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  • Alex Priest 12:57 pm on August 3, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: americanlegacy, at will, , contract, , , letter, , quit, reid, 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
    Subject:
    To: [THE BOSS]

    [REDACTED],

    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.

    Good luck selling those [NAME OF ONE OF THE PUBLICATION’S ADVERTISERS].

    [REDACTED]

    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).

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

      Alex,

      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, , pace, reid   

    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 6:25 am on February 5, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: alexpriest, , climate, , copenhagen, , , , , , reid, 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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