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Director to Intern, “You understand that you are not allowed to leave, right?”

Text and birdcage drawing by Franke James, MFA.; pigeon ©istockphoto.com/MisterM

Dear Office Politics,

At the end of my internship, a wealth of job opportunities will be open to me. I already have two solid job offers that my current organization cannot compete with. The problem is that the Director of my organization and my immediate boss have both told me that I cannot leave, because they have invested too much time and money on training and “mentoring” me. The worst was a phone call from my Director where he said “You understand that you are not allowed to leave, right? We do have an understanding?” I laughed nervously and said “Okay, bye.” I was in utter shock.

I also received an email from my boss that stated “I told [Blank] that they cannot ask you to come work for them while you are there, and I hope they uphold their promise.” They did not uphold their promise and scoffed at his comments.

My immediate reaction is that I want to run for the hills from this organization. Their comments make me feel like a commodity rather than an employee. As for the training, I feel “volun-told” to participate. I was pigeon-holed into a position that I have no interest in, because the other people in my department cannot pass the training.

The “mentoring” I’ve received has been comments like “you’re career is here” and “don’t get married right now.” I don’t want to sound like I don’t appreciate all of the training and opportunities I’ve been granted. However, if I had known they came with the price of my soul I would have turned it all down. Now, I don’t know what to do when I take my next job (which is inevitable). I was considering staying; but, after these comments, I cannot wait to leave.

By the way, I work in HR.



jennifer glueck bezoza

Dear Pigeon-Holed,

Typically, the “intern-employer agreement” is that the employer receives a dedicated, low (or no)-cost temporary employee, and in return, the individual receives valuable training, experience and references.  It seems you were operating with assumption that this was like any other typical internship, while individuals in the organization were operating with the assumption that you were starting a career with them.

You do not mention what type of internship role/program you are in, nor the upfront expectations that were agreed upon at your start, but you imply that you did not make any type of commitment, verbal or otherwise, to this organization.  Therefore, comments such as “Your career is here,” and “You understand that you are not allowed to leave,” are not professional and respectful, whether for an intern or a full time employee who has been with the organization for 10 plus years.

In addition, the fact that most other people could not pass the training you attended indicates the skills you gained are highly valued and short in supply. Assuming there was no job offer discussion/contracting that preceded your attendance of this specialized training class, you needn’t feel any guilt for pursuing other compelling job offers.

At the same time, I will ask that you reflect on your role in this situation and take responsibility as well. Were there any “red flags” or signals you might have picked up on before you started the internship?  How is that you attended a training for a role you had absolutely no interest in pursuing? Might you have said or done anything differently to be in a different situation? What, going forward, might you do differently to ensure you are following your desired career path, and being true to yourself?

In closing, here are a few tips to keep in mind in this interim period with the organization.

  1. Continue to come to work and do a great job with your assignments through the very last hour of your internship.
  2. Be professional and appreciative of all you are learning/have learned and experienced on the job.  You may need references from this organization down the line, and also, the world can be a very small place, as you go forward in your career.
  3. Avoid going to a direct competitor to this organization, if possible.  Going to a competitor may add flame to the fire, and may backfire on you, should legal action be taken against the hiring organization.
  4. Be grateful that so many individuals appreciate your work and want to keep you with the organization.

Thanks for writing Office Politics, and I wish you great success in your career.

Warm regards,

Jennifer Glueck Bezoza, MA

Jennifer Glueck Bezoza specializes in leadership development and career coaching. Through her work in Organizational Development at the Visiting Nurse Service of New York, Jennifer designs leadership development programs, and coaches teams and individuals. Previously, Jennifer led GE Commercial Finance’s employee engagement initiative and also served as an HR Generalist at GE. In addition, she worked as a consultant at Towers Perrin.

Jennifer holds an MA in Social-Organizational Psychology from Columbia University and a BA in Psychology from Stanford University. Jennifer is continuing her education through an executive coaching program at New York University.

  1. 2 Answers to “Director to Intern, “You understand that you are not allowed to leave, right?””

  2. Hi Pigeon-Holed,

    Unspoken or implied expectations from either side as well as forgotton or mis-remembered discussions often lead to serious problems. This becomes even worse if the manager(s) with whom an understanding was reached leaves the organization.

    That is why well written agreements in the form of contracts or periodic performance reviews are worth their weight in gold.

    It may be worth re-reading your contract and any associated terms and conditions or employee handbook; that is all they can hold you to.

    But don’t blame them for wanting to keep you, even though their methods are heavy handed, take it as a compliment! Remember too that management are people too, and if they have invested time and effort in you personally then they will feel frustrated that it may effectively have been wasted effort.


    By Graham on Jul 29, 2009

  3. Another possibility here is that the Director was trying to make you feel valued by suggesting that they didn’t want you to leave. It’s not a style that’s universally received well, but it’s one I’ve seen before.

    But the bottom line is that unless you have a contract, and/or the “training” was provided ith an understanding that you were staying, (an implied contract), there’s nothing keeping you there.

    By Doc on Aug 25, 2009

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