I was one of the interns fired for writing a proposal for a more flexible dress code

A reader writes:

I am writing to you because I was fired from my internship last summer. It’s how I found your blog actually, the aftermath of it all. One of the other interns wrote you an email about it. His name was Niles. (Note: Name changed by Alison for anonymity’s sake.)

We wanted to change the dress code but the company was not receptive. I don’t want to say too much because I know the story was all over the internet and that Niles wrote to you about it last year.

Why I’m writing to you now is because besides that internship, I have no other work experience. I’m about to graduate and look for a full-time job. My resume is blank for work stuff otherwise. I don’t think I should put the internship on my resume because I got fired and because it was for a stupid reason that I know was wrong. If you have any tips for writing a resume and cover letter for when you a college degree but zero work experience, it would be great to hear. I don’t even think I should mention the internship when I apply or at interviews, and I still regret letting Niles talk me into it.

How long were you at the internship? If it was just a month or so, then yes, I’d leave it off your resume since that’s not enough time to really justify including it. (I think that might be the case since I received Niles’ letter in June and it was a summer internship.)

If it was longer than that, though, it might be worth putting it on, and if it comes up, you could talk about what you learned from the experience. If you’re humble about it, it doesn’t have to be a terrible negative.

But otherwise, as for your resume: You’re definitely not the only person to graduate from college with a resume without work experience (although I’d argue that it’s malpractice by colleges to allow that to occur.) The best thing you can do now is to find ways to flesh out your resume with work: intern (there are lots of internships that don’t require that you be a student), temp, volunteer, or do whatever you can to get actual work experience. Until you have that, you can play up extracurriculars and so forth — but the faster you get work on there (even if it’s not impressive-sounding work), the better.

Also, do you truly have no work to put on there — no summer jobs in food service or retail or as a camp counselor, or anything like that? If you don’t have that stuff either, I don’t mean to rub it in your face, but sometimes new grads don’t realize that those things count too and that your resume doesn’t have to be just office work.

I also want to give you the same advice that I gave to Niles when he wrote me: to write a letter to your manager from that internship explaining that you’ve learned from the situation and that you appreciate the opportunity they gave you and are sorry that you squandered it. That’s worth doing simply because it’s the right thing to do, but it also might pay off in ways you can’t anticipate right now.

{ 311 comments… read them below or add one }

    1. Mustache Cat

      Sorry, I just got really excited at seeing this. OP, you sound smart and able to learn from mistakes, which are both great qualities to have. Allison’s advice really can’t be improved upon in my opinion.

      My other thought is to just get whatever job you can as fast as possible–retail, grocery store, whatever–just to show employers that you’re not afraid to work, even if it’s not office work.

      Reply
      1. Catalyst

        100x this!!! If I see that someone graduated 6 months + ago and didn’t even work retail or something after they finished their courses, I wonder what they’ve been doing and it makes me shy away from even phone screening them. I know that sounds a little judgmental, but I think people should always be working if possible when they are done school and are adults.

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        1. Katelyn

          Also, temp work, while un-glamorous and probably not in your area of expertise will demonstrate that you’re not “afraid of work”, and will expose you to a lot of different office environments so you can try different culture types on without actually committing.
          I didn’t even know that the field I’m in today existed when I graduated college, but after not finding work I temped as basic office drone (photocopying, reception, data entry) and at one longer-term placement slowly added to my responsibilities as I proved myself reliable, and was eventually hired on as a Jr. teapot painter. Many years later I’m now the head of a teapot painting team all because five employers ago I was hired to photocopy and open/deliver the mail.

          Reply
          1. Justanotherthought

            Second this!

            I got a degree in elementary education…. but I realized during my senior year during student teaching that’s not what I wanted to do. I finished my degree, but after not finding any significant work on my own after about six months (I worked a pizza place just to have SOME money while I lived at home), I went to a temp agency and got a job processing invoices at an engineering firm. I stayed at that job for over two years, until I was laid off. I made a decent salary (less than what I might have made teaching, but plenty enough) , and got a ton of great office experience (including how NOT to run a business…. that company ended up going bankrupt). I did end up at my current job due to a family connection (she mentioned to her former boss that I had been laid off and she knew of a job opening in her program) but ALSO because of the experience I had just gotten! They hired me right away because I had some office experience and it was still an entry level job, but they knew they wouldn’t have to hold my hand.

            So look at a temp agency! You never know where you’ll make a good connection.

            Reply
          2. Bea

            I can add my story here as well. I was hired as a general office assistant to do data entry and pick up the phone. It lead me into bookkeeping and business management because I loved it so much and caught on so smoothly. Within a few months, I was running the entire office because our AR was ill and the Financial Manager was burnt out, it was massive to me becoming who I am today. You never know what you’ll find if you just say “ef it, I’ll do what it takes to learn about the world around me and my options.”

            I didn’t even have college to pad things with, it was straight out of high school into that frying pan and I wouldn’t change it.

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          3. Red Reader

            I was hired as a temp to help someone with a six month excel project for a hospital. He quit at the end of my first week, I got hired on at the end of my six months to replace him, and I’ve been in medical finance for 12 years now.

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          4. Dust Bunny

            My first job out of college was (a summer job at a camp, cleaning horse stalls, but then) cleaning kennels at the vet’s. I moved up to veterinary assistant pretty quickly and later found a job in a medical school library, where the veterinary stuff has been more useful than one might expect (my B.A. is in history). I know everyone wants to start out in their field of study but it often doesn’t happen–sometimes you really have to get your hands dirty until something else materializes.

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          5. Anonymousaurus Rex

            Yes! I temped right after I finished my PhD because I didn’t have a job lined up and I really needed to pay my rent–it turned into a joke at the office where I ended up that I was the highest-educated-lowest-paid person there. But it was totally worthwhile, and once the people in the office knew my skill-set I got a raise and a bunch of new duties, which then turned into a permanent position.

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          6. Cedrus Libani

            Shortly after I graduated – this was 2009, so the economy was on fire – I took a job as a courier. I have an engineering degree from MIT, but you can’t eat a diploma, so. Three weeks later, the company’s only sysadmin was fired for cause, he bricked the company’s whole IT setup on the way out…and then the boss remembered my resume, and came knocking. Yes, I hacked into their computer system and salvaged all their records. No, I didn’t get a raise, and I still had to do my deliveries. But I did the job for six months, got them on stable footing IT-wise, and helped them hire someone to replace me. If I’d wanted to go that direction with my career – and I definitely gave it consideration – it would have been a fantastic opportunity. As it was, I got a good story out of it. And I’ve never doubted the importance of just being there when opportunity knocks.

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        2. NotTheSecretary

          Yes. I’ve always, ALWAYS worked and very often at very un-glamorous jobs. It’s something I had a lot of hard discussions with my husband about as, after college, he only wanted to work at jobs that were “college-grad-level” even though we both graduated in the middle of the recession and ANY work was precious.

          My sister never worked in high school or college but was very lucky to want to teach a high-need subject. Even so, she struggled with interviews, resumes, and learning how to function in the workplace.

          Temping can be great experience for someone who has none. It at least introduces you to the office environment and can be a good way to get those early-career mistake out of the way as you jump from academia to business.

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        3. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

          Unless it’s obvious that, for example, they’ve been volunteering or traveling or learning how to milk camels in Mongolia (true story, heard it), yeah. I’m 100% not impressed by “I graduated and decided to hang out at my parents’s house for 6 months while convincing myself to start a job search.”

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          1. SirTechSpec

            I’m curious: how would you respond to someone else who wasn’t a recent grad but had been out of work for 6 months? Job searching is tough, especially if you’re new to it, and if you don’t have much experience, it could easily take 6 months or more to get a job in your field – and many recent grads have student debt that makes the benefit of a minimum-wage job negligible compared to focusing on searching for a job that will actually pay their bills.

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            1. Annonymouse

              Volunteer work.

              People expect that volunteers will drop in and out of the work so it’s not as hard to leave as a job and it can give you exposure to the type of industry or role you are looking at.

              Also since you know the job market isn’t great right now (even things like fast food and retail jobs are competitive) it’s easier to start volunteering to get some experience on there to help you build to the next step.

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              1. Lurk

                How do you “freelance” with no experience? Isn’t the whole point of freelancing and “consulting” that you’ve already established yourself and have the option to break out on your own?

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                1. MillersSpring

                  Any freelancing would likely depend on friends with small businesses who are willing to take a chance on just your college training. Say you’ve spent 3.5 years studying accounting, you could help someone get caught up on their record keeping or bill paying or get them started with QuickBooks. Or if you’ve spent 3.5 years studying graphic design, you could develop logos, ad layouts or direct mail pieces. Or if you’ve studied marketing, you could launch social media pages, or research new potential markets.

                  The clients would be taking a chance on you but no doubt getting valuable services. These are exactly the type of projects that a college senior would have done in class and group assignments. They’re not experts but they have skills to offer a small business owner who’s otherwise out of their depths.

            2. Clewgarnet

              In my field (network engineering) I’d expect them to be working on their qualifications. Learn the IOS of a different vendor (everybody has Cisco – knowing Junos or Huawei as well gives you an edge). Get a CCNP Security or CCNP SP to go with your CCNP R+S.

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        4. A. Schuyler

          That seems like a pretty harsh stance to me. I was fortunate enough to get a job straight out of university, so I only had a few months between my last semester and my first day on the job, but if it hadn’t worked out that way, I wouldn’t have taken a non-career job for at least six months or so.

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        5. Anxa

          I think this is a fair attitude, but please do realize that the lack of service or general labor work doesn’t indicate an unwillingness to do so.

          They may just have a poor personality for those jobs (as determined by the robotests) or not have the experience needed to get that experience. Or maybe they don’t have a good sales personality to sell themselves to managers. Of course, these things may matter to you, but I wouldn’t assume it’s a lack of willingness or ability. Also, volunteering gets expensive, especially if you’re still dependent on other people for housing and transportation. One of the reasons I moved out was the tension between my mother and I when I was unemployed after graduation. She gave me a really hard time about wasting my time volunteering and interning (she was right, but at the time I thought it was better than nothing). I had no trouble getting retail and food service jobs pre-2008, but it’s been a true struggle ever since. I was shocked at how easy it was to spend months at a time spinning my wheels, getting nothing truly done, but also never really having days of relaxation or leisure. I worked on a lot of home improvement projects for my parent, job searched, and cooked all the family meals, laundry, etc. so other members of my family could work longer hours. It filled my days but wasn’t really work (although some of it was for more back=breaking than the work I do now). As for the common advice to just ‘temp’? I’ve never had any success going down that route. Perhaps it’s location dependent. Every posting wanted a year of experience! And I was really bad at calling every day or week because it felt rude, pushy, and like I didn’t trust the agency staff to choose the best temps for the job on their own. The most embarrassing thing of all? I turned down my summer job offer. I felt too guilty knowing I would leave that job if someone else hired me that I turned down the opportunity to get paid to do not much of anything to have to work a lot harder while unemployed.

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      2. I Herd the Cats

        We routinely hire people for internships or jobs that are “beneath” them. Most of them move on to better jobs. The common denominator is they aren’t afraid to work doing whatever is needed. I can’t picture hiring someone with zero work experience, which I don’t even understand.

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        1. Salamander

          This. You put it much more directly than I did. I’d honestly have serious concerns about hiring someone with no work experience.

          BTW, you win the contest for best user name ever.

          Reply
          1. I Herd the Cats

            Thank you! And I truly am flummoxed. My kids work, they’ve always worked. They’ve worked since they could get someone to pay them money. How does anyone do this differently?

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            1. Annonymouse

              It depends on the parents.

              If they value education over work experience in high school and can afford to help you in college/not have you work during high school then I can easily see someone having no work experience by the time they finish college.

              Also those values are how you prioritise your time in college – study first work once I’m done.

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              1. One of the Sarahs

                But what about holidays/vacations? I can understand “prioritise study first”, and during my 1st degree, I deliberately worked higher-paying childcare jobs in the holidays so as not to have to work in term time (admittedly so it didn’t interfere with my student activities, because I loved the societies/volunteering) – but it’s weird how someone can get to graduating without having done *any* kind of work.

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                1. eee

                  see, that’s where the issue comes in: if you’ve had a job previously, it can be really easy to get hired over vacation, especially re-hired at your job. For example, I had a friend who worked at Nordstroms in high school, and every college break she could come back to her department and work because a) she was a known quantity, b) they didn’t have to train her. For any other position, you’re a college student who’s only going to be home for a couple weeks or a month and has no experience, meaning they’re going to spend time training you how to do things like work a cash register, and then you’re gone, which employers typically aren’t too hot on.

            2. A. Schuyler

              I’ll put my hand up as being one of the people who does it differently. I never had so much as a part-time summer job until I got a summer internship in my last year of university. I lived at home, my parents paid my tuition and living costs, and I had a nest egg I used for travel and such. I did volunteer but not intensely – my focus was all on my studies.

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            3. MillersSpring

              Yes, I’ve seen it. Parents who want the kid to focus on studies and/or athletics. They enjoy giving them plenty of 20s for pocket money and more.

              Believe me they are not doing their kids any favors. Make them get a job! These protective helicopter parents are failing to instill any work ethic in these highly educated young people. Then they can be like a fish out of water in their first workplace. Nothing makes sense to them. smdh

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            4. Roker Moose

              My parents both grew up with very little– my mother’s family certainly were living below the poverty line. But they worked hard and, without wanting to be crass, earned a very good living. They prevented my siblings and I from working when we were in high school and discouraged us from working in college– they felt that we’d spend our entire adult lives working, and wanted us to enjoy our youths in a way they were not able to. I did work in college (in a few ‘below the line’ jobs) and I’m grateful for the experience. I can understand where you’re coming from in terms of teaching responsibility, value of money, etc., but I don’t think my siblings and I are any worse off for spending our teens and twenties just being young. Different strokes for different folks.

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          2. Had Matter's Pea Tarty

            Another commenter said “I wonder what they’ve been doing”, now you say you’d have serious concerns. I don’t know what you’re hiring for – it’s probably above what I’m aiming at – but I can say this. What I was doing to get no work experience was:

            a) Living in 300 person hamlet in a rural area with extremely sporadic/unreliable public transport. Like, ‘over an hour to the nearest town’ level rural.
            b) Having Asperger’s Syndrome. If you tried to give me a job interview at 15 or 16, I would have spent the entire time staring at the floor and struggling to string together a simple sentence.

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            1. Kit M. Harding

              My Asperger’s Syndrome never manifested quite like that in interviews, but it certainly manifested earlier in the process– I had quite a lot of trouble just going in to ask for applications, because it was a strange place doing a completely new thing I had never done before and one of the biggest problems I have is trouble dealing with *change* and *new*. My mother basically threatened me with removal of the major thing that helped me cope with school to get me to get a job– if she hadn’t felt the need to make that threat I wouldn’t have had any work experience either.

              And then I got lucky, since she used that same threat to get me to call to follow up, and the manager of the fast-food place I ended up working at was so disorganized that calling back several times to check was how one got an interview– and he hired pretty much everyone who managed to get to the interview.

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        2. Bobert

          I once hired an entry-level IT support tech for his first job out of school mainly because of his experience at McDonalds. Most candidates sort of hung their heads when they described their work experience in retail, restaurants, construction, etc. but this guy was the opposite. We asked him what he liked about his current job and, expecting the usual BS response, he got visibly excited and talked about his great co-workers, his regular customers and how he knows all of their names. etc. That sealed the deal with him getting the job because that kind of enthusiasm for what most consider a low level job can’t be faked.

          And he turned out to be a great employee with a fantastic work ethic and attitude (and he kept working at McDonalds on weekends for a while because he enjoyed it).

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      3. Salamander

        Yes. Most people have jobs that they’ve held that weren’t glamorous or in their fields. If I go back far enough, there’s a good deal of food service and temping in my history. But. Those things kept me out of my parents’ house, paid the bills, taught me workplace norms, and often opened some unexpected doors. These jobs also showed me that one does not simply walk into Mordor and demand plum assignments and privileges. For better or worse, they taught me that there are often hierarchies in place, and these must be navigated carefully.

        I was hiring right now, I’d rather take a chance on someone who has worked at *something* in addition to a degree rather than just the degree. They’re less of a risk, and their expectations of the workplace are likely to be more in line with the realities of ordinary workplaces.

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        1. MillersSpring

          Exactly. The first “workplace” I experienced was the school office one period a day in the eighth grade. Then I was a volunteer candy striper at the hospital from ages 13 to 16. Then worked a BBQ place.

          Get out of the damn house and work.

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    2. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

      I was all “YESSSSSS”

      I will say that this could be – if delivered with some forehead-slapping self-deprecation – a pretty interesting interview story. You wouldn’t want to just drop it into every interview, but….I wonder if this story might be something of an asset.

      “So, what’s your greatest flaw as a worker?”

      *clears throat, shoots cuffs* “So, my buddy Niles….”

      Reply
      1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

        I just make this comment because OP sounds genuinely pretty thoughtful about it and could spin that into “And so I learned a really important lesson the hard way, and it’s made me more determined to get it right as I launch my career again,” etc. Everybody loves an underdog.

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          1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

            Yeah, and it’d be hard to do that without calling your own judgment into serious question.

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      2. Kyrielle

        I wouldn’t pull it out for that question. But for “tell me about a time you made a mistake and how you dealt with it” maybe. But yeah, you have to be willing to own it. Even so, with some interviewers it might go over well, and with others not-so-well, so I’d probably give it a miss there.

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        1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

          The more I think about it, you’re probably right. If delivered to the right interviewer in just the right way…maaaaaaaybe? But then I wonder if there’s any way to tell, in the moment, whether it’s going to go over well, or if it’d just land in the middle of the conversation like a dead fish dropped on the floor.

          Yeah, OP, don’t listen to me.

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        2. Kathryn T.

          I think the ability to have this land right depends on having exactly the right mix of humility and humor, being able to develop a solid narrative arc, sticking the landing on the morality ending, and ultimately being a GREAT story-teller. I don’t think everyone could do it, but if you have that gift of being able to tell the story of a complete blunder and have people rooting for you the whole way, I think it could be done — and done spectacularly.

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      3. Lablizard

        “Tell me about a mistake you made at work and what you learned from it?” “In college I was an intern and….”

        Reply
    3. Little Missy

      I am a career counselor at a university (I work mainly with freshmen and sophomores on the exploration side of the equation). and I pay close attention to which of our degree programs have strong employer and alumni relations and which do not. And that’s part of what I pass on to students as they explore. “That program has connections to worksites for interns” and “if you pursue that major, you will be largely on your own when it comes to job search” have become part of my lexicon in the 25 years I have been doing this. And I don’t apologize for being that blunt about it.

      Reply
      1. Little Missy

        Oops, hit “reply” too soon. I didn’t mean this to go into nesting! I was responding to “malpractice by degrees” which is a real thing in higher education. Several states have passed legislation requiring that colleges and universities start tracking their graduates and reporting employment outcomes in order to continue to receive public funding. So many of us are aware and actively working on that problem.

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      2. aebhel

        My college could have used a career counselor like you. It’s a good college, too–but if you’re not a business/engineering grad, the career center basically shrugs and says ‘idk, switch majors, here’s a flyer.’

        It’s been ten years since I graduated, so maybe they’re better now, but when I was a student there they were worse than useless.

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    4. Winger

      I have to admit, I am a little baffled by all the interest around this story. I didn’t realize until reading this follow-up how much it had traveled around the internet. I agree that the original letter does illustrate a variety of things people enjoy talking about re: millennials, internships generally, and so on. But I wasn’t struck by the letter nearly to the degree that other people evidently were, and now I’m pretty confused!

      Reply
      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        I genuinely don’t know why it went viral. I guess because it tapped into a cultural desire to bash young people? But that doesn’t seem to fully explain it. (Then again, maybe there’s always an element of randomness when that happens.)

        Reply
        1. Falling Diphthong

          Evidence: The dress that broke the internet.

          (Which I still maintain was a fascinating science lesson and thus worthy of that distinction, seeing as how two people sitting next to each other looking at the same monitor could see very different colors. Based on how the eye corrects for the blue/warm balance of light early vs midday.)

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          1. Kyrielle

            (Briefly off topic – I can’t find it now, but if you search the internet maybe you can. There was a share of a GIF or video going around FB with two dresses side by side, one in a shadowy area and one in light, with the corresponding different color perceptions. Someone cuts out part of one of the dresses (ala paint or photoshop), slides it over to the other dress, and you see they’re actually the exact same colors.)

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        2. Marcy Marketer

          I think it has something to do with a person making an egregious error in judgement, not realizing it, and asking the Internet to help them respond in some totally off base way. It reminds me of that Ask Amy post where a woman writes in to see how she can stop inviting her sister, who is a single working mom, to events with other family moms because she doesn’t “share the same values” (re: go to church, have a lot of money, or isn’t married, etc). That one gets circled around every now and again on Facebook.

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            1. MegaMoose, Esq

              I think both of those letters also can be uncharitably read as smug and/or self-righteous, and your response (although always generous to the writer) is seen as them getting their comeuppance. People love that kind of thing.

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              1. Wendy Darling

                Yeah, there’s something about when someone describes an incident and you’re like “ooh *wince* you did a dumb” and then that person proceeds to explain that they are totally in the right here and HOW DO THEY MAKE PEOPLE UNDERSTAND??? that just gets people all vengeful.

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              2. paul

                I dont’ even know that reading those as smug or self righteous can be termed too uncharitable. I mean, I get the policy of not haranguing writers, it’s important, but I don’t think someone would be incorrect in reading some smugness into those.

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                1. sstabeler

                  to be fair, the way I’ve always interpreted “don’t harangue writers” is “don’t just criticize the writer”- it’s fine to say “you were in the wrong- this is what you can do about it”

            2. KarenT

              Speaking just for myself (I’d found this particular letter fascinating), I would totally agree part of the intrigue was off-base thinking. The petition and proposal were one thing, but when it got to the part about hearing a co-worker lost a leg and instead of reacting with sympathy or backing off, Niles stated he could have factored that into his argument. That was the part for me that took it from normal misguided behaviour to something really unusual.

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            3. Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farms

              See also the woman who was fired for”taking initiative” ,which here means “went over her supervisor’s head, lied to her manager, and took over a project her supervisor denied her”.

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        3. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

          I think it was so amusing because it was so perfectly tone-deaf. Like, Niles was so totally unconscious of why and how what they’d done was so unprofessional, and he took himself and the situation so deadly seriously. There was just not a speck of self-awareness there. And so it was nearly flawless dramatic irony, with Niles as our tragic hero.

          Reply
          1. The OG Anonsie

            I got a strong sense of “I thought this was the right thing to do but apparently it wasn’t and I’m confused and dismayed how do I fix it,” which gave me a lot of sympathy for the guy even though it was all so off base. Young employees/interns misapplying what they’ve been taught is professional (or having received bad advice in the first place) and suffering consequences for it bums me out,. The more unequivocally at fault they are and/or the more confused they are about it, the more it bums me out.

            But I think a lot of people don’t feel that way, they just get the same schadenfreude they would from any bad-choice-blows-up-in-face story, which bums me out even more. I feel like the people most likely to make mistakes like this are people who haven’t had a lot of exposure or experience to white collar professional norms because they lack a lot of advantages people take for granted, and seeing them colored as entitled little brats rather than people struggling to move into a new culture is depressing. But that’s also me projecting a little bit, since I live that struggle all the time even though I’ve been working in an office for a damn decade now.

            Reply
  1. ZSD

    Do emphasize any leadership positions you had in extra-curricular activities, and list accomplishments from them. For example, if you organized an event single-handedly (or mostly so), that demonstrated project management skills.

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    1. Trout 'Waver

      Ugh. Don’t mention project management skills if you organized an event single-handedly. It will come off somewhere between insulting and naive to project managers.

      Project management isn’t something you do single-handedly.

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      1. KTZee

        I suspect this varies a great deal based on organizational norms and structure as well as whether you are talking about Project Management or project management. (Sort of trying to distinguish between a PM whose career is to be a PM v. the act of managing projects if that makes any sense!) At my organization, many project managers “single-handedly” manage projects, myself included. But Project Manager isn’t our job title, it’s a project designation. In general, we have very few individuals with a job title of Project Manager. Project management is taken on by various analyst types, who typically both PM, work the projects, and support other projects than their own.

        So an interviewee describing event management as akin to project management wouldn’t give me any pause at all – and I’m not sure I would’ve known to think about a different view since the way my organization operates is very typical in our market/field.

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        1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

          If I had a recent grad tell me that their experience organizing an event or a school project counted as project management, I’d probably have a real hard time deciding whether to roll my eyes or just pat their head and go, oh honey.

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          1. gwal

            I hope people interviewing new grads would, instead of either of those responses, generally understand that “being the main point of contact and organizer for some kind of event that occurred successfully due in large part to that person’s efforts” can easily be summed up by the very common words “project management”. The workplace usage of those words together is really different, sure, but how on earth do you know that until you’ve been in the workplace for at least a little while?

            Reply
            1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

              I’m going to push back against that a little bit. The professional/business lingo meaning of “project management” has percolated out to society at large enough that people know it means something in the context of professional duties. It’s not esoteric, and people have heard of certifications in project management and so on. If you’re trying to fancy up a non-professional experience by misusing business lingo, you’re either being fairly pretentious (eyeroll time) or you’re naïve (head pat.)

              Reply
              1. Jessesgirl72

                Or you’re using the word like a lot of people use it, and you have no way of knowing the person interviewing you is so.. combative… about something that is really insignificant. The time to be pedantic isn’t when you’re hiring recent grads.

                Reply
                1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

                  Pedantic? Seriously, now? I expect people to be able to self-assess realistically and communicate professionally, and clumsily misusing jargon ain’t either one of those.

                2. Avocado Toast

                  Disagree that Jessesgirl72 is being harsh. *Defiantly* disagree. TNMBOIS has some unreasonable expectations for new grads who are trying to market what little they have to sell themselves on.

                  “I expect people to be able to self-assess realistically and communicate professionally, and clumsily misusing jargon ain’t either one of those.”

                  Read: I expect people to have all the experience, wisdom, and nuanced understanding of an industry that comes with a lifelong career, as soon as they are fresh out of college.

              2. Elizabeth H.

                Maybe it’s not esoteric but I personally really didn’t know it had such a specific and singular meaning. For reference I work in higher education administration. Without knowing anything about it, a certification in project management strikes my ear as one of those kinda meaningless certificates people get to make it sound like you have workplace-applicable skills when they don’t have actual workplace experience in it. The only context I am really aware of it in is that at the programming company my friend works at, when they have a project then one of the people there is assigned as project manager (which I thought was meant literally).
                So I think at least a few reasonable people in the work world wouldn’t really think of it as having as specific a meaning as something like being a phlebotomist does.

                Reply
              3. bunniferous

                I just looked up project management on Wikipedia. By that definition, when I was in high school and organized a coffeehouse event for my youth council, that would have counted.
                My son is about a year away from a PhD in philosophy, and it is through talking to him I have discovered that what I think a word means and what he KNOWS a word means do not always match. In other words, I have no idea what a professional Project Manager does but I assume it requires a PhD in catherding.

                Reply
                1. Merci Dee

                  Heh heh heh. Every once in a while, I feel like I need a PhD in cat-herding at my job. And all I manage are fixed assets and sales/use taxes.

              4. Mookie

                Yep. Project management is its own subfield and its own department. Baking and assembling a friend’s wedding cake doesn’t make you a pastry chef. It’s fine to be ignorant, but there’s a bright line here.

                Reply
              5. aebhel

                … I have never heard of certifications in project management, and I would assume that any recent grad using the term was using it in the common colloquial sense of ‘i managed a project/event and it worked out due to my efforts’. I’m honestly not even sure what else it could mean, and I am not a recent grad by any stretch of the imagination.

                I don’t think this has percolated into society nearly as much as you think it has, is what I’m saying.

                Reply
              6. Anxa

                I didn’t know PM was a thing until a few years ago, several years out of school. Maybe it’s because I am naive, or maybe it’s because it really wasn’t until a few years ago that the term started showing up more places.

                I think you’re assuming that misuse of the term is an attempt to fancy-up a resume or to ‘get credit for doing it.

                And still, I think I first learned about it being an actual credential here on AAM and just recently started seeing online courses in it. I still can’t really tell when differentiates official Project Management from other forms of managing projects.

                Also, I don’t think I’ve ever heard the phrase used in the more official way not on the internet. I doubt it’s just my relative inexperience.

                Reply
              7. gwal

                I know I’m beating a dead horse here, but I actually read a job description today that used the following description in a bulleted list of necessary skills for an associate-level job, where the new hire would report to the Project Manager. I think it’s reasonable/not uncommon for ‘project management skills’ to be used as a phrase referring to skills that can be gained doing tasks other than workplace tasks.

                “Demonstrated project- and time-management skills, including the ability to think strategically, juggle multiple priorities, adjust to changing circumstances, resolve problems creatively and logically, organize time efficiently and remain attentive to details.”

                Reply
            2. paul

              To me that’s on par with saying you’ve got experience in financial management because you pay your rent and bills.

              Reply
              1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

                Apparently thinking that sounds a little ridiculous makes you pedantic. Who knew?

                Reply
            3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

              I usually call that sort of thing “event coordination” or something along those lines (not even “event planning,” because that is also a specific thing).

              It’s really hard when you’re a new grad, though, because you don’t always know that certain phrases are terms of art. And you also don’t always know that what you’re doing doesn’t fit the definition because (1) you have no experience with it, (2) you don’t have experienced peers/advisors who can give you immediate, context-based feedback, and (3) in many cases, your career advising program is not great.

              I think it’s fairly easy to tell when someone legitimately doesn’t realize they’re using the wrong phrase (but is good-hearted) versus when they’re trying to aggrandize their role. The latter bothers me, because that’s not correctable, whereas it’s easy to learn what certain words/phrases mean. So for new grads the specific buzzwords, imo, don’t matter as much as the delivery/demeanor.

              Reply
        2. MillersSpring

          (standing, slow clap)
          Thank you for differentiating lower-case project management. Yes, that term is accurate for non-PM work. I’ve managed a hell of a lot of projects, and I would get my back up if any Project Manager told me not to use that term because my projects weren’t IT extravaganzas or didn’t utilize PM techniques.

          Reply
        3. Anxa

          Project Management or project management. (Sort of trying to distinguish between a PM whose career is to be a PM v. the act of managing projects if that makes any sense!)

          Yes, yes, yes!

          Plenty of people have never heard of PM as a career in and of itself and in a lot of settings there is no formal PM, but there are projects to manage. I don’t have experience in Project Management, but I have naively spoke about skills with project management because resume grammar makes me more likely to type that instead of managing projects.

          Event coordination doesn’t work, because sometimes you’re …well, literally managing a more long-term project. Sometimes it was a solo endeavor, sometimes it was about coordinating the team, and sometimes it was mostly in between.

          Reply
      2. Frozen Ginger

        I mean as long as they don’t put “project management skills” on the resume, I do think that putting something like that on a resume is okay/good as long as they can demonstrate that it was a Big Accomplishment.

        Writing “Club Treasurer” on a resume isn’t going to impress, but writing “Oversaw and managed $30,000 annual budget” underneath probably would.

        Reply
      3. Curious and changing my whole resume now

        I’m probably too late to this but, how would one describe organizing events, school projects, etc., without using the phrase project management. I’m guessing what I do now might be considered a lesser, dumbed down version of project management, but maybe not. I don’t know and after reading this whole thread I really don’t know. I write RFPs and I consider each RFP to be a project, which I manage to make sure everything is done and completed on time. But I’m at a loss of how to describe what I do without using the phrase project management. (Ultimate irony that I write RFPs, yet can’t think of words.)

        Reply
        1. CaliCali

          If you’re writing RFPs, you’re an RFP writer or a RFP manager. There’s project management skills involved in the creation of an RFP, but it’s that fuzzy line between task management and project management. I respond to RFPs professionally and I’m a proposal manager — project manager typically has connotations with things of broader scope than one eventual document deliverable.

          Signed,
          A proposal manager :)

          Reply
        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

          Oh, drafting RFPs is definitely not project management. It’s closer to grant-writing than it is to project management.

          For organizing events, school projects, etc., you call it event coordination. School projects you don’t get to list on your resume unless your role was unusual or above-and-beyond the typical “lead for a school project.”

          Reply
          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

            I realized my comment might sound judgy. I apologize—that wasn’t my intent. I just meant that the distinction between drafting RFPs and project management is relatively clear, even if the former requires organizational and management skills.

            Reply
        3. MillersSpring

          Describe what you manage, e.g. “managed the drafting and submission of 20 RFPs” or “developed procurement policies and processes that were implemented for 85% of RFPs.”

          Reply
    2. Working Mom

      This may have already been said (haven’t read all the comments) but remember that work experience doesn’t have to be “office” experience. Being a host/server/bartender at a restaurant can help develop strong customer skills and verbal communication skills – as well as time management (handling competing priorities) and problem solving. Any job helps you develop skills that you can transfer to another job, industry, or role. And it doesn’t have to come from a paying job. Heck – can I tell you how many skills I learned taking on a position in my sorority house? You BET I talked about those lessons and skills in interviews right out of college. I had to speak to the experience I had at the time, and interviewers expect your experiences to come from high school/college situations.

      Think through any of those types of jobs that you may have had (camp counselor, lifeguard, front desk at a hotel, anything!) and think about the work you did, and translate those skills to the jobs you want to apply for. I think you’ll surprise yourself that you do have more work-related experience than you think!

      Reply
    3. Thlayli

      My graduate job involved single handedly designing manufacturing testing and CE marking a piece of machinery. Just coz it’s only a single person project doesn’t mean it’s not a real project.

      Reply
  2. Emotionally Neutral Grad

    This is another time where I disagree with Alison about one thing: I don’t think there’s anything to gain by writing to the company, especially not by offering an apology. There’s nothing to gain and could possibly cause problems if the people involved do not want to receive any communication.

    Reply
    1. Leatherwings

      Hm. See, I think that the risk of some vague “problem” is pretty low. Worst case scenario they trash the email/letter. Best case scenario they’ve softened a bit and the ding in the interns reputation gets at least partially repaired.

      Reply
      1. Kathleen Adams

        Yeah, I don’t see how it could possibly hurt. Mind you, it might not help, but there’s a slight chance that it might, assuming the OP was at least fairly well-liked prior to this, and I don’t see how it could do any harm.

        I would honestly be pretty pleased and touched to receive such a letter – again, assuming it was from an intern who seemed promising (if flawed).

        Reply
        1. Falling Diphthong

          Note that Alison advises writing to OP’s manager, not to the broader company.

          I think worst case the manager says “Huh” and chucks it. Best case, years down the road the manager is somehow asked about OP and due to the letter has an “eh, young people, at least that one learned something” attitude against which OP’s more recent work can shine. Most likely it never comes up.

          (I’m reminded of the letter from the person who realized when she ran into Rock Star that rock star had some bad blood with her, figured out what it was, and went on with her life… only to then apply for a job at Rock Star’s company, and then wonder if apologizing would be the right move. If you wait until there is a clear and immediate benefit to you, then it robs the gesture of all meaning–this stuff only has a chance to land if it appears you are doing it because It’s The Right Thing and there is no obvious chance of immediate personal gain.)

          Reply
          1. TootsNYC

            actually, best case, the manager says, “well, that kid was actually fine except for this,” and reaches out. I’m not saying to count on it, but I might actually do it if I were the manager.

            Reply
        2. kittymommy

          Yeah, I agree. I don’t think it’ll be overtly helpful, but I fyi think that there’s something to be said for someone who can admit there mistake both to themselves and to the person they made the mistake towards.

          Reply
        3. K.

          It really can’t hurt. Worst case, the OP doesn’t get a response and is in the same place she’s in right now.

          Reply
    2. AD

      Don’t want to receive communication?!? This seems unduly draconian. The interns made a mistake (albeit a serious one). They didn’t embezzle or commit crimes.

      An apology might be a nice gesture. It might be ignored. But I don’t see why it would make the organization uncomfortable or why we should be against it.

      Reply
    3. Countess Boochie Flagrante

      In this particular case, I wouldn’t think so; the original incident wasn’t on the same level of personal offense as, say, pushing a coworker in front of a car while in the throes of a panic attack. Obviously, though, this is something where discretion is important to find that line.

      Reply
    4. Amber T

      I might agree if OP was fired for something else. An adult who’s been in the work force for a long time – yeah, this might not fly. But OP was a college intern who was fired because because she didn’t understand work place norms and pushed back on something not worth pushing back on. It was because of inexperience and entitlement. I think the worst case scenario is whoever receives it just deletes it or throws it in the trash, *but* it could lead to whoever worked with her remembering her more favorably (or at least less negatively). Not saying OP could get a job or even a recommendation out of this, but Old Boss might see her name pop up one day, and could think “that experience made her grow up” instead of “that was one of my interns I fired.”

      Honestly, receiving a good, real apology that shows the person understood what they did wrong (and doesn’t try to justify it) feels really good. If OP can write an apology saying what she learned and avoid playing the blame game (Niles made me do it), I don’t think it could hurt.

      Reply
      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        Yes! I once received an apology about a year later from someone who I’d fired for engaging in pretty juvenile antics (with serious repercussions) and it did make me think really differently of the person, for the better.

        Reply
      2. A Potterhead for life

        OP – also, less is more with regard to the apology note; keep it humble, honest, and brief.

        Reply
      3. Here we go again

        Can we please stop using the word “entitlement” so loosely? It’s used so frequently with “millennials” and young people that it has lost its edge, and every time I see it I can’t help but get angry about how the younger generation is treated.

        Reply
        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          Eh, I think in this case it makes sense for the context, and I say that as someone who (a) has frequently and publicly ranted against anti-millennial crap before and (b) had a huge problem with the way this situation was portrayed in some of the coverage outside of this site.

          Reply
        2. JB

          While I completely agree with you that the word is overused and share your frustration that it has become secondhand for “annoying millennial,” I do think that it’s the right word to use to describe this particular incident.

          Reply
          1. Jen S. 2.0

            Agree. The term entitlement is often overused and misused, but I feel that here, it’s correct (and I am not a person who says literally when I mean figuratively or practically; or impact when I mean affect, effect, change, results, or influence).

            Reply
          2. Amber T

            Yeah, I’m one of those millennials, and reading article after article about how we’re all entitled and selfish and blah blah blah gets frustrating and annoying. Pushing for a change in work/life culture to keep up with modern times? Not entitled. Pushing for a change in dress code just because…? Errs on the side of entitled.

            The good news is you can (and it sounds like the OP has) grow out of the entitlement, usually with experience on how things actually work. I’d say being swept up in internet outrage is an experience that one would have difficulty forgetting, and difficulty in not learning anything from it.

            (Did that make any sense? I’m on cold meds, and that makes sense to me, which means it probably doesn’t to those of you not hyped up.)

            Reply
            1. Falling Diphthong

              I think one thing that veered it toward ‘entitled’ was observing “Chris doesn’t have to follow the shoe code, so we shouldn’t either!” when the more experienced conclusion would have been “Chris has probably talked to management to get an exemption, the details of which may not be my business.” (Chris didn’t follow the shoe code because Chris had a prosthetic limb and pain walking–contextual details that had not been included in the clothing policy when handed to interns, because why would they be?)

              My daughter is a millennial, and not at all like the stereotypes; I’ve also observed that it’s not hard to find a 40-year old asserting that the rules shouldn’t apply to them because of their specialness.

              Reply
            2. SpotTheDog

              “Pushing for a change in work/life culture to keep up with modern times? Not entitled. ”

              With this statement I have to disagree. Someone coming into my business with little work/life experience and insisting that I change to keep up with modern times as they see it, is exactly what I would call entitled. Change has to come from a point of understanding what the current state is. A new career employee (of any generation), does not yet have the experience of why things are done here or anywhere else yet. Change for the sake of change accomplishes nothing. I see that this is the exact situation that the OP and their friends found themselves in with their demand for a dress code change. I am surprised that we can all agree that the dress code change was an entitled act, however am surprised that we may think that coming into a business, new and inexperienced, and demanding transformational change would not be entitled.

              I think OP learned a very hard lesson in this and it is good to see that they did take something away from it.

              Reply
              1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

                “Someone coming into my business with little work/life experience and insisting that I change to keep up with modern times as they see it, is exactly what I would call entitled. Change has to come from a point of understanding what the current state is.”

                You’re not wrong, in general, but the inexperienced can often perceive the ridiculousness of a toxic, hidebound workplace that those enmeshed in it are numb to, and those responsible for it aren’t willing to.

                I mean, in the case of this letter, they weren’t wrong to question the necessity and desirability of a relatively formal business dress code for non-client facing positions; those clothes are hot, uncomfortable, and unsupportive. Of course, a signed petition and proposal was ridiculous and entitled, but Alison’s suggested script would have been entirely within their rights: “Would you talk to us about the dress code and explain why it’s important? We’re sure we’ll run into this again in future jobs, but coming from the more casual environment of school, it’s not intuitive to us why so many businesses have formal dress codes. We’d appreciate getting a better understanding.”

                Reply
                1. SpotTheDog

                  I agree that a fresh perspective can definitely bring to light to situations that people are numb to, and I agree with you in seeing this as the perfect opportunity to ask why, rather than an opening to make a demand. There is a big difference between asking questions and holding conversations that challenge the status quo in a productive manner, and just expecting that people must accept your “fresh” approach because you are young and know better about how the modern world works.

              2. sstabeler

                it partly depends on how you do it, if you ask me. asking “Um, is there a reason we can’t do it X way?” would be fine (If the answer was something along the lines of “nobody’s bothered to propose a change” then I MIGHT see about researching a better way, but would run the idea past someone more experienced before actually doing anything.)

                In the case of these interns, IIRC, they had already been told no, then came back with the petition. It’s not the initial request that did the damage, it was the petition, since it implied “if we band together, you MUST change your mind”

                Reply
        3. Mookie

          Yeah, it wasn’t entitlement. It was audacity from ignorance; they literally didn’t know any better, rather than that they were flouting (common if normally implicit but universally accepted) rules they unilaterally decided didn’t apply to them.

          Reply
      4. Karyn

        This is true! I left a job I had in law school on what I thought were good terms, but it turned out that my manager had been increasingly disappointed with my performance and never told me anything until I asked him for a letter of recommendation, at which time he said he was unable to help me based on “things he’d learned about my work since my departure.” It really hurt, but I was too scared to ask about what those things were, so I just let it go.

        Fast forward about three years, and during Yom Kippur, I mentioned on my Facebook that one of the people I’d like to apologize most to is that former employer because I really liked and respected him, I felt terrible that our relationship had soured because of something I’d done, and that the fear of seeing him at temple was keeping me from going (we were connected originally through the synagogue job board). My Rabbi sent me a message (yes, Rabbi is on Facebook) and asked if I’d be willing to let him reach out to Old Boss and ask if he’d be willing to talk to me. He readily agreed, and during our phone conversation, I asked if he would tell me what I did so I could apologize for it. He told me that it was just the general quality of my work that had gone down, and he found some things I’d left undone before I left that he had thought were finished. He said that he actually felt he owed me an apology for the way he handled (or didn’t handle) it, because he should have been upfront with me about my performance all along rather than just ignoring it and getting upset later. Not that it was an excuse, but I’d been dealing with a lot of health and personal problems at that time (including the breakup of my engagement), and I’m sure my work performance DID suffer. I apologized, and he ended up agreeing to be a positive reference on my bar exam because of my apology and acknowledgment of my failings.

        TL;DR – it can’t hurt to apologize, because the worst that can happen is they don’t want to hear it and don’t change their opinion of you. But I think if your apology is sincere, it can go a long way toward repairing a relationship that was damaged.

        Reply
        1. NotTheSecretary

          I love this story.

          It’s amazing what can be accomplished when people on both sides are willing to see their own errors and acknowledge their part of a problem.

          Reply
        2. (another) b

          Way better story than when a work study boss at my college felt the same way about me, didn’t tell me how to improve or even that he was dissatisfied, and when I asked him for a recommendation for something college related he said “sure” — and wrote a NEGATIVE one! He sent it directly to the hiring person without showing me and they had to tell me what it said and why they wouldn’t bring me on because of it. How embarrassing! He could have just said no!

          Reply
      5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        Very much agreed. People are gentler with interns, and they get a longer window to apologize, etc. But even if OP’s old manager gets the note and rolls their eyes, that’s probably no worse than their pre-email reaction.

        Reply
  3. Snarkus Aurelius

    Given how much non-AAM attention the original post got, I’d err on the side of caution and leave it off. If you put it on, you risk bringing the whole thing to light all over again. Then the focus becomes your dismissal rather than your candidacy.

    Reply
    1. k

      That’s a really good point. I saw this story come up outside of AAM and that coverage was overly harsh (people sure do love the “spoiled millennial” trope). There’s no good in labeling yourself “that kid from the internet story” if you don’t have to.

      Reply
      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        Part of me wonders if there’s a way to make that work in his favor. Like “I was caught up in this thing that went viral, and I’m mortified by my involvement and here’s what I learned from it.” Some people might find that interesting enough to give him a chance. Others wouldn’t, of course, but I bet some people would like the human-interest angle. (Especially since this didn’t rise to the public shaming levels of the sorts of stuff that Jon Ronson has written about.)

        Reply
        1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

          I brought this up above, and….I dunno, it could work if delivered in the right way to the right interviewer, but it could also leave the interviewer slack-jawed and trying to think of a tactful way to bail.

          Reply
          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            I almost wonder if he can use it as the cover letter hook. It will definitely get interest, that’s for sure. Some of it will be bad interest, but I bet not all of it.

            Reply
            1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

              Given that the original letter made it clear that it was a pretty formal workplace, it seems like this kind of wacky story might not be ideal in that kind of context. But if it were a younger, more informal workplace with a more relaxed dress code and a younger boss, I bet it would get positive interest. I know I personally would find it hilarious.

              Reply
        2. Mike C.

          I’m with Alison here. If nothing else, it’s going to trigger an “oh yeah, I think I remember that” rather than the full, searing rage of the internet. I can’t imagine a normal, reasonable person being mean or nasty over it.

          Reply
          1. Mookie

            I wouldn’t be mean or nasty over it, but it would make me wonder how much of an exhausting handful this person could be. (In this specific case, both Niles and our OP seem fine and I wouldn’t be too wary of them.)

            Reply
        3. Jessesgirl72

          I think it might be different if I got Nile’s resume vs this OP. This OP signed the petition, which was naive and not the right thing to do, but they weren’t the ring leader and wasn’t the one trying to justify the actions later.

          Niles would need to be an amazingly strong candidate with an extraordinarily sincere and humble cover letter to get me to consider him if he admitted he was the OP of that letter. I really do hope he has matured and learned better, but college hires are a dime a dozen- ones without already having shown the internet-reading world how tone deaf they are.

          Reply
          1. nonegiven

            I want to know about the one intern that didn’t sign and didn’t get fired. Are they working full time at something? Did they get a positive referral from the company?

            Reply
        4. Anxa

          I think there are a lot of reasonable managers who would rather have had a new graduate or otherwise inexperience person have made a really public mistake and learned a lot from it than someone who has never really been shaken. I know I personally learned so much from one of my darkest moments in my work pre-graduation, and had I been in positions of persuasion, could have saved a few other organizations from public backlash.

          That said, I really don’t bring it up, because it’s a blemish. I am lucky enough when that blemish didn’t already disqualify me (it shows up on internet searches, although is much further buried now than it was as a fresh grad). In my experience, the perception of having not messed up too much can matter more than where you are at currently. And I think this happens even for managers or other people in positions of power who do value growth and learning and experience, but aren’t conscientious about their biases. Or are in positions when there are so many applicants that it practically forces an attitude of ‘who can I can cull?’

          Classic example: professors who complain about students being supremely grade focused over understanding the material and gaining hands-on experience, when they determine who gets to volunteer in their labs by mostly be GPA.

          I think it’s a risky move. That said, I have mentioned my poor GPA before in interviews as a bonus. I know I’ll need to submit transcripts eventually, so I just go for broke and sell it like a positive thing (I’ve known what it’s like to be an overachiever and also to struggle a lot with school)

          Reply
  4. apparently not the only fashion designer here

    I agree with Alison. Be humble, illustrate that you’ve learned from your mistakes, and play up -any- work experience you have. One thing to add: you can also add volunteer work you may have done to your resume as well!

    Reply
  5. Countess Boochie Flagrante

    Never underestimate the power of being able to say “Yeah, I did a really stupid thing, but here’s what I took away from it and here’s how I’ve become a better/smarter/wiser/humbler/etc-er person from the experience.”

    Given that the incident did get such wide press, and given that I think most hiring managers (who aren’t secretly joyless trolls) understand that young folks occasionally do silly things, I don’t think that you should consider the end of that internship a death knell to your early career prospects.

    Reply
    1. CM

      Absolutely, this is totally forgivable (by future potential employers, probably not the company you interned at) if you can truly explain what you learned from it and why you would never do it again. So I don’t think you necessary need to leave the internship off your resume, if you are willing to tell this story. Have you checked with your school’s career office? I’m sure they have advice about what to put on a resume if you don’t have much work experience — they’ll probably tell you to pad it with stuff about your coursework, extracurriculars, any awards won or interesting projects you worked on.

      Reply
    2. tigerlily

      This is so very true. I used to work with men and women coming out of prison, and one of the things we always told our clients during their job searches was that they were far more likely to get favorable results if they were up front about how they understood what led them to prison and could articulate how they were working to distance themselves from those behaviors, than their fellows who tried to downplay or hide the issue.

      Clearly, prison is an extreme comparison to OP’s firing, but the sentiment is the same.

      Reply
      1. MegaMoose, Esq

        You get the same advice applying to the bar. It’s better to tell the bar examiners that you killed a guy than to lie about a parking ticket.

        Reply
        1. ThatGirl

          My college roomie and I (and the two other women we lived with) had to deal with the campus judicial person (I forget the exact term) briefly over the stupidest thing – we had candles in our duplex. Which we had, yes, lit a few times. Never left unattended, but regardless, strictly against the rules. My roomie went to law school and became a practicing attorney and all along the way she had to disclose this stupid rule infraction that in the end merited only a light slap on the wrist.

          Reply
          1. MegaMoose, Esq

            Oh yeah – almost every attorney I know has a story like that that they drag from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. My partner’s is the time he was written up for having a *lady* in his dorm room in college. Mine is the time I walked off the job when I worked at a coffee shop, because I had put in my notice so maybe I quit, but left before my two weeks was up, so maybe I was fired?

            Reply
        2. Countess Boochie Flagrante

          It was definitely that when applying for investment advisor licensing. Tell FINRA now, cause you don’t want them to find out later!

          Reply
        3. Decimus

          Hah! A friend of mine knows of a case where someone DID kill a guy, but got that PA bar membership nonetheless…

          Reply
    3. The Cosmic Avenger

      Also, never underestimate the power of getting ahead of the story instead of explaining it after they find out. Makes a huge difference, even if they still wind up holding it against you.

      Reply
  6. Emotionally Neutral Grad

    I worry about a couple of things: First, that the company interprets the communication as attempting to re-enter the company and sends a nastygram.
    Second, and I know this went over poorly with the commentariat last time: The interns were fired for organizing for a change in working conditions, even if the company tried to say it was due to ignorance of professional norms. Even if the company handled everything legally, it’s dangerous to engage management without some sort of representation. If it turns out the company violated laws about labor organizing, an apology on record is the last thing the former interns need when talking to the DoL or to an attorney.

    Reply
    1. Emotionally Neutral Grad

      Disabling JavaScript backfired on me. This was meant to be a response to Leatherwings.

      Reply
      1. Leatherwings

        I just think that if OP writes the letter even remotely well they could avoid that first perception. And I can’t imagine that even if the company interprets it that way they would send something nasty back rather than ignoring it. They seem like the type of place to avoid huge controversy (hence firing the lot of them) rather than getting in the weeds on the issue again.

        And a year later, I hardly think it’s “dangerous” to engage management by sending an apology note. This is, IMO, a bit of an overreaction. It’s like companies who never give references because LAWSUITS ARE SO SCARY when the risks of legal action are so remote that the benefits outweigh the risk.

        Reply
    2. Ask a Manager Post author

      Without getting into that all over again, it doesn’t sound like the OP has any interest in approaching it from a legal perspective. He wants to move on with starting his career.

      Reply
    3. MegaMoose, Esq

      I’m pretty shaky on labor law so I’ll leave that one on the table, but from a practical standpoint, what’s going to be more useful for the OP: potentially getting a good reference from the company, or a hypothetical DoL enforcement action (that my gut says is suuuuper unlikely, but let’s just roll with it anyhow)? I don’t think this is the preserving-your-legal-rights hill to die on.

      As for the nastygram, it’s a possibility and I would want to be really careful with my wording to avoid anything along those lines, but I don’t think it really leaves the OP worse off if they take it that way.

      Reply
      1. MegaMoose, Esq

        Sorry, I meant to say a good professional contact, not reference. I’d be astonished if they managed a reference, but who knows!

        Reply
      1. Anna

        I’m trying to figure out how someone would misinterpret a genuine apology anyway. It seems needlessly paranoid.

        Reply
    4. Observer

      If the company violated the law, why would it be a problem *for the interns* to have their apology on record?

      Reply
      1. Jessie the First (or second)

        It wouldn’t. Speaking as a lawyer, in general, yes you should be aware of the things you write and the things you say when there are Big Possible Legal Issues floating around you – but not every situation where something has gone wrong is a legal issue at all, let alone a Big One. The number of times people have to *actually* be worried about what they write or say because Legal Stuff is far fewer than many think.

        I would not avoid a brief but sincere apology here just because there could theoretically be some way to find a legal issue in the scenario -my apology would really not somehow be that one thing that ruined it all.

        Reply
      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        Yeah, I’m with Jessie. This advice is thoughtful but not really accurate. This is not a situation in which a brief apology would bomb OP’s future DOL case (particularly since it doesn’t sound like OP has any interest in such a thing, and the statute of limitations has almost run out, anyway).

        If the company sends a nastygram, they send a nastygram. But I’m not convinced this kind of speculation is relevant (at this time) to OP’s situation or next steps.

        Reply
  7. Sybil Fawlty

    I just want to reassure the letter writer that there are people who have also made big mistakes who will be inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt. I have my own business, and would consider hiring this person, even knowing the situation. My advice would be to be honest about it, and emphasis what they learned, as Alison said.

    I would definitely keep a close eye on them, and would not stand any nonsense, but I think everyone deserves a second chance, especially people who are very young and inexperienced. I’m so glad that my mistakes didn’t go public, but they could have.

    Good luck to you!

    Reply
    1. Falling Diphthong

      Yes. Don’t bring it up if it’s not organic–one thing with being internet famous is that 95% of the internet still never heard of you. But if it arises, this can be spun as the boneheaded mistake that damaged only yourselves, from which you learned.

      Reply
  8. MegaMoose, Esq

    Oh wow, I’d forgotten that letter. Good times. The OP’s question prompted me to see if I had a copy of my post-college resume in my gmail, and low and behold! It’s got a pretty robust section on school activities (study abroad, the title of an independent project), a skills section (windows 2000!), my work-study job, and my three retail/scouting/temping jobs with way more detail than probably necessary, but so it goes. I also have an “other experience” section listing my student org leadership and the fact that I was an orientation leader, which apparently involved being “selected from competitive field.” Assuming that you did something in college aside from the one internship and classes, I’m guessing you can find something to put on there. Good luck!

    Reply
  9. Kathleen Adams

    My organization hires interns every summer and sometimes other times too, and we have at times awarded internships to recent grads who – like the OP – have a degree but not very much job experience. So if you can afford to go that route, OP (we pay our interns, though not lavishly), I’d definitely look into that.

    And definitely add your non-professional work, if any, to that resume. Trust me, we’ve all had to do that stuff right out of school.

    Reply
    1. fposte

      And OP, it sounds like you feel you threw your once chance out the window, but honestly a single internship doesn’t make a humongous difference anyway.

      Reply
        1. fposte

          No, it doesn’t. It makes a mild difference but nothing more, because a single internship isn’t that significant an achievement. One-internship people and no-internship people would be in the same pile for me.

          Reply
        2. Lily Rowan

          Nah, I’m with fposte — one summer internship doesn’t make the much of difference to me, either. When I’m hiring for an entry level position, the thing that is most compelling to me is someone who doesn’t actually think being an undergrad is a full-time job. I mean, office experience is great, too, but I’d rather have someone with a steady ongoing commitment outside of school, whether it is waitressing or volunteering.

          Reply
          1. AcademiaNut

            That really depends on the major and course load though.

            I babysat, and worked during high school once I was old enough, and had summer jobs, and had summer jobs during university, and a part time job in my first year of university. But my undergrad program *was* a full time job and then some. My required in-class time was up to 28 hours a week, including labs, lectures and tutorials, before I even started on homework or studying. I was active in my local church (on council, taught Sunday school), but that’s something that’s dangerous to put on a resume. I could have added a part time job to that, but that would have come out of my sleep.

            I’ve been in the workforce post-PhD for 15 years, and the only time I’ve worked longer hours for an extended period of time was during the last couple of months writing up my thesis.

            Reply
            1. Thlayli

              Seconded. Engineering has lots of hours. In first year I had 36 contact hours plus lab reports to turn in every week before I even thought about study time. Meanwhile the arts students had 6 content hours and though they all claimed they had to spend 30 hours a week in the library to get their work done, most of them seemed to have a lot more free time than the engineering students.

              I worked summers always and most years I worked weekends too. In my degree year the results were really important so I didn’t work at all during the college year.

              Reply
            2. One of the Sarahs

              Your summer jobs would count, though – I think everyone understands that some people prioritise coursework in term-time, whether because they feel they have to, or just because they can. It’s completely different to have *no* work experience at all.

              Reply
              1. Thlayli

                Totally! I was just replying to the comment that said being an undergrad isn’t a full time job. In some cases it is.

                Reply
  10. TaxGuy

    Call a temp agency. Get certified. Volunteer. Start your own business…

    Do something. Anything is better than nothing.

    Reply
      1. k

        Yes yes yes. Smaller nonprofits, especially, sometimes have volunteer opportunities for office and admin work.

        Reply
    1. Marillenbaum

      Seconding the recommendation for a temp agency. If you’re in a major city, they are a great way to possibly get your foot in the door at other places, for longer-term assignments, etc.

      Reply
      1. De Minimis

        The unemployment rate is super low where I live and the job market is pretty good for someone who is okay with office temp work just to build up experience. I’m hoping the OP may be near a similar area.

        Reply
    2. fposte

      Yeah, I wish the OP had written last year, because we’d have told him to get a couple of commitments going tout de suite and he wouldn’t be so worried.

      Reply
    3. Venus Supreme

      Seconding the volunteer suggestion. It’s how I was able to beef up my resume before I got a job. Also, getting certified in something always makes for great conversation. I have my bartender’s license! My friend is certified in stage combat! Also, I suggest joining “young professional” network groups. They’ve helped me so much when I was trying to get a foot in the door.

      I was lucky in that my first professional internship out of college had managers who taught me how to write a proper resume. When I applied to them I literally e-mailed them like 10 bullet points of my work history and typed out my cover letter in one paragraph. I cringe thinking about it. So, good on you for writing in OP. I’m sorry about your experience last summer.

      Reply
    4. MillersSpring

      This is a time for the OP to go to professors, their parents, and friends of parents to get a job. Maybe someone has an office or a store where you can get entry-level work experience. As far as going on a future resume, a job at an actual workplace is typically preferable to babysitting or other irregular work.

      If the OP really made it to their senior year without ever working any job, wow, I wish I could have told you or your parents four or even six years ago that you really need to do some actual work.

      Reply
      1. Coalea

        +1 regarding your last sentence, MillersSpring!

        I came here to see if there was any follow-up from the OP because I find it absolutely mind-boggling that someone could reach the age of 21 or 22 without having ANY work experience. I started babysitting at age 11 and continued doing that for the next 10 years. When I turned 16, I started working (part-time during the school year and full-time in the summers). I worked full-time every summer throughout my college years and worked part-time during the school year for 2 of the 4 years.

        I always thought my first resume was really unimpressive since none of the jobs I had were particularly prestigious or related to the field I applied to after graduation, but they allowed me to demonstrate basic skills that are used in most workplaces (being punctual, following directions, interacting with colleagues and clients, being able to learn different computer programs and office equipment, etc.). I can’t imagine trying to break into the workforce without even this basic experience! Good luck to the OP!

        Reply
    5. Government Worker

      Yes! My first job out of college was a 4-week assignment through a temp agency. The person I was filling in for quit and I stayed 6 months as a temp, then got hired full-time as an admin in another department, then got promoted to an analyst position after another year and a half. I was there for four years total.

      And I’ve learned a lot from various volunteer gigs – contact small nonprofits about regularly-scheduled recurring volunteering in the office. I did a lot of data entry and envelope stuffing, but also learned some fundraising software and got some good contacts.

      Reply
  11. Stellaaaaa

    OP could always intern after graduation. It might not be entirely on the level (some of them don’t pay non-students even though they should), but as per “legit” internships, a short-term stint at a good company is an easy way to get a good reference, even if that particular company can’t hire you. I have a lot of friends who interned while bartending and most of them eventually got pretty good jobs.

    Reply
    1. Leatherwings

      Yep, I know lots of people who interned and worked at a restaurant serving/hosting/bartending/bar-backing etc. and made it work.

      Reply
      1. k

        And don’t leave those part time food service/bar/retail gigs off your resume! They can show that you’re good working with a diverse public, can work under pressure, etc. Just because the actual job is unrelated to the field you’re pursuing doesn’t mean there aren’t applicable skills there.

        Reply
        1. Falling Diphthong

          This. I’m surprised how often young people seem to think a job that “just” requires you show up on time, be reliable, do your work, get along with whoever is tossed at you, notice what needs doing and do it, and so on will be looked down on because it’s not “Great Idea Generator, Teapots Inc.”

          Reply
          1. Stellaaaaa

            My university had a whole thing about how every single student was required to do an internship (except ed majors – student teaching covered that base) and while it’s a good thing, it resulted in a local candidate pool of people who all had the same great qualifications. A second internship did the trick for a lot of them. Even now, I’d consider doing one if I felt stuck and wanted to switch industries or upgrade my job in other ways.

            Reply
          2. Anxa

            I think part of the reason is that even if you don’t really have much of a resume in terms of experience, it can take up a lot of room on paper and you have to start cutting somethings out (maybe not the case for OP, but certainly the case for the person with a string of small part time jobs, gigs, projects, clubs, etc but no real experience in their field of even in ‘professional’ jobs. And when you’re trying to choose what stays and what goes, it’s easy to want to toss the jobs where you haven’t accomplished anything. Especially because showing up on time, doing what people ask you to do, and being proactive are the baseline for working and starting you off at neutral.

            Reply
        2. Frances

          Absolutely agree! I especially think food service is one of the hardest jobs. I have so much respect for anyone who has worked in these areas. Ability to be dependable, diplomatic, patient, upbeat in all sorts of situations, etc. are core skills applicable to almost any job where you work with others.

          Reply
          1. Stellaaaaa

            I grew up in a shore/tourist area. It’s weird if you DIDN’T spend your summers waiting tables. I can’t imagine anyone judging that. Tourist tips are the best.

            Reply
            1. Manic Pixie HR Girl

              Same! It was truly a blessing, as I was able to have a summer job from age 14 straight through until I finished undergrad, and I typically made enough money over the summer to have ample spending money throughout most of the school year. I know everyone isn’t so lucky to have that kind of economy nearby to take advantage of as a young person.

              Reply
              1. Manic Pixie HR Girl

                Also, when I get the “Tell me something that’s not on your resume” question, I always get a lot of smiles when I say I supervised a funnel cake stand at a local amusement park one summer. (This was almost 2 decades ago and I STILL can’t walk by a funnel cake stand without wanting to retch!)

                Reply
        3. paul

          Some of the crappiest retail and restaurant work I did taught me very useful, applicable skills. Even if it’s just keeping my cool while dealing with a real jerk.

          Reply
  12. Hannah

    It’s true that lots of grads graduate from college with no experience. It’s OK as long as you realize that you aren’t going to get “THE” job that will start you on a pleasant, safe, direct path to whatever career you think you will want. You may not be able to land a job where you can afford your own apartment, car, etc., and have an immediately comfortable professional life. You’ll probably have to hustle a bit at first.

    That’s OK and normal, but I think some college grads think they will send out a resume that basically says “I did well in school and participated in extracurriculars” and expect to be able to land a picture-perfect job right away. There’s no magical cover letter that is going to get that for you–it’s something that you’re going to have to work towards.

    For now, your goal should probably be–do SOMETHING. If you can’t find a job in your field, find one outside of your field. If you can’t find a full time job, get a part time one. If you can’t find a job at all, volunteer or intern. If you can’t find an internship or volunteer post, try to come up with an independent project you can work on. Best case scenario, you do some combination of these things. The worst thing you can do right now is spend all your time waiting for bites on your job applications and telling yourself that nothing has come through and that is why you’re sitting back on your heels waiting for life to begin. When you do finally get that interview, you’re going to be asked how you’ve been spending your time, and you want to have a good, solid answer for that question. Its OK if the answer is “I’ve been doing X thing while trying to break into Y, and I’ve learned A, B, and C from that” but not OK if the answer is “Just sending out resumes trying to break into Y.”

    Reply
    1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

      “That’s OK and normal, but I think some college grads think they will send out a resume that basically says “I did well in school and participated in extracurriculars” and expect to be able to land a picture-perfect job right away.”

      Yessss….but. There’s a lot of colleges, and parents, and mentors, and bad career counselors that let their new grads think that, too. It’s not just at the feet of the 22-year-old that they go out into the working world with funny ideas about how to get jobs.

      I personally agree with Alison that it’s basically malpractice for colleges to let people graduate without hands-on practical experience, and I’d tack on that that goes basically double for grad schools. Not everybody becomes an academic, and I got some AWFUL advice when I was in grad school and looking to go work in industry.

      Reply
      1. Kathleen Adams

        So true. My degree is in journalism, and one of the requirements for graduation was an approved internship. I figured all j-schools had a similar requirement, but then I got out into the working world and started hiring people myself, which is when I found out that nope, they definitely do not all have that requirement. It’s just not right.

        Reply
        1. Cassandra

          You catch static both ways, in my experience. (I teach in a graduate-level professional program.) If a program DOES require (not just suggest/facilitate) internships, we get accused of slacking (because obviously we’re leaving the entire learning experience to the employer — beating the bushes for opportunities, making workable matches, prodding both employer and intern to set goals at the outset, handling workplace-socialization issues, dealing with the occasional poor fit or total meltdown, and prodding both employer and intern to assess the experience isn’t actually work or anything) and of exploiting/facilitating the exploitation of students where internships are unpaid.

          We still require internships, preferring paid (now that our part of the university even allows paid internships for credit! it didn’t until fairly recently) but accepting unpaid when it’s the best match we can make for somebody. We know full well that internships get our students jobs. But we still catch hell from many quarters for it.

          Reply
      2. Ask a Manager Post author

        There’s a whole interesting debate around this, where colleges often argue the point of college isn’t to prepare you to get a job; it’s to teach you how to think. But of course most college students (and their tuition-paying parents) tend to think it’s job preparation. There’s a weird disconnect.

        Reply
        1. Hannah

          “Sorry Financial Institution, I don’t have a job yet so I can’t pay back those college loans, but I can sure think critically about them. Isn’t that more important?”

          Reply
          1. zora

            “I would like to write an essay with a Marxist-Feminist critique of student loans as an example of the exploitative nature of capitalism, disproportionately oppressing women, especially considering the continuing lack of pay equity. You will accept this critical thought essay in lieu of my first 6 months of loan payments, right?”

            Reply
        2. ThatGirl

          Yeah, I have to say, my college didn’t prepare me to get a job. But my time working on the school newspaper, and the internships that brought me – that did. My university opened doors, but I can’t say the classes themselves prepared me for the working world.

          Reply
        3. De Minimis

          When I was back in college [in the Nineties] this was an ongoing debate. One interesting point that kept coming up, was that economic class tended to be a big factor in how a person saw the role of college.

          Reply
          1. Thlayli

            That’s the case even when the course itself is free. Where I live college is free, but committing four – five years of your adult life to a degree is still a big opportunity cost. I’ve noticed people who haven’t really learned the value of money (mostly people from wealthy backgrounds) tend to pick their course based on what they enjoy studying and people who understand how much of a struggle life can be without money tend to factor in job possibilities.

            I dreamed of being a writer or an actor growing up but I became an engineer. I probably would have been a good writer or actor but they are both very risky industries. You can make a lot but most people don’t. Engineering will always pay the bills. (I really do enjoy it too so it’s not like I’m pining after my dreams. And I can still do those things as a hobby).

            A guy I was friends with in college did philosophy. He was really rich (by my standards anyway) and thought of college as “expanding your mind” and “teaching you how to think” and all that stuff, rather than as a gateway to a job. He was really really smart (academically) and top of his class but he still spent the next 10 Years unemployed before he went back to do a masters and finally became a lecturer (not a philosophy lecturer).

            I imagine being unemployed with rich parents is a different experience that just standard being unemployed though, so maybe it all worked out for him.

            Reply
        4. Oryx

          I’m grateful I went to undergrad when I did because my tuition paying parents let me get a useless degree in a field I was very passionate about (and still am). These days, I don’t think they would have been as understanding.

          Reply
        5. BethRA

          We do sometimes think in the workplace, do we not? (some of the more interesting letters notwithstanding)

          Seriously, though, you’d be hard pressed to name a field of study where some form or practical, applied experience would not be beneficial to the learning process, even if you are just “learning to think.”

          Reply
          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            Sure. But most parents don’t think they’re paying $100,000 for their kid to learn how to think. They think they’re paying that to help them have a career.

            Reply
            1. LA

              And that’s where I’d say the mistake is being made, a lot of the time. It’s happening because for so long, college degrees were not the norm, so getting one gave you a leg up. Now they’re the norm, so they’re not the instant ROI they were when the parents were that age. You have to go the extra step above(study abroad, intern, get a master’s, etc.) if you want to have the increased opportunity a college degree used to get you. But the point of going to a university, for centuries, was learning how to think, not how to find employment.

              Same thing happened with high school degrees; as they (or their equivalent) became more common, college degrees became the way to stand out. I have no idea what happens after master’s degrees become the norm. Hopefully that will take awhile, since colleges are still considerably more selective about who gets into grad programs than they are undergrad programs.

              Reply
              1. Student

                A college degree is not the norm! If you have a degree, and most people around you have a college degree, guess what? You are upper-middle class, not normal.

                https://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/publications/2016/demo/p20-578.pdf

                Roughly 1/3 of the US population (25+ years old) has a bachelor’s degree or better, the common understanding of “college degree”. Even the younger 25-34 age bracket is only barely above 1/3. If you use the broader associate’s degree, we still don’t hit 50% in any age bracket, and sit in the low 40% in the overall population.

                There is a huge cultural divide between areas where “college is the norm” and areas where college is a major achievement. Just because you live in the former doesn’t mean your experience is representative or normal.

                Reply
                1. LA

                  I definitely don’t live in an area where everyone has one (nor do I think everyone needs one to be successful; I’m literally the first in my extended family to get a degree), but it *has* become a norm for people who want white collar jobs if they want to be competitive. Let’s be honest, *those* are the jobs the parents are expecting their kids to get if they’re paying for a college degree. Even though plenty of great paying jobs are out there that aren’t “office jobs”, those aren’t the jobs parents are expecting their kids to get. There are a lot of places where you need a bachelor’s to be competitive for an entry-level admin job, which is honestly ridiculous, but that’s what I mean when I say it’s become the norm. I agree there’s a class issue going on with all of this, especially as college becomes more and more expensive (I’m *still* paying off my comparatively small student loan, but the end is in sight!). All the more reason for people to understand that college degree does NOT equal automatic white collar job.

                  The point I was trying to make in my earlier comment is that the expectation that everyone who wants those jobs needs a bachelor’s is significantly more commonplace than it used to be (norm was maybe not the best word choice), and it’s becoming more and more commonplace. And as more and more people do a thing to be competitive, the less competitive it makes all of those people, because it levels the playing field. Which is not to say you should or shouldn’t go to college, just that you need to have a realistic understanding of why you’re going. Too many parents of kids are trying to push them into college as a “do this and you’ll get a job” guarantee without understanding that the way college gets you a job is by you going and learning and applying yourself and taking advantage of every opportunity you can to make connections with people in your field, not just going and doing the bare minimum to get a very expensive piece of paper.

                  The biggest issue is that people expect that diploma=good job, when it has never been a guarantee of that. It used to be the case that getting a diploma meant you had done hard work intellectually that not many other people had done, which is why so often people with them knew they could get a good job, but it just doesn’t always mean that anymore. If you want to pay money to make sure you get a job, you need to be going to a trade or vocational school, because that really is the point of those educational institutions. But because those are often more blue-collar jobs, people decide to look down their nose at those institutions.

                2. sstabeler

                  which actually correlates with the “Middle Class” which is what many people are thinking of when they think of a “good job”- historically, you only really needed a college degree if you intended on becoming a manager, or working in a highly-skilled profession. These days, it’s increasingly the case that nit only is a degree a prerequisite for many jobs, but a degree is not considered enough to even get on the first step of the career ladder (and I won’t get into how I find unpaid internships at best borderline abusive when required before you can get a paid job in your intended career. Suffice it to say that I vastly prefer paid internships. (in brief: if an internship is actually useful, then you are presumably doing something of actual value to the company. I can accept lower pay to account for the training, but I cannot accept no pay at all))

              2. Erin

                Honestly students shouldn’t graduate high school without a driver’s license and have held down a part time job for 6 months. I can’t believe people could graduate college without either. I’ve learned just as much from my part time jobs as I have from my high school and college education.

                Reply
                1. Erin

                  @mookie, it depends on where you live. For most of the US it’s necessary to be an independent adult. I can only think of 2 cities in the US, Chicago and NYC, where not having a driver’s license doesn’t negatively effect your life and limit your options.

            2. Big10Professor

              I could write a book on this, but most real jobs involve problem-solving and figuring things out on your own, using the tools you learned in school. There is rarely some step-by-step formula you can follow for every task or job assignment, for the types of jobs that people seek post-college.

              When we* try to recreate the experience of ambiguity in the classroom, it puts us at odds with existing frameworks for evaluating students, students evaluating courses, course timelines, required resources, etc. Some universities/departments are giving their instructors the tools and freedom to improve in this area; some aren’t.

              I’m lucky that I have the support I do to experiment with my courses, because there is always the chance that a real-world project can go horribly awry.

              *by “we,” I mean professors who really care about teaching and pedagogy

              Reply
              1. blackcat

                *waives hand*

                I aim to teach students how to construct a logical argument/plan of attack, to consider alternate approaches, and to determine path is best. I think of this as teaching them how to think, but it is very much about preparing them for almost any future career.

                It also causes some highly negative course evaluations, because students think that science should just be about repeating facts they learn in lecture. But if I just taught them facts, they’d forget those, and there’d be no value to my course.

                Reply
                1. nonegiven

                  This is what my son meant when he said his hard science degree taught him how to think.

        6. hbc

          It’s a really tricky balance to strike. Living in Michigan where there’s an unhealthy alliance between the automotive industry and public institutions, there are some programs and degrees that seem designed to fit you into a particular job with very little concern for your general knowledge and lateral moves. I don’t want to name any specific degree because I might be unfair, but it seems like the difference between getting a Bachelors of Mechanical Engineering and getting a Bachelors of Drive Train Engineering.

          Reply
          1. paul

            We’ve got a *lot* of that here with a major defense contractor. It royally pisses me off frankly. There’s one case where you can get a votech cert that is *very* niche that they require….but it cost you 5 figures, and isn’t in any way generally applicable. So god forbid they train people but they can get good press but working with our juco to offer these hyper-niche certs that cost the people getting them a ton of money, just so they have a shot at an interview.

            Reply
          2. Anxa

            I agree that it’s tricky!

            Should students and taxpayers be funding talent development for employers? Probably not. Should they spent 4 years learning ‘how to think’ and spend money just to learn for the sake of learning? Probably not unless they are already rich.

            I think really that a Bachelor’s should demonstrate a proven interest in a field, the ability to follow through with a relatively long-term goal, give you a basic background into the topics and theories relative to your field, and give you some practice in beginner-level tasks. It should set up a foundation so that employers can quickly train you in the skills you need for a particular job. I think at a community college where there aren’t really any seminars, an environment that prioritizes higher learning, and open admission it makes more sense for it to lean more to job-training, so long as those companies that heavily recruit from those programs are also sponsoring them to a degree.

            Reply
            1. LabTech

              Should students and taxpayers be funding talent development for employers? Probably not.

              My cynical-about-all-things view is that employers pushing educational institutions to give more practical curricula is more about employers trying to shift the financial burden of training new employees onto universities. It would align with the “hit the ground running” mentality that I’ve seen desired on many job postings, such as asking for years of experience with overly-specific tasks, or requiring years of relevant experience for entry-level roles.

              Reply
              1. Anxa

                Yeah, this is pretty much exactly what I have a problem with.

                I presume you’re a lab tech. My university biology program really didn’t do nearly enough to give me applicable skills to be a lab tech. And it wasn’t there job to train entry lab biology techs, but perhaps we should have had a biotech class that counted as a core class. Bio 101 / 102 labs didn’t have any PCR, DNA extraction, or immunassay components.

                Then I went back to school years later to brush up my skills. That community college biotech program gave me a lot of hands on skills, for the local employers that I didn’t end up working for because I moved before I got an interview (and I went during the year of a merger, and internships were suspended that year so I didn’t really get an in). It was absolutely more of a job training program for entry level workers. If it had been any more specific to those industries I probably would have balked more about it. Fortunately I think it was just well-rounded enough to hopefully be transferable, although I’m coming in about almost 2 years out of THAT program.

                Reply
                1. LabTech

                  Many lab science programs don’t do a good job with preparing students for lab work. Even in my program, the number of students who have never used a micropipetter by senior year was stunning.
                  In my case, I went into college with the goal of gaining as much lab experience as possible. I also had to meet my work-study requirements and went to an R1 university, so that part worked in my favor.

                  Even so, I’m not qualified for most lab tech positions in my field due to being in a less in-demand niche, and those weirdly specific technical experience requirements I mentioned (and for a generally low-paying line of work). Employers seem unwilling to understand how related technical skills transfer, unfortunately.

          3. ancolie

            I went to a university highly connected to the auto industry (not Kettering, Erin! ) and this attitude was REALLY common… in students (engineering in particular). NOT professors, though.

            I heard countless whines — in class! Directly to the professor! — like, “why do I have to take (one of several literature or philosophy or whatever courses)? This is a waste of time. I’m going to be an engineer; I don’t need to know this cr*p!”

            The answer was always akin to: This is a university. If you want to take classes only directly related/necessary to engineering, you are free to go to a good trade school. If you think, “but a bachelors from a university is/looks better than a trade school!”, classes like these are exactly WHY this is. People want to hire well-rounded and well-educated workers who can think beyond the little box they’re in.

            Reply
        7. animaniactoo

          And I’d argue that getting me to the point where I can think well enough to figure out how to get and hold a job is part of that teaching. It’s not like it’s an obscure skill, and it’s not like there’s no reasonable expectation that what I’m learning is intended to be used in a working environment.

          Grad school, okay, you get out of it on that one. But undergrad? Nah.

          One of the programs my dad ran at his school (former teacher/guidance counselor, secondary ed) was mock job interviews to get students prepared to run that gauntlet. They looked at what they could impart to the students to help them prepare for the world and then did as much of that as they could.

          Reply
        8. Myrin

          I find this kind of stuff really interesting!

          I feel like this might be one of those situations where the philosophy around something stays the same whereas the actual real-world experience around it is shifting. Let me speak of my own country’s experience for a bit: Until quite recently – and I mean to people who are in their forties now – university was something really special here. It was something for either very rich or very-good-at-school people. For the former, it didn’t need to be a job preparation; for the latter, it was on the one hand a preparation for the kinds of jobs we have here that you can only get through attending university, which aren’t that many – doctor, lawyer, teacher, pastor being the most commonly names ones – and on the other hand indeed a place to gain knowledge. Until eight years ago, people would have to take almost no exams throughout their whole university career – you went to class because you were interested in the subject and wanted to learn more about it, not because of a grade.

          Now, whether that was really the case or just idealistic thinking on part of the teachers and those students who actually did feel that way remains to be unprovable; however, that is very much still the predominant culture at unis until this day (I hear professors lamenting about it constantly).

          What has changed in more recent years is that less people go to… I suppose “trade school” is how you guys would say it; there doesn’t seem to be a perfect translation because our systems are so different but basically, it’s a school people go to for two or three years where, alternating with the time spent at their employer, they learn their job. It’s 100% and unequivocally job preparation. They graduate those schools and are bakers or accountants or nurses or carpenters.

          And I think that’s where the two worlds have started to clash; most people come from that trade school background at least to some degree, it’s something that’s very deeply rooted in our culture and educational system. Now, university has become a more normal thing, though, and also something people attend without a clear goal in mind and not because they’re hungry for more knowledge but because they don’t know what to do and uni is another four years where they’ll be occupied with something and won’t have to think about what’s next (this is literally what I’ve heard from basically every uni student who isn’t on route to one of the careers I’ve talked about above, like teaching). So we have these young people who have grown up with “go to school – go to another kind of school to learn your job – do job” but then they basically go to the wrong kind of school (university) because ~prestige~ on the one hand but also simply not knowing what else to do on the other hand but still expect it to be the same kind of job preparation they’d get out of trade school. And then they end up like “Why did I not learn anything about how to be a Teapot Maker here?” and the unis go like “What the hell we’ve always only taught Teapot Philosophy” and then both think the other party is weird.

          From what I’ve read here and on other sites, it seems other countries have a similar history – although I know that the trade school thing is pretty much unique to here – but the changing times haven’t been quite as recent. I could be wrong about this, of course, but it would explain the disconnect you’re talking about.

          Reply
          1. Myrin

            Ah, I forgot to mention that we don’t have tuition fees here – we did for a few years until it was ruled untenable and abolished again. I now pay 150 or so euro per semester, and most of it is for my train ticket which lets me use all kinds of public transport in a huge area. I’m always really fascinated when people in the comments here say “you pay for you classes” or similar because no one here would ever think of it that way. Reading that still feels weird to me.

            Reply
            1. blackcat

              When my students are frequently absent, I remind them that their tuition works out to roughly $200/hour of in class time.

              They pay. Out the nose.

              (Also, nothing gets me more irked than thinking how much the 100ish students in my class paid for the semester, dividing that by 5–typical course load–and then comparing it to what I am paid for the class. I get that there’s a lot of overhead, but there are two orders of magnitude difference between those two numbers.)

              Reply
              1. Anxa

                Oh yea. This.

                One of my tutees was absolutely shocked to find their instructor at the food pantry with them considering how much the class was paying for the course. It was a little awkward because I didn’t want to embarrass any contingent faculty members, but I did want to disabuse them of the idea that their instructor was unfairly using the service and explained that while a lot of the administrative staff makes a living wage, most of the faculty and service staff don’t.

                Reply
        9. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

          I think it’s a little of both, and that ultimately it’s a distinction without a difference. I think college did train my thinking to make me a rigorous researcher and scholar…but in a career that requires analytical rigor, synthesis, evaluation of data, and technical writing, that was also job training. Most jobs that aren’t purely routine can say the same.

          Colleges that indulge in this “we are a temple of pure scholarship” conceit tend to forget that the great Enlightenment thinkers valued education and development of critical faculties not just for their own sake, but as a means to become an enlightened and functional citizen and a productive member of society. For most of us, that’s not a life in academia.

          Reply
        10. Kathleen Adams

          If your degree is English literature, the “teach you how to think” argument has some validity. But anybody who graduates with a journalism degree or an engineering degree or a business degree and hasn’t been prepared for a job has been cheated, IMO.

          Reply
          1. I Before E

            I have a journalism degree and I feel like while some of my classes taught me how to do the work, they didn’t teach me anything about being at work. In a nutshell, I sailed through college pretty easily and did very well and could write, but I had no concept of office politics or following rules.

            Reply
            1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

              That’s hard to teach in a university setting, though.

              Reply
              1. Kathleen Adams

                I may have been a bit harsh. Universities can’t do everything, and among the things they probably can’t do is teach you “How to Get Along in an Office 101” (although it would be nice). But they need to be giving you the basic tools needed for the particular profession they profess to be training you for, or what’s the dang point?

                And that’s part of why an internship requirement is so important. It will teach you things that you aren’t going to learn in a classroom.

                Reply
        11. MsMarvel8591

          I have to say that is one of the things I was most interested in when I was choosing a college. My college requires that you have a qualified internship (they have to be approved by the school). They also use the internship as a placeholder, so you do not have regular classes while you are working so you can get the most out of the experience. I know way too many friends who are super smart and got really good grades but had no work experience and couldn’t get jobs in their fields. Most people my age (early 20’s) for the most part are starting to become aware that getting a degree does not equal a job and you also have to have experience too as most ‘Entry Level’ jobs require a few years of experience.

          Reply
        12. Anna

          I feel like that may be a more recent phenomenon, especially in light of the number of people who graduate and are unable to find work in their field and are very vocal about it. It feels like the colleges’ way of saying that’s not on them because that’s not what they’re being paid to do.

          Reply
        13. JamieS

          Honestly I don’t think it’s the job of a college to teach students they need to do XYZ to get a job. If a college chooses to engage in career counseling they should be held accountable for the advice they give but the overall point of college isn’t to hold a student’s hand and tell them what to do to get a job. Instead the job of a college is to give the student a certain level of mastery over their chosen field of study and possibly general knowledge. For example, an accounting major should graduate with a minimum level of accounting expertise, physics major should graduate with a level of physics expertise, so on and so forth.

          I’m not 100% sure what’s meant by ‘teach students how to think’ but if it literally means teach them how to think that’s a ridiculous notion. A person should already know how to think, form opinions backed by evidence, read/write in a coherent and thoughtful manner, etc. before ever stepping foot on a college campus. Heck, they shouldn’t even be allowed to read college brochures before being able to critically think.

          Reply
          1. nonegiven

            What blackcat said above “how to construct a logical argument/plan of attack, to consider alternate approaches, and to determine [which] path is best.”

            When I look at my son’s linkedin this is the kind of thing his team mates and managers say about him besides his various technical skills. He is articulate, considerate, skilled, open to others’ ideas and easy to collaborate with.

            Reply
          2. LabTech

            A person should already know how to think, form opinions backed by evidence, read/write in a coherent and thoughtful manner, etc. before ever stepping foot on a college campus.

            These skills are not a given and should not be taken for granted. They are exactly what subjects such as literature, philosophy, rhetoric, and other frequently dismissed fields of study rigorously teach.

            Reply
        14. aebhel

          I think that the point of college was originally and should be generally to teach you how to think, especially since–at least in liberal arts–probably 75% of what you’re doing as a student has no direct bearing on your eventual job duties. Traditional college wasn’t designed as job training, and it often doesn’t work especially well as job training. I’d love to see the two separated, and see more employers accepting certifications, training programs, apprenticeships, and the like, especially since in so many fields, a college degree is more a shibboleth than an actual requirement for the job.

          But I’m probably dreaming, there. Colleges do tend to advertise themselves as job preparation, so they should be judged on the basis of it.

          Reply
      3. Hannah

        I wasn’t trying to cast that as a character flaw or an “oh, these MILLENNIALS!” kind of thing….just a thing that is sometimes true of people in the OP’s situation. Indeed, it is a failure of their mentors that this is so prevalent. But it doesn’t make it less of a problem.

        Reply
      4. AndersonDarling

        And don’t forget how TV teaches grads that they will land the perfect job right out of college. How many shows have the awkward new grad working at the big fancy law firm/fashion house/newspaper?

        Reply
      5. paul

        I suspect tenured professors who have specialized in academia for many, many years aren’t always in a position to give good job search advice for non academic fields–*particularly* given some of the advice my wife got from her profs!

        Reply
  13. Amber Rose

    OP, it sounds like you learned a lot from this experience, and that’s great. Move forward with confidence, you aren’t the only one struggling to figure out how to resume when your job history is not very appealing (or existent). A killer cover letter will help with that.

    Reply
  14. PiggyStardust

    I second whoever said to consider temping.

    Please, keep in mind that as a new grad (regardless of work experience), you’re not going to get “the dream job.” Your primary goal would be to flesh out your resume with jobs that illustrate your skills – administrative work, customer service, and stuff like food service all offer transferable skills and valuable insight into workplace norms. No job is “beneath” anybody, even with a college degree. And frankly, college might prepare you content-wise, but there are social skills and work habits you can only learn through experience.

    I’d have to go back and re-read the original letter, but it seems like the attempt to change the dress code was a misguided effort by people unfamiliar with how workplaces operate.

    Reply
  15. Jeanne

    If you have had any jobs at all, put them on your resume. It shows you know how to come to work every day and do your job. It is May so obviously you don’t have a job yet but are graduating. Go home and sign up with a temp agency or whatever job you can find. Work hard at that and build your reputation. After 6 months of working, try again to find a job in your field. You can do it.

    Reply
    1. Temperance

      Clubs and volunteer work are also so, so important. My first resume included a bunch of my low level CS jobs, and nothing about my club memberships, because I thought resume = work only. (I was raised blue collar, no one in my family had resumes.)

      Reply
  16. Kinder and Gentler Manager

    Here’s the thing – if OP could show in their cover letter and the interview that they genuinely did learn from the experience, I would hire them. It takes a lot of grit to go through that kind of situation with that kind of attention and come through the other side. That’s a desirable quality.

    The genuine part is important, but easily achieved – just tell the truth.

    Reply
    1. Shadow

      The hang up a lot of hiring managers would have though is that there’s no track record of succcess to back up that she’s learned her lesson. it would be impossible to know if it’s all bs or if she really did learn her lesson. And that kind of unknown can make it easy to pass her over.

      Reply
      1. Kinder and Gentler Manager

        Eh, I’d argue that it is no more or less a track record than anyone else coming out of school. Many internships don’t really provide a lot of real-life work skills. In some ways, this would qualify as a leg-up on some.

        Reply
  17. Temperance

    LW, I’m going to echo Alison’s advice here. Not knowing your major, if you’re in a small industry, you want to try to mend fences with your internship (and it sounds like you really regret this incident). We’ve all had embarrassing bumps in the road in our careers. It’s how we fix things that matters.

    Reply
  18. BTW

    I’m going off topic by failing to reply to the OP but rather Alison’s comment:

    “… graduate from college with a resume without work experience (although I’d argue that it’s malpractice by colleges to allow that to occur.)”

    I’m sure other posters will disagree however, I had 3 work placements when I was in college and not 1 employer considered it actual experience despite us doing these jobs for 4 months at a time. So while the college certainly tried to get us hands on experience, in the real world it meant nothing and left us starting from scratch.

    Reply
    1. fposte

      Though there’s a difference between something not counting as actual experience and its being worth nothing. I obviously don’t know your field, so maybe they looked at you exactly the same as the person who had no work experience on their resume at all, but in most fields it would give you a leg up, even though it wouldn’t count the same as FT work experience.

      Reply
      1. Judy (since 2010)

        In my long ago experience in the early ’90s, it seemed that everyone with engineering degrees started at the same level, so my co-op didn’t count that way as experience. But those of us who chose the co-op program were getting more interviews and job offers than the students who didn’t either co-op or intern.

        As fposte said, it doesn’t count as FT post degree work experience, but it does give a leg up.

        Reply
        1. Jake

          Same for me as a 2011 grad. Certainly didn’t get me a higher ranking job, but my internships and undergrad research definitely got me more interviews than folks without.

          Reply
        2. Anonymously Yours

          When I graduated with an engineering degree in the 90s I had a hiring manager from an actual company tell me that none of my work experience prior to my degree mattered. He advised I remove it from my resume. And I did.

          Reply
    2. Shadow

      Most won’t count it as official professional experience, but they will usually view it as experience working in the field

      Reply
    3. Lily Rowan

      I’ve had a lot of applicants try to get in to next-level jobs (requiring ~3 years of experience) based on a couple of years of part-time work and a few shorter stints of full-time, and it just doesn’t work that way. It makes you a much stronger candidate for an entry-level job, but that’s it.

      Reply
    4. HeatherT

      It doesn’t qualify as work experience in terms of applying for a “2-3 years of work experience” position, but I did work for a student-run firm and did 3 internships during college and that was how I got my foot in the door for my first job. Actually, one of my internships had me sit on a panel about how millennials (10 years ago now!) use certain technology. That got the attention of a hiring manager at a local firm who put me in the running for a job that I ended up getting within a month of graduating!

      FWIW, I was not a well-connected individual going into college. I was 1st generation and lower-middle class on a good day. I paid my own way and made my own connections via student groups, volunteering and internships. These connections turned me into a very hirable person in the field of my choice and led to several opportunities that have paid off in spades. Schools that don’t promote those types of opportunities are doing students, especially poor, 1st generation or otherwise disadvantaged ones, a huge disservice!

      Reply
    5. Hannah

      I agree with other comments here–it wasn’t meant to get you past having to take an entry-level job, but those of us who were trying to break into the workforce without any experience were often passed over as not having enough experience for an entry-level job.

      I can’t tell you how many job postings I saw that said “Entry-level (3 years of experience)” when I was freshly graduated and looking for my first real job.

      As someone who did have some work experience, but not “related” work experience, it was really frustrating. I held two (unrelated) jobs when I was working and didn’t have time for a proper internship. I eventually broke into a field by doing independent and volunteer work to beef up my resume and going through a certificate program that was geared towards getting a job. THEN I could get an entry-level position.

      Reply
  19. H.C.

    For the internship, I lean towards not including given the short time you spent there & the controversy surrounding it. Yes, there are folks who would overlook this & even appreciate the lessons you took from the experience, but there are also those for whom the controversy eclipses everything else about the candidate (experience from OldJob: we had a highly qualified candidate in final interview, only to be veto’d by the VP after finding out the candidate was in a addiction-recovery reality show – despite that being years ago and the candidate having been sober since, which he freely discussed and still impressed the managers/directors in prior interviews.)

    For everything else, I agree with AAM’s advice, which is generally applicable to new grads with limited work experiences.

    Reply
    1. Alton

      Hmm. That seems a little different to me. I don’t think it’s kosher to disqualify someone based on their mental health history. It doesn’t sound like the applicant did anything wrong.

      Reply
      1. Relly

        I could be way off base here, but the management might have judged the candidate poorly not for having had the addiction, but for getting treatment via a reality television show.

        Reply
      2. Temperance

        I’m guessing that the applicant was on “Intervention”, which, if you’re seen it, shows people behaving erratically at best, and often putting their children and other family members in danger.

        Reply
  20. Roker Moose

    I was so hoping we’d have an update to this letter!

    For me, I’m not sure if discussing this incident in a cover letter is the best choice. Maybe in an interview, when they ask how you’ve handled difficult situations, etc., you can talk about what you’ve learned and how you’ve grown. But mentioning it in a cover letter could tar you as a ‘troublemaker’ straight away. Good luck with your job search!

    Reply
  21. Shadow

    There’s no right answer. you’re just as likely to run into interviewers that will hold either option against you.

    Reply
  22. Casuan

    …to write a letter to your manager from that internship explaining that you’ve learned from the situation and that you appreciate the opportunity they gave you and are sorry that you squandered it. That’s worth doing simply because it’s the right thing to do, but it also might pay off in ways you can’t anticipate right now.

    I agree.
    Although I’m unclear on how such a letter should be worded a full year after the incident, without appearing to have an ulterior motive…?
    Of course, the only motive should be to express thanks & remorse.

    Does something this work?
    “A year later & approaching graduation, I’ve had time to reflect… The opportunity was unique yet… I’m sorry & I’ve learned….”

    OP, congrats on your achievements & I wish you success!

    Reply
  23. coffeeandpearls

    You could potentially spin any extracurricular e-board positions you held in college into job-like experience. For example: Amazing Beverage University- Teapot Club Event Planner (2015-2017). Plans 10 annual events with limited budget for 2000 students. Increased event attendance by 30% by implementing a new communications plan of my design, supervised volunteer staff of 10 students on event days, etc, etc. If you are going to do that, then it’s important to quantify why this is valuable and translatable in an office environment.

    Reply
  24. Buffy

    This reminded me of a TV show – “Previously on, Ask A Manager…” Best of luck to the OP in their job search!

    Reply
  25. Tech Monster

    I don’t really understand how this all blew up. I wouldn’t say I’m new to the workforce, I’m 25 and I’ve had jobs since I was 18, but I am newer to the professional world having a little under two years under my belt. I am a person who hates formal dress and will shed it at any available opportunity. I’ve read Allison’s previous intern post but why was what the interns did so questionable and why did everybody have kittens about it?

    Reply
    1. De Minimis

      I think it seemed like the interns thought they could negotiate workplace rules, and that just isn’t the case most of the time.

      Some of it honestly might also be that it may have struck the employer as being too akin to organized labor!

      Reply
    2. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

      Interns almost always are the net beneficiaries of an internship, because it’s generally an act of charity to take sub-entry level, clueless employees on for a few months and teach them the basics of your industry. If you don’t like the internship’s dress code, your option is to leave, because you’re there on their generosity, not as a peer.
      The demand to change the dress code was way outside professional norms, pursued aggressively and in a tone-deaf and ignorant manner, and they didn’t have the standing as interns to make their demands as stridently as they did.

      As Alison said originally:

      “Y’all were pretty out of line. You were interns there — basically guests for the summer. Their rules are their rules. This is like being a houseguest and presenting your host with a signed petition (!) to change their rules about cleaning up after yourself. You just don’t have the standing to do that.

      To be clear, that doesn’t mean that you need to suck up any and every condition of an internship. You don’t. But this wasn’t something like asking you to do unsafe work or work unreasonable hours; this was asking you to abide by what sounds like a very common and reasonable professional dress code….

      But instead, you assumed you knew better (despite being in a position where the whole point is that you don’t have experience and are there to learn) and then went about it in a pretty aggressive way. A petition is … well, it’s not something you typically see at work. It signals that you think that if you get enough signatures, your company will feel pressured to act, and that’s just not how this stuff works. A company is not going to change its dress code because its interns sign a petition.

      Honestly, if my summer interns banded together and this was what they decided to take on, I’d have some serious questions about their judgment and their priorities. I wouldn’t fire you for it … but I would not be impressed and we would be having a very stern conversation in which I explained the above.”

      Reply
    3. Tuxedo Cat

      It was because the one intern asked once and instead of taking the “no” as a final response, chose to petition against it. I think it was made worse that their argument included using an employee with a disability as an example of people for whom the dress code was bent. They didn’t realize the employee had a disability, but it still looks bad.

      Reply
    4. Holly

      I didn’t see the internet ‘blow-up,’ but I read the letter and I agree that what the interns did may have been ill-advised, especially in an environment that’s super into Rules and Regulations, but it was an otherwise a pretty boring situation to me.

      Reply
    5. Temperance

      Besides how annoying the whole thing was, and tone-deaf … they cited the fact that one of the full-time employees sometimes wears sneakers, so they should, too, and, IIRC, the employee is a Veteran and amputee.

      Reply
    6. nonegiven

      Think about it, the place had so tight a dress code that the only exception was for an ADA accommodation for an injured veteran.

      They shut this down by firing everyone involved and they may never have an intern stray from the rules again and the regular employees would think twice, too.

      Reply
      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        It’s not weird not to make exceptions to a dress code other than when someone needs an accommodation. That’s the point of dress codes; they’re meant to be followed. That in and of itself isn’t particularly unusual.

        Reply
    7. Dot Warner

      In addition to what everybody else has said, one of the reasons the company reacted so strongly was that the interns wrote the petition and passed it around during working hours – in other words, instead of doing whatever the company was paying them to work on, they were drawing up a petition about something that they’d already been told “no” on multiple times. So, yeah, if I were their boss, I’d have been pretty annoyed too.

      Reply
      1. Holly

        Yes, but it doesn’t explain the blow-up over it. Hundreds of people were probably fired today for all kinds of stuff – smoking weed behind the McDonald’s, cursing their boss off, some kind of Workaholics antics – and no one cares. This seems rather tame and more naivety than anything. Low-level employees complaining about the dress code and being a bit too caught up about it? Nothing new. I remember the women at a formal job complaining about the special code that applied only to female interns – skirts and pantyhose – and that was 15 years ago. The only explanation for the blow-up is that it gave people an opportunity to say things like “When I was your age…” kind of stuff.

        Reply
        1. Dot Warner

          I agree about the “when I was your age” stuff. I was mainly responding to the question about why the interns’ action was a big enough deal to get them fired. I

          Reply
  26. Tuxedo Cat

    I would work with a temp agency to get some experience and cash in your pocket while you are looking for a job. Put your name in multiple ones because some are better than others, some just don’t get much work in.

    You should consider reaching out to the alumni network for your school. They may have some good advice or even know of jobs where you need little to no experience.

    Reply
  27. I Herd the Cats

    Why haven’t you had a job? Nothing? Delivering pizzas, temping, nothing? Also “I don’t think I should put the internship on my resume because I got fired and because it was for a stupid reason that I know was wrong.” And you’re wrong right there. It was for a perfectly good reason, and you still haven’t learned that lesson.

    Reply
        1. JamieS

          Ditto. I know it can sometimes be heard to interpret the OP’s tone/meaning in a letter but the overall tone of the letter was that the OP regretted the incident. Most particularly the part where he said he regretted letting “Niles” talk him into participating in the petition.

          Reply
      1. I Herd the Cats

        She literally says “I got fired and because it was for a stupid reason that I know was wrong” — how and why are you interpreting that differently than what she said? It was, according to her, for a stupid reason.

        Reply
        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          He means that “I got fired and it was for a thing I did that was stupid and I know was wrong.” You could theoretically read it either way, but it’s clear from the larger context of the letter that he regrets what happened (” I still regret letting Niles talk me into it”).

          Reply
    1. Alton

      I don’t think it’s helpful to chide someone for not having previous work experience (assuming that is the case for the OP). There are a lot of reasons why someone might not have experience, from being discouraged against taking emphasis away from school to struggling with health issues or disabilities. It’s easy to look back in hindsight and think ‘Damn, if only I did X, I’d be so much more prepared!” But hindsight is 20/20, and it’s not really productive to dwell on what might or might not have been.

      Also, the OP is saying the reason was stupid because it was a “stupid” mistake on their part (though OP, I personally think it’s a lot better to get fired over an honest and harmless mistake like that than to get fired for a serious cause like falsifying your time or stealing from the office. Anyone can have a lapse in judgement that doesn’t necessarily reflect poorly on their character, and it’s a lot easier to show that you’ve learned from something like that than something where you intentionally did something wrong).

      Reply
      1. Brogrammer

        Co-signing all this. It’s not even necessarily an issue of health issues or disabilities that could have kept someone from working. I went to a large university located in a small bedroom community. Even taking into account on-campus jobs, there just weren’t enough part time jobs to go around. My parents gave me the “pound the pavement/gumption/you have to show them you’re serious” routine and I did some things I’m embarrassed to think about now because I felt like I had to do what they told me. After all, they were my parents and they were sending me money to supplement my financial aid. Needless to say, it didn’t work and I wasn’t able to find a job despite applying to who knows how many of them.

        And that’s just my story, there are countless others.

        Reply
  28. Insurance

    I’m guessing from your first letter that you were in some type of finance firm/majoring in business or finance related. I’ve been in insurance for over a decade and when hiring college grads, we look for:
    1. Time management-a great way to show this is by putting down experiences where you had to meet deadlines like group projects, study groups or events
    2. Analytical skills-did you do any research or captstone seminars? Did you work with a prof on an extra ciricular project?
    2. Versatility-work study jobs, volunteerism for different events, working with different student groups

    Those who demonstrated those above skills typically get offers even without solid job experience.

    Reply
  29. CoffeeLover

    I know this is more pertaining to the original letter, but I’m still kind of surprised they fired EVERYONE. I can understand firing the petition instigator, but without an understanding of professional norms, I can completely understand why other interns would get roped into signing. Peer pressure and the mentality of “well other people are doing it so it must be okay” can do a lot of damage. Firing the instigator would have taught everyone a valuable lesson, while also not ruining their careers (okay not ruining… but certainly making it a harder path.) Anyway… that’s in the past now.

    although I’d argue that it’s malpractice by colleges to allow that to occur.

    I also wanted to agree to this wholeheartedly. Colleges don’t do enough to employ their students. At my university, it was treated like common knowledge that without work experience your degree meant nothing. I was in the business school and every single one of my peers had at least 1 internships under their belt by the time they graduated (though more commonly it was 2 or 3). Outside of the business school? Not so much. Most of my Arts and Science friends had no work experience and you guessed it… a few years out of university they still don’t have relevant jobs. Colleges need to stop acting as if degree = job. The degree is one part of getting a job and they need to do more to explicitly say that.

    Reply
    1. Kit M. Harding

      My college had mandatory internships every year (and if you had your act together enough to apply and your financial aid status qualified you, there was grant money to be had for rent and food during the internship time) and that was probably the most useful thing I got out of my college education. Ended up entirely changing my field every year until my senior year I finally hit on one I liked.

      Reply
  30. KC

    I feel bad for the intern. We all do stupid things when we’re younger. As adults with more experience, it’s easy to look back and think “I wouldn’t have done that” but we weren’t in that specific situation.

    15 years ago, I did an overseas internship in the Balkans with 10 other students. We were all in different cities/countries and kept in touch via email. One of the interns was behaving extremely inappropriately, including bragging about getting involved in the local political scene (a major no-no). This was putting her (and the internship program) at a huge risk.

    Another intern in her city contacted the rest of us in horror about what she was doing. He said he was going to write an email to the internship coordinator to let him know, and asked if he could include our names as “concerned parties”. I was one of the youngest interns and flattered to be included, but I also kind of brushed it off and said “yeah, whatever, I don’t care”.

    He wrote a huge email calling out her behaviour and suggesting her removal from the program. He signed it with all our names (even though we didn’t write it or see it before it went out). I didn’t think much of it, until we all got a very strongly-worded response back from the coordinator, telling us how immature we were behaving and to “grow up”. I was mortified, but luckily nothing more was said after that.

    Looking back now, I would have handled things much differently. I barely knew the intern (we weren’t in the same country) and her behaviour wasn’t any of my business. Or I would have sent the coordinator a quick note about what she was doing as an FYI and let him deal with it. This was a huge learning experience for me and I’m lucky that my own internship experience wasn’t negatively impacted.

    Reply

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