have already graduated and are interning full-time. Thanks to my course schedule, I’m only available to work on Tuesday/Friday afternoons and all day on Wednesdays. Still definitely worth it, but it leads to some confusion in the office as to when I’m working/not working, and, at first anyway, it seemed to cause me to get passed up for a lot of project-based assignments.

    Clearly, that’s changed!

    (More …)

    • FB 1:26 pm on February 25, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      GREAT insight about your pitch-writing and super attitude!

  • Alex Priest 6:25 am on February 5, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: alexpriest, , climate, , copenhagen, , , ms&l, , , , studyabroad   

    Just Getting Started–A Quick Introduction 

    Hi there, and thanks for taking a minute to read my first post! First, allow me to introduce myself.

    My name is Alex Priest and I’m a junior studying marketing, public communications, and statistics here at American University. The past three years have been filled with amazing experiences–from the 2008 election and President Obama’s inauguration to my personal experience studying abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark just this past fall. I’ve learned a lot both on-campus in classes and extracurricular activities, as well as off-campus through internships, networking events, and just day-to-day life in one of the world’s busiest and most influential cities.

    Speaking of internships, I’ve had some of the best internships around. Check below the cut for the rest of my quick introduction and my experiences in start-ups, politics, nonprofits and now, public relations agency work.

    (More …)

    • FB 8:05 pm on February 8, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      WOW! How did you get all those internships and how did you pick Copenhagen? (That’s one of my favorite places.)

      So I’ll be you aren’t lucky! I’ll be you did some good networking at the very least. Share your stories!

      • Alex Priest 7:16 am on February 13, 2010 Permalink | Reply

        Haha, well I have gotten to be pretty active in networking circles 😉 However, my first several internships really were based mostly off of my résumé and interview skills. Only MS&L can I say I really built my way into via networking

        Copenhagen was sort of a random pick, it was one of the few programs where I could take classes for BOTH of my degrees (and get credit for them). In the end though, it really couldn’t have been more perfect!

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