Q: A group of us did an internship at a company that offered to take us on permanently. The internship was for specialized back office work in our field of study, and at the end of our program, they transferred us to temporary customer-facing call center roles that have nothing to do with our skillset. It was only supposed to be until August, which was pushed back until December, and then pushed back again “until further notice.” Is this an acceptable practice, or are they taking advantage of us? How long should we be expected to wait for a more relevant role?
A: Congratulations on doing an internship in your field, which remains one of the best ways to get yourself into an organization and develop your own expertise. How disappointing, though, that they’ve moved you into a less professional position that doesn’t use the skills that you developed in your internship. It sounds like they have a higher need in call center roles and don’t have the same level of need in the specialized back office work where you were trained.
Your first step is to go back to your offer. When you say they offered to take you on permanently, was this a written or verbal employment offer? And in this agreement, what was the role and title? Did the compensation change when you went from an intern to an employee? You need to check your documentation letter for the technicalities.
If you don’t have an offer letter, then you need to meet with Human Resources or your internship manager and ask them what the plan is. You ask whether this is an acceptable practice. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen this as a practice anywhere – some moves take longer than planned, but not this long and not with “until further notice” as a time frame. The organization should be regularly communicating with you to let you know the plan. How long you should wait is more an answer of how patient you are and the answers provided to the very direct questions you need to ask the decision makers.
If you’re being paid for a call center role and not the more highly skilled position, you can start looking for a job. Even if you think things will improve, finalize your resume. If you get great answers about their timeline or what they are doing to open up the positions you were hired for, you may want to watch the progress and timeline carefully. At any point, if you lose confidence in that they are trying to make the transition happen, go into job search mode. Regardless, you need to have your backup plan ready. No need to give notice, just start actively looking. Consider this: Would you rather have call center experience or your skilled work on your resume?
If you’re afraid to speak up, then you have to question why. Is it that these people are untrustworthy? Have you seen retaliation in the past? You can’t spend your entire career afraid to ask questions about situations that impact you, your professional career, and your compensation. Hopefully, you developed a good relationship with either the internship manager, a human resources person, or someone senior in the organization. Is the organization handling the placement one person at a time or as a cohort? If each person is on their own, then whoever is the gutsiest or has the most skill dealing with conflict in a professional way should move the conversation forward. In any situation, develop your own speaking skills to understand what your future looks like – here or elsewhere.