AMERICAN UNIVERSITY, WASHINGTON — I got tired of being expendable. That's the main reason I switched from a string of exploitative, underpaying jobs to a great internship at a fast-growing public relations firm. Let me explain.
After finishing my first year at American University in Washington, I decided to work at a restaurant on the boardwalk in south New Jersey. I assumed that the work would be interesting and that I could make good money close to the beach. Soon I found myself working 14-hour days and splitting my tips with four different people. The boss enjoyed screaming at everybody and intimidated teenagers with the not-too-veiled threat of physical violence.
Finally, he invented a pretense to fire me - a day before payday. I got a somewhat better job at a fish store, but couldn't get time off after injuring myself in a bicycle accident. I vowed to make the next summer better.
After last summer I realized that college students are ripe for abuse. Many of my friends and acquaintances also endured terrible working conditions in order to make money for school expenses. The intense competition students face for just a few well-paying, seasonal jobs makes them expendable. I was determined to make myself indispensable.
Just days before returning to college, I realized that I was interested in public relations. After receiving a tip from a friend, I called Tattar Cutler LD&B Public Relations, one of the top five firms in the Philadelphia region where my home is. The firm's vice president invited me to spend two days observing and handling assignments. I dressed well, and enthusiastically completed every assignment given to me. After working hard for two days, I was offered a paid internship over Christmas and spring break. I'm now working there during the summer as an intern doing account executive work. My experience has convinced me that all college students should get a summer internship.
With a summer internship, I don't have to worry about getting to class after work. I can handle a number of assignments at once. For the first time, I'm being treated with respect at a job. Most important, I'm gaining valuable professional experience unavailable in a college classroom. I'm also getting a head start on a portfolio, and insights into a possible career a couple of years before graduating. With all of these benefits, plus good pay, I'm not at the mercy of a bullying boss who waves a paycheck like a conqueror's flag.
I found that the best way to ensure a good internship is to build a niche. I marketed myself based on my skills, enthusiasm, and professional demeanor. It was easy to build my niche around something I loved. Public relations combines everything I like to do most - research, interviewing, writing, and interacting with many different kinds of people. It gives me a great deal of satisfaction to juggle a dozen different assignments and meet tight deadlines.
As the only intern at Tattar Cutler, I have a monopoly on a wide variety of assignments. I recently interviewed ARAMARK vendors for the 1998 Major League Baseball All-Star Game to determine which ones would be most interesting to the press. In addition to spectacular peanut throws and distinctive calls, one of the vendors encouraged fans to wish a deaf child a happy birthday, using sign language so the child would know what he was saying to the crowd.
Essentially, I'm getting a paid education and putting professional work in a portfolio that will make me more competitive when it comes time to find a job. I'm also enjoying myself, having found that a good summer job is possible.
* Jeremy Feiler is a second-semester junior and public communication major at American University in Washington.