when Satan’s intern comes to stay

Periodically, I like to throw out a question to readers to answer. Here’s one for you to tackle — and the story is long and juicy. Have at it in the comments…

I work in a field that’s big on mentoring — at one point or another, everyone in my field had to intern. In fact, the program I graduated from requires a 6-week internship in the final year. I had some great experiences that really helped shape my career as an intern, so now that I’m doing well and am in a position to pay it forward, I did. After giving a skype-talk to students at the university I graduated from, I was contacted by one of them asking to intern with me. She was quite aggressive and had a lengthy portfolio and resume, as well as good references from people I trust at the university, so I agreed.

I’m based overseas, and I explained to her multiple times that while she’s welcome to come, my company was not able to cover her travel or living costs while here, nor were we able to pay her for the internship (this isn’t uncommon — most internships in my field are unpaid). I said this to her verbally as well as in writing, and my manager repeated this information as well.

I work from home, so in the interest of giving her the best experience, we worked out that she’d be based with me for the first half, then go with me to the main office in another city, where she’d finish the internship. At some point in the lead up to this, she asked if she could stay at my house while she was job shadowing me, and somehow, in a fit of wanting to help her out, I agreed. 

Once she arrived, it quickly went downhill. I discovered that not only had she not booked any sort of hotel in the other city she’d be staying in, but she hadn’t even researched costs in that city — and it’s pricey, and lacking in hostels or other cheap, safe ammenities. While, during work hours, she was flipping out about this, I gave her a couple of possible solutions and reassured her as much as I could, and came up with a solution that I’d actually used when I first moved overseas to that city.

I gave her a few tasks, and was generally unimpressed — it took her far longer than it should, and she didn’t even bother to spellcheck her work before submitting it to me. But I thought “ok, she’s young and it’s her first day.” I also looked the other way when she asked me or my flatmates repeatedly about the “party” scene in our city and seemed more interested in going out and meeting guys than, you know, working. Her first day, I cited first-day jitters and jet lag for the weird behavior. But over the next two days it plummeted even more. Not only was she not performing (to the point I had to basically spoon feed her every tiny task, and was told by my flatmate that, while I was out on work meetings, she’d come back home for lunch at noon to find the intern. . . still asleep), but I had several panicked phone calls from the university — turns out the intern was sending back emails to them basically freaking out that she couldn’t afford this internship, and it was my, my company, and the university’s responsibility to make sure she could. Emails she’d also sent to my boss.

Meanwhile, two days away from home and she was sobbing and crying in my living room . . . The final straw, however, was when one of her friends back home started tweeting about how dare my company not pay our interns and expect them to shell out x amounts for the pleasure of being our slaves, how dare I, personally, treat her this way, and what a horrible horrible company and organization we were to do this to the poor girl. . . tagging both myself, the university, and my company. We’re a media company, so our Twitter feeds are actually part of our online brand and we have thousands of followers. Who all got to see this vitriol. Including my boss’s boss, when our web guy, confused as to what this was, alerted other managers to it, trying to find the culprit so we could get the posts deleted. When both I and the school contacted the intern, she didn’t seem to see why this behavior was such a big deal — and she declined to get her friend to remove the posts.

We had no choice; we had to fire her. I felt horrible about it, and she left … taking with her work she hadn’t completed, as well as my spare phone I’d lent her for her stay. And for the next two weeks more posts went up from her and her friend, tagging my company, about how horrible we all were, how unprofessional, and how I should be fired. 

Fast forward several weeks and she’s back home, trying to find another internship (she needs the credit to graduate, and while if she had completed the projects I’d given her I would have counted the week she was with, since she finished barely half a day’s work in total with me, I just couldn’t), as well as get a job post-graduation. And since her blog and online portfolio which she’s sending out still says she’s going to be interning with my company, and my field back home is fairly small, I’ve gotten a few calls.

My questions are: what responsibility do I have to this girl and her new employers? It’s possible she just freaked out completely — people at the university say this behavior was out of character for her — how much tale-telling am I allowed or obligated to do? I am totally disgusted with her behavior and her friend’s behavior, who both seem to have come out of this feeling self righteous and put upon. I’m 26, I’m on facebook, twitter, etc and I’m careful about it. . . but these kids, barely younger than me, seem to think they can do or say anything they want, and that offends me. Moreover, they have both damaged my credibility with my company — not only did they behave badly on my watch, but they tarnished the reputation of the institution my degree comes from. What can I do to repair that? And is there anything I can do to make sure these two children don’t do this again to someone else? I wasn’t fired — although if I had written those tweets I could have been — but the next person might not be so lucky. Finally, as someone whose name and reputation is crucial to my field, it’s now still sitting out there in cyberland that I’m some sort of horrible unprofessional ogre. What can I do? 


Want to read an update to this post? The reader’s update in December 2011 is here.

{ 96 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous*

    protect your name and spare other employers the pain you suffered. give anyone who asks as full and factually negative a reference as you can. Post the facts on the web so that they may be seen alongside the accusations when future employees search her name for background.

  2. Anonymous*

    Your responsibility to this girl is non-existent. To her new employers though, I think all you can do is be honest about your experience with her. She received, in writing, that the internship would not be paid, nor would the company cover her costs and she came unprepared. That’s her fault, bottom line. You are not her mother, your company is not her mother. I don’t see how you did anything wrong here – in addition, I cannot imagine well respected members of your industry would take the word of a bratty child over you, who seems to have worked incredibly hard to have been as professional as possible.

    I think you’re giving them too much power – how can two people tarnish the reputation of a University? You’re understandably upset, but I promise this will blow over. You are not at fault here so no need to shoulder all of this responsibility. Good luck!

  3. Anonymous*

    I tend to think that the best way to deal with people who are completely irrational and unreasonable is to decline to engage for as long as it takes for them to go away (which usually isn’t long if they aren’t getting a reaction). So I would do – nothing. They are making themselves look stupid and unprofessional, rather than you, and the less you do about this the quicker it will blow over.

    Other than to notify her professor (and suggest they notify the university’s counseling department) which presumably you have already done, you do not have a moral or professional responsibility to safeguard this person’s welfare. It will do her more good in the long run to have to face the consequences of her actions than to have people like you trying to bail her out of her own mess.

    Equally, if someone asks you for a reference, the bare facts will surely suffice.

    It all sounds horrible and very embarrassing but it sounds like you did all you could and the best way forward is to carry on doing good work and let it all blow over.

  4. Dawn*

    OP, you did absolutely nothing wrong here. I think most people would know not to pay any attention to people who would spread vitriol like this all over the internet. She’s actually taking care of her own reputation all by herself.

  5. Naama*

    Aw geez. I work at a college, in a department that gets students set up with internships. In our industry, employers TALK to each other. If a student had done something like this, her internship host site wouldn’t be worrying about their responsibility to her. They would have washed their hands of her…and more likely, told other employers this horror story, including the name of the student. And you know what? We wouldn’t stop them. (And we’d be working more with the student to fix things, instead of sending you panicked emails when it’s the student who’s in the wrong.)

    I’d say consult with your legal department, and find out exactly how much you’re allowed to say if someone calls you for a reference. However, resist the urge to rant, cathartic though it may be…and keep it to the work-related things, rather than how she was staying with you. (You can say you made every effort to get her set up, but could not pay for her living expenses, and she ignored your repeated warnings on that, but that’s as far as I’d go as far as the logistical failures of this internship.)

  6. Joanna Reichert*

    How do people this delusional do their taxes, sanely order a meal in a restaurant, or even tie their shoes in the morning??

    Fight fire with fire – nicely.

    One of the best responses I ever saw to an online rant was an exhaustive detailing of a outdoor gear company’s attempts to make things right, including photographs of the offending “manufacturing flaw” (obviously shredded and melted by the ranting customer). They stated in detail every step of the process – the sale, when the shipments arrived, all correspondence, and those damning photographs.

    Not a hint of anger – just a stern tone that they didn’t appreciate the slander on their name, when they’ve had so many good reviews, in addition to all of their evidence that they performed admirably in every way. They even went farther and told the customer that they would send him a brand-new item, free of charge despite him ruining his original, and that this was the end of their relationship and they would not take his money ever again in the future, thankyouhaveaniceday.

    It was excellent, and I would not hesitate to do something like for this nut job.

  7. quix*

    Depends if you own the company or if it’s just ‘your’ company.

    If you just work there, then it’s easy. You don’t go on public crusades defending the company’s honor. The PR department would hate that. They like handling those. So start whatever communication chain informs them and let it go.

    If it is your company, then you have to decide if getting into an internet flamewar with a low-performing intern will make things look better or worse. I suspect worse, but maybe posting one statement on the places they’re badmouthing you wouldn’t be too bad.

  8. fposte*

    Expanding a little on what Naama said–separate how unhappy you are at the effects of this experience on you from her abilities, and stick to the latter. She lacked the maturity to deal with arranging her accommodation despite being told she’d have to, she failed to complete the majority of her assigned tasks, she lacked the integrity to perform work when unsupervised, and the work she did produce was badly and slowly done. The internship was therefore terminated.

    And I agree with the first Anon that this is a smaller deal than it feels like to you. I mean, it’s understandably a big deal to you because you were on the front line, but it’s not a big deal in the world, and it’s not your responsibility to ensure that everybody she might encounter knows that she failed here. I think that there may be two things going on: one, you tend to feel responsibility beyond your actual bailiwick, and two, that that’s a way to reclassify your punitive feelings as being responsible. Just tell anybody who asks what she failed at, stick pins in an intern doll for a while, and let it go. You hired somebody who didn’t work out–that happens, and it will probably happen to you again someday. It doesn’t mean you’re not an asset.

  9. Phyr*

    If a company asked me for a reference on her work I would tell them that I could not in good faith give a recommendation on someone who was let go. Even keep a copy to automatically send out if you get e-mails. That should be enough of a red flag to any company that ‘somethings up’.

    Getting things removed from twitter or facebook is probably a lot harder then you would think and probably not worth the money that would have to be invested into it.

    She has no real power over you or your company. She has managed to guilt you into feeling this way. She managed to troll you and your company, so with luck a quick internet search will show other people this.

  10. Anonymous*

    I think part of what makes the OP feel such a responsibility is that this was her/his first time being a mentor and it didn’t work out. The OP likely feels some sort of responsibility for that.

    I guarantee after a couple more interns, you’ll look back on this and think “what an a-hole.” I promise it, in fact. I’ve had fantastic interns in the past and this summer, we had someone who was well…as mentioned above, I’m not sure how they managed to tie their shoes in the morning. Come to think of it…they wore slip ons. Makes sense…

    I digress. Because I’ve had fantastic experiences to compare this awful one to, I felt no responsibility for the failure of this person. We very clearly talked about expectations. When this person repeatedly failed at reaching them, we sat down and I reexplained expectations. I confirmed those expectations in an email. The behaviors didn’t improve and we had what I like to call a coming to God moment where I basically said that this would be the final time I addressed these concerns. I threw in there that I didn’t expect to have to have these kinds of conversations repeatedly with someone who qualified as an adult. (It wasn’t a skill set issue…this person was just running wild).

    From there on out, the behaviors stopped.

    My guess is that your intern is a silver spoon, stereotypical millennial and that’s a shame. You owe this person nothing more. When people call you for recommendations, be honest. “I terminated Mary because she was unable to follow through on tasks, came quite ill prepared for the internship despite numerous conversations and written correspondence and showed very poor judgement. I would not have hired her knowing then what I know now.”

    1. Liz T*

      Um, the OP is also a “millennial.” An entitled millennial, as opposed to a Gen X slacker or a selfish Baby Boomer. Yay stereotypes!

  11. Hazel*

    Oh dear! (that’s the polite comment)
    So, you trusted someone else’s judgement that this person would be right to come to you as an intern. You goofed! It’s not YOU that’s in the wrong but because of the repercussions on the company and your reputation with your boss and your boss’s boss you have taken it very personally – as you are bound to do. For you to walk away and forget it is beyond human endeavour but you must act as though it’s no big deal NOW although it was at the time.
    Where and when ever possible let someone else in the company deal with the fallout including providing references for any future internships this immature person might need.

  12. Eric Woodard*

    So, I’m sorry to say it – but your mistake here was that you crossed the line.

    As an intern manager – agreeing to let a new intern stay in your house? Too close, too much, too soon.

    If you had maintained a little space – I bet that new intern wouldn’t have had her act together to find a place to live – and would have never made the journey to begin with…maybe? She would have self selected herself out of the situation.

    Even if she had made the trip, if she had been forced to take responsibility for her own personal issues – those issues would have been her own to deal with. Sounds like instead, her personal issues got all mixed up into work issues.

    The lesson here is – interns and supervisors should interact on work, that’s it. The space between personal and work can shrink a bit over time – but its a slippery slope. In the end, interning is an exchange of work for professional experience – that’s it. Anything that falls outside those parameters is irrelevant.

    Sounds like your friendly gestures, while well meaning, turned things into a mess. Sorry it happened.

    Worried about your social rep? Don’t. Refer folks to the story you’ve written here – it’s genuine, it’s real – nobody is perfect. Put this intern out of your mind and move on friend (oops, I mean fellow intern manager).

    1. Anonymous*

      I agree. I was an intern in a large group of interns at this company a while back. While they did some socializing programs so we can all learn to work and get along, those supervisors became a little too buddy-buddy with a few of the interns. I stayed professional and got the short end of the stick. During and after the internship, I wasn’t invited out to lunch or on weekend socializing meetings – both of which included the supervisors. While they knew their work, they wanted to have a good time.

      1. Talyssa*

        Sorry anon but in your story I think being professional would have been trying to at least socialize a little – I mean you don’t say what was going on, but some organizations have a culture where co-workers do a lot of socializing. If you were at one of those organizations, it doesn’t look ‘professional’ for you not to participate at ALL — I mean obviously this is just a bad organizational fit for you but I think you should be aware that while you thought you were being the height of professional, you actually probably made a bad impression on those people.

        Eric – although I sort of agree with you, I can also see how this case was a little bit unique. The OP works from home, in a city that is remote from the main office, and the intern was not only an alumni from the same university but had mutual acquaintances there. I probably would have offered my home too, if I had space, and I would probably do it a second time even after this. This is honestly freakish behavior – normally when you are a guest in someone’s home, especially someone you don’t actually KNOW, you are on your best behavior. And normally when you are starting a new job you are on your best behavior with your new coworkers and boss. The fact that somehow NEITHER of these things triggered for this girl is abnormal.

    2. Marie*

      I agree with Eric Woodard; the OP should have set some boundaries – physical as well as professional. The first red flag that sticks out is the word “aggressive”, which the OP used to describe this intern. The second red flag was the intern inviting herself to live with the OP – way too pushy and imposing.

  13. Anonymous*

    To the OP, interns vary a lot, so don’t let this put you off. The one you had was far, far outside the norm.

    I’ve had OK interns who were not very productive or fast at getting things, but were trying. That’s acceptable to me. And I’ve had some great ones who really stepped up and helped our work a lot – that’s a bonus. I recently had one who was far to aggressive and “quick” to do things, but would make many small mistakes or do things superficially. But she was trying, and the problems were part of her general approach to life. I hope she benefited from my suggestions that she slow down and be more careful/thoughtful.

    Beyond that, out of about a dozen interns, I’ve only had one that was genuinely bad – and he was just lazy. He’s the only one I refused to give a recommendation of any kind for. All the others contributed something and learned something, which is what internships should be about.

  14. Kimberlee*

    I agree with bits of what have been posted here and there… make sure the PR people at your company know the whole story so they can respond however they want, and when people call for references, be honest but professional.

  15. Naama*

    Here’s something I’m wondering about. Would it be a good idea for OP to contact the intern’s references, the “good people [she] trusted” at the University, and let them know that their reputations could be damaged by recommending this intern? Given that OP has a relationship with these references already, it doesn’t seem totally out of line to me (although maybe it’s better to just forget the whole thing). But what do the rest of you think?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’d say it depends on how well she knows them. If she knows them well, I’d totally tell them the intern imploded big-time (and would likely spare no detail).

      1. Anon y. mouse*

        Even if she doesn’t know them well, it’s worth letting them know what happened, albeit more briefly. Universities do take stuff like this seriously. At the school I attended, a student in their primary education program flipped out and swore at a classroom full of grade schoolers. The department professors were mortified and immediately reevaluated how they were recommending and placing their students for internships. There were several low-performing students the next year whose internships were extremely closely supervised.

    2. hannah*

      I definitely would contact them and ask what’s up. References are supposed to provide evidence of previous good qualities; if the intern was a complete failure (which it sounds like she was), then you should let the references know. If she can’t find anyone to be a reference for her, that’s a warning sign to future employers.

    3. Richard*

      Definitely do this; universities don’t like their reputation being brought into disrepute, because it affects their ability to find good placements for their students, and a successful placement rate is something that they tend to rather heavily base their sales pitch on to prospective students.

  16. Laura*

    The way I see it, there are two issues here: 1)Your reputation has been damaged and 2) you took on an intern who was unsatisfactory. Make sure to keep these two issues separate. Even though it all happened in one short time frame, where it was so blatant the intern was at fault, they can and should be dealt with separately.
    With respect to the first issue, time heals all wounds. I understand that this isn’t fair, but life isn’t fair. I know this reflects poorly on you but ultimately you took on an intern who was a jerk. There are jerks everywhere and part of what makes them jerks is that they blame others for their problems/mistakes. Continue to be a strong employee and your company will understand. This isn’t the end of the world, so one moron wrote a few unkind things on twitter. If it’s an isolated incident, in time it will seem less pertinent. Nobody cares that one intern was unhappy about how she was treated for an unpaid internship years later. Basically your credibility and that of the company’s will recover.
    Now to the second issue; well, she was pathetic. Part of your reputation will rely on you being honest so if her future employers ask you questions, be honest. That being said, it seems to me that the reality of this situation comes down to the fact that she was young and didn’t understand the terms of the internship. If you receive a call tomorrow about this person, it would be your obligation to give an accurate and honest depiction of what you thought of your intern. However, I would think that some of what happened is biasing your opinion. So try to remember that a critical, unbiased observer would no doubt think she was pathetic too but you agreed to have her in your home so the fact that she slept late and broke down crying are things you let happen. It’s not your fault but she wasn’t exactly crying at the office, it was where she was living. In my mind, it somehow makes that less inappropriate and unprofessional. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still inappropriate and unprofessional. Now if you were to receive a call like this in two years or something, well a lot can change between now and then. Ultimately she’s likely to grow-up a little bit. She might not, but we’re all hoping she does. So in a few years I would imagine that although you were unsatisfied with her work due to her finances and behavior it must understood she only worked with you for a short period of time so your understanding of her abilities is somewhat limited. Some people take time to settle in to the type of work they’re expected to do. Anyway, if I were you I would just try to forget the incident quickly, because she’s unlikely to try and use you as a reference for much longer if you are honestly giving her a bad reference.

  17. Anon y. mouse*

    Oh yuck. It sounds like your efforts to be extra-helpful for this girl backfired pretty spectacularly. Not your fault, though.

    When people are being stupidly dramatic online, you win by staying calm and professional, not by engaging and trying to prove how wrong they are. If I were in your shoes, I’d consult with PR, give then the whole story and let them decide if they want to reply to the intern via twitter (so your customers can see that your company is attempting to resolve this professionally). Then prepare a brief, unemotional explanation for anyone outside your company who asks about it. I like the version written by Anonymous @ 11:44 above. Don’t go into gory details or explain how put-upon you were, that’d be unprofessional and bring you down to their level. Just let the little witch and her friend hang themselves on twitter. They’ll find out some day – hopefully soon! – why that’s such a bad idea. Maybe then they’ll delete the tweets.

    Good luck, I hope it blows over soon.

  18. Anonymous*

    Remember that when you give a reference, especially in a small field, your own credibility is on the line. If you gloss over this girl’s faults to another company, and they find out the hard way that she’s a terrible worker, they won’t listen when you enthusiastically endorse your next intern — even though she was actually fantastic. (Consider how carefully you will now scrutinize interns “recommended” to you by your university.)

    As others have said, avoid being emotional, but tell the clinical truth about her performance and maturity level.

    1. Community Chica*

      Yes, this.

      If the persons who ask me reference are very close friends, I always tell them the facts, ending them with “I may not want to work with him/her again.”

      If the person who ask me a just have a professional relationship with me, then I state the facts with a caveat at the end – “of course, for you it may be different.”

  19. Clobbered*

    I don’t have much to add except to say that we are in a similar situation with interns (overseas expensive location) and have happily hosted many wonderful interns in our homes, either the direct supervisor’s or a suitable colleague’s, so as to give them some time to orient themselves and take the considerable time it takes to locate well priced accommodations.

    This has never resulted into any trouble of any sort. The problem was not that the OP housed the intern, it was that the intern was a flake.

    1. Dianamh*

      I’d say it is still a risk to house your interns. Like AAM’s post about managing friends (http://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/outside-voices-careers/2009/06/08/7-reasons-you-wont-want-to-manage-a-friend): “you’re going to have information you’ll wish you didn’t have.” In this case the information is the sleeping in late and crying which have influenced the OP’s opinion of this intern. I would leave those details out of any reference of the intern and try to evaluate the performance alone. Since it sounds like it was only a couple of days of work, that is not much to evaluate. I would mention that she came unprepared even after being given expectations (no pay for trip/living expenses/internship).

  20. same field*

    After reading a few sentences of your letter I immediately assumed we were in the same field. The lower reference to your industry seemed to cement it. From what I understand (I’m a few years removed) virtually none of the internships in our field pay anymore.

    My experience has been much more positive.

    At my last place of work only unpaid interns were hired. I vouched for one from my university on the recommendation of former professors. I then agreed to have her live with me in a spare bedroom. It went great, she was a fantastic intern and quiet roommate.

    As for your reputation, I think a quick explanation to anyone who stumbles upon would be sufficient. People understand crazy. I also wouldn’t worry about the reputation of your company, so many negative things get said about companies in our industry it will get lost in the parade of complainers. I wouldn’t worry about it. They’re not the only ones not paying interns and no one will hold it against them.

    I, personally with no managerial experience or qualification to say so beyond my own personal opinion, think you should tell those who referred her to you about the problems. If I’m correcting in guessing we’re in the same field, she is her own undoing. There are so many people competing for a very few number of jobs you owe to the hard working interns who are going to have a very hard time getting a job to make sure they don’t continue to refer her to employers. And it’s a small little world, others will figure out what kind of disaster she is and wonder why you never mentioned it.

  21. Anonymous*

    It should be the intern worrying about her reputation (with future employers), not you or your company.

    Yet, I do have a little compassion for the intern. She is young and naive and as someone who hasn’t quite entered the “real world” yet, it’s possible that she underestimated her expenses. You really don’t realize how expensive things can get once you start paying your own bills, loans, etc, and for someone her age, I doubt she is at that point.

    I am also very surprised at how your company expects people to fully pay for major expenses like this: traveling abroad, hotel, plus a full work load. That has to total up to a few thousand dollars and you would probably have to come from a pretty wealthy family to afford an internship like this. I agree the experience would be useful, but when I first read that, I was a bit shocked myself. If this was to be unpaid, then maybe the intern could have started at an office located in the US before doing any major travels.

    I’m interested in knowing what type of field actually allows interns to pay for major expenses upfront. Must be a fashion or PR thing?

    1. Anonymous*

      I’m not based in the US, but in many European locations you’re lucky, if you get money for internships – and even if you get a few 100€, the companies will most likely not pay for any travelling. If you want to go abroad for your internship, then you also have to figure out how to get there and where to live.

      I also went to India for an internship, where I also paid for everything myself – I’m not from a rich background at all, I saved up for it.

      Maybe it’s because I’ve lived abroad (on my own) since I’m 18, but the described intern was just ridiculously naive and immature. Geez…

    2. Naama*

      You know, there’s “young and naive” and then there’s “despite being told explicitly and repeatedly that she’d have to figure this out, she didn’t, and then she trashed someone else’s reputation instead of shouldering responsibility.” And when you willfully hurt someone else, instead of just yourself, sorry — you lose sympathy. Being pretty young myself, I get a little frustrated when people chalk behavior like this up to being new to the workforce and not knowing the ropes yet. Yes, we were all naive once. Not all of us did stuff like that, and the people who do give a bad reputation to all other interns and young workers.

      Besides, the intern approached this company about it; nobody was forcing her to do this particular internship. There are plenty of places she could have gone instead. Shouldering several thousand dollars’ worth of expenses is a pretty heavy load for a company to bear, especially for an intern who isn’t bringing in much value.

      1. Anonymous*

        I understand your point, but it’s important to look in the perspective of an “intern” not an “employee.” Interns are college students just entering the real world. They make mistakes, which is why it’s better to do them now as an intern than in your first real job.

        1. Naama*

          And the internship site here did as much as anyone could expect in terms of communicating their expectations to the intern. I assume the school did as well. You’re right, it’s better to make mistakes as an intern, but they are still your mistakes; it’s not the company’s responsibility to accommodate them to this degree. And these are some pretty extreme mistakes.

  22. Emily Litella*

    Why would anybody complain about having one of Santa’s helpers as an intern? Those cute little people are so conscientious, hard-working, and fun. Imagine the joys of having happy singers work alongside you all day. Christmas all year, what a lovely way to get through each work day. I say, anyone who’d complain about having a Santa’s helper in the office is nothing but an S_C_R_O_O_G_E Scrooge!

  23. Katie*

    1) You owe this girl nothing, but her future employers deserve to know the truth about her. Be unemotional. Relay the facts. Her employers can determine from there whether she would be a good candidate for them. In the long run, this might even serve to teach her a much-needed lesson about burning bridges.

    2) Don’t worry about the twitter stuff. If you checked up on a company on twitter and saw that a handful of college students were ranting because one of their friends had an unpaid internship–something that is standard in many industries–and because their young friend felt done wrong, would you pay it much mind? You’d probably read it as a bunch of spoiled children throwing a tantrum. Ignore it. Very few of your clients will take it seriously. Whatever you do, do not engage, because that will make you look as immature as they are.

    3) What can you do to repair your reputation? Work hard and make better choices in the future. What this experience should have taught you is that if a person has a lengthy resume and glowing references that only come from positions/people that have been within that person’s comfort zone, giving them a position where they are expected to go overseas and survive on their own is probably not wise for you or for them. This girl obviously has come to expect a certain level of support from family, friends, school, and her broader community, and when she was in a place without it, she couldn’t function. You now know in the future that you should be looking for people with demonstrated ability to be independent to work as interns.

    1. Nichole*

      I agree with Katie, I doubt anyone will take those posts seriously, assuming that you and your company aren’t being flamed all over Twitter for legitimate missteps as well. The OP is awfully young, so I think she kind of gets a pass (the fact that the OP allowed the female intern to move in suggests that it’s a she, so I apologize if I’m wrong). Everyone gets one really big career oops (provided they earn it through showing their worth before making that oops, which she appears to have done to be mentoring by 26), and of they’re smart they come out stronger. Being a little too compassionate is totally forgiveable, and OP, you handled it professionally by dropping the emotion and letting her go before she had a chance to bring you and your organization down by association. You made a mistake, then showed that you’re able to do what needs to be done to correct it without being ruled by guilt or being afraid to let on that you were wrong. That’s a career plus-you have an example of how you handled a really bad situation. Continue to behave like a professional, let your PR department decide what’s damaging to the company, and this will become something you can use to your advantage once it blows over.

  24. Regina*

    Step lightly. I am concerned someone thinks they know this company. I would let company direct handle all direct or indirect contact with the intern, including reference checks.

    Many Legal and HR departments tell employees to refer reference requests to HR and HR only confirms that the former-employee worked there on the dates in question. Anything else might result in:

    (1) a defamation lawsuit. If the intern does have a silver spoon, the owners of said spoon may sue for besmirching the reputation of their offspring.

    (2) an internet flame war. Unfortunately, you and your company already exposed a weakness by letting intern and friends know that their tweets bother you and your company.

    If the company really wants to respond, it might be a good idea to limit the response to documented facts (e.g. tweets & emails with no editorial commentary… just the facts, ma’am).

    As for becoming roomies – When with any subordinate (either sex & orientation is irrelevant), beware of any situation where you are not in eyesight of another employee. This includes both closed door meetings and being out at a bar… is the bartender really going to remember you enough to defend you?

    Yes this is super-paranoid but I try to avoid trouble. And in that vein, I apologize for having to add — This is not legal advice and does not create a lawyer-client relationship. I disclaim all liability and command you to speak with your own lawyer for all related action or inaction.

  25. 0p*

    Hi All;

    OP here- thank you for all the comments! Wow!

    to address a few things:

    1) She approached me, eager to do an overseas internship. Most people do them close to home or where they’ll have free housing- I did mine in the same city the university is located in, for example. But, after ‘meeting’ me when I gave a skype-talk to students at the university, she approached me keen to come and work. We have interns all the time, generally local, and after discussing it with my manager, we told her she was welcome to come but she’d have to pay for it all herself. She’s a grownup- it’s not my job to explicitly lay out the balancing of work experience vs monetary commitment. That’s what your dad does when you come to him with an exciting if hare brained idea (as mine did when I wanted to do my internship in Uganda, and he asked me how, exactly, I was going to pay for that and still pay my tuition). We had numerous email conversations while she was preparing to come over here, her asking me questions about the country, the culture, what to expect, and I gave her a very clear idea of how much things would cost.

    2)That was probably my mistake. By going beyond ‘yes you can come and here are your dates’ and allowing her to ask me questions in a more informal setting, I was trying to help her make the transition to the other side of the world- it’s hard for anyone, and I was only slightly older than her when I initially moved over myself. but I also opened the door for her to ask to stay with me, and then instead of seeing that as an almighty red flag, I agreed. It’s not quite as weird as it sounds- when I first moved over here I stayed for a month with a coworker while I found a place- but not the brightest move in retrospect and one I won’t be repeated. I even justified it to myself as a GOOD thing, since I work from home. . . but in retrospect, if she’d had to get up, get dressed, and arrive every day at a certain time, she’d have treated my home office as what it is: an office. Even though I work from home, I work, I keep office hours, and I treat it professionally.

    3) Weirder and weirder: I had several conversations with her, gave her several chances to shape up. One was on day two when she was crying from homesickness. One was on day one when she was panicking about prices. One was on day three when she received a reply from her latest panicked email to the school that her supervisor had spoken to me and recommending the intern relax a bit (in the schools defence: they were utterly appalled by her behavior, and only called me after her emails because they were concerned- she was writing that she was unsafe etc etc and although they didn’t think she was, they had to check and find out what was going on so far away. Overseas internships are rare, and they’re usually pretty careful about who they send and where). She was upset I had ‘talked about her behind her back’, and was unhappy with the solutions we suggested (namely: if she really couldn’t afford the second city, so as not to waste the internship, we could try to arrange her to do the second half with another alumni in the city, with whom she could probably stay as well). And I gave her one more when the twitter exploded. The end came when she suddenly went out to dinner with a friend of a friend who lived in the city and, just before we finally had to fire her, declared she was going to go stay with her- if she had this friend why on earth was she pushing staying on my sofa????

    4)fallout so far: the tweets are still up, and it’s more my judgement is being questioned in my workplace and by my collegues. I only see them in person once a month as I’m based in a different city, so only my direct manager and one or two others has daily contact with me via phone and email. I’m also the youngest one in the group, and I’m the only one of a different nationality- which is where I’m now wondering if they think my university is some sort of fly-by-night internet-degree program or something.

    plus this whole thing just really makes me mad.

    1. EB*

      I have to say that I think your credibility may be damaged, but not from the fact that the intern was crazy – many people know about or have had experiences with bad employees who looked good on paper. But your OP and this follow up post show a problem with judgement when it comes time to cut people off and fire them (or recommend firing). The intern should have been fired, or at minimum, placed on probation and progressively disciplined (and you would have a paper trail too) when she repeatedly turned in problematic work. She should have been summarily dismissed and sent to a hotel as soon as you were informed about mistreatment allegations and, in the US (and probably elsewhere), company lawyers and HR should have been consulted as well (maybe you let them know as soon as you heard, I hope you did, and they advised you to keep her, which if they did should have probably come with advice about how to minimize her claims and advice to not let her sleep at your home [i am not a lawyer though, but a disgruntled subordinate at your home is just asking for all sorts of trouble]).

      Basically by not disciplining or firing the intern as soon as you found out she wasn’t doing work or firing her as soon as you heard that she was claiming she was mistreated, you allowed her the opportunity to create drama and defame your company. Second chances are for when you make an understandable mistake or are homesick, not for when you claim you are being mistreated and definitely not for when you turn in half-assed work repeatedly.

      If you have a mentor at your company, try talking to them to see what you can do to repair your reputation at your company. Also, maybe some mentoring with managing personnel might be helpful as well.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Now, wait, I think this may be much too harsh. If I’m reading the letter correctly, all of this went down in the space of 3 days — so I would say that the OP did indeed move pretty aggressively (appropriately so) to handle it.

      2. Dawn*

        This happened over the course of three days. Three DAYS. Not three weeks of three months. OP moved pretty fast, if you ask me.

    2. Anonymous*

      I see nothing wrong in talking to her about the culture. If she has never been overseas, then she might not know the dos and don’ts of the culture (as well as the money, food, language, etc.). I think that was appropriate to help her adjust in that respect.

      I read this too that it was within a few days and not a few months.

      However, I might have written this before, but the jetlag and homesickness usually sets in within the first couple of days when someone is new overseas. I remember my first trip over and I was just visiting friends. I quietly panicked, thinking “I have three weeks here?! Oh God, I can’t wait to go home.” But really it was the jetlag talking; that was a Tuesday. Finally when the jetlag whooped my butt and I took a nice nap on Saturday afternoon, I was much better and felt more at ease. Just some two cents, but I think something like that should be taken into consideration. It doesn’t help her behavior; she did major damage. However, it’s something to consider for next time – if there is a next time.

      Even on my last trip, the jetlag had me upset when the currency exchange office was closed and I had no tangible money. When you are in that state, anything can set you off. Everyone is different, but jetlag can make someone act out of sorts for a couple of days. I’m just wondering if work should’ve been put off a few days.

      I don’t use twitter, but you can’t “untag” the company from the tweets? I know you can on Facebook if a photo is embarrasing.

      1. Natalie*

        No, a Twitter feed is under the sole control of the person writing it and the Twitter corporation, presumably.

        Attempting to get the tweets or whatever taken down is a terrible idea. Regardless of whether or not they’re justified, people take their internet “free speech” extremely seriously. Attempts by companies to have negative feedback removed typically result in more negative feedback for the company (whether or not the original feedback was correct).

        1. Anonymous*

          Yet, on the radio, I’ve been hearing a lot about a program for businesses called “Reputation Defender.”

  26. majigail*

    The OP is pretty concerned about the tweets. She should know that the lifespan of an average tweet is about an hour, after that, the chances of someone not connected to those individuals seeing the tweeting is not very good. Even if they tweeted over and over (which really only makes them look crazy) its not reaching a sliver of your customers.
    My advice, shake off this experience and repair your internal reputation by doing good, solid work and only bring out this story when you’re in a game of “Who had the Worst Intern?” You’ll win every time.

  27. Rose*

    I would say that the best advice would be to do nothing except continue to pursue this via the university. On twitter you could post a link to a letter that X company’s policy is to provide a highly limited amount of unpaid internships a year and [intern] was informed of this verbally and in writing several times. We’re sorry this experience did not work out and we wish [intern] the best of luck in her future endeavors. Any reasonable person will read that and at the very least say, ‘huh, sounds like there’s two sides to this story.’

    For the nuclear option:

    I would write to the intern in the form of a business letter. You know, “On March 13th, you corresponded via email with my supervisor, [redacted] and confirmed that we would not be paying your expenses.” And attach the emails, heavily redacted. At the end state that you wish her to remove you and your company from her website, linkedin, etc and you would obviously not be providing a positive recommendation for her. Also state that she was publicly defaming the company and could be subject to a lawsuit, so she should cease and desist immediately.

    If she writes you back, I assume it will be crazy level 29 and then you can choose to “leak” that email to some website like that crazy entitled intern who wrote to his pool supervisor:)

    1. Anon.*

      I am loving the nuclear option :) and as Rose says, expect crazy level 29..

      good luck and please keep us posted. so sorry you had to experience this.

  28. Lesley*

    Wow, if this happened in the space of three days, I almost feel bad for the intern (not quite, but almost). If this was her first trip overseas or first time traveling by herself, she might have been completely unprepared for the culture shock. It sounds like she was fired before she had a chance to get her bearings. Some people are just bad travelers.

    Of course, this doesn’t serve as an excuse for unprofessional behavior! The tweets are completely inexcusable and unprofessional, no doubt about it. (And there is NO excuse for her friend’s behavior at all.) But if she was staying with you and working with you, when would she have had a chance to freak out in private?

    I’m not trying to make excuses for her, I’m just thinking about why she might have received glowing references from her professors, but was a disaster with you. I agree with the other posters who say to let it go, especially the online stuff. It should blow over quickly.

  29. Jeff*

    1) Consult your employers HR department to find their policy with references. Many companies have a no-reference policy in order to protect their own interest. They may ask that you only use documented information (record of employment which would include the reason for termination) or have a scripted statement.
    2) Always use objective descriptions (seen or heard) when giving a reference. Use statements such as I saw/counted/observed instead of S/he thinks/feels. These are easily defended because they are your observations.
    3) You do not ‘owe’ anything to this person, however, I would not seek out revenge. Only give your statement if you are contacted by a potential employer. Going out of your way to hurt someones career is a waste of your time/energy. If they are truly a bad employee, any subsequent employers will find out soon enough. To quote Plato, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

  30. 0p*

    well, that’s how I and my boss saw it: we excused the other shennanigans as much as we could, because it is a culture shock to go overseas etc etc, but drew the line at the tweets. If it had just been an internal email to my boss or something, she may have had a leg to stand on- but she and her friend posted things to a feed people who use our product see. End of story.

    As for her behavior. . . it’s just weird. I remembered how I felt when I first landed, and I tried to help her out. I suggested she fly out the weekend before to give herself a couple of days, which she didn’t do. I gave her light, easy, judge her ability stuff her first day, picked her up at the airport, and went with her to do the admin stuff (set up the phone I lent her, get groceries, switch money over, etc). Yes, overseas is a transistion: but it’s one you buy into when you, um, decide to go overseas.

    As for freaking out in private: I may work from home, but my job takes me out and about quite a bit. And since she was struggling, after a first day of coming with me on all these tasks, I thought she’d do better if I gave her some concrete tasks with firm deadlines and let her get on with it, and left her on her own. But throughout all of this, she seemed more interested in having a vacation than working (for example, she wanted to go to a mall during work hours after an assignment I gave her- I had to say to her ‘Do you really think you have time to go to a mall, when I need x y and z done by you by this time today?’).

    I do feel bad for the kid tho- she did waste airfare and burned out a really good opportunity. that might be why this just rankles me so much. THIS is why people slam my generation (she and I are, alas, in the same block), and this sort of behavior is probably why some managers are hesitant to employ Gen Y.

  31. 0p*

    . . . .I guess a lot of this is also, this was the first time I was on the mentoring side of things. And it ended badly. It exploded in fact. It was freaking Vesuvius.

    So. . . I want to figure out what I did wrong! Yes, she was a uniquely crazy snowflake, but. . .

    1. Lesley*

      To me, it doesn’t sound like you did anything wrong. It just sounds like this young lady was very immature and not ready for this experience. Did she have any work experience? School and work are two completely different things, and one doesn’t always prepare you for the other.

      As for the explosion…it sounds to me like she and her friend are having a fairly typical high school/college reaction and making a big melodrama out of it. (Though this might actually be the worse thing that has ever happened to her, at this point in her life.) She doesn’t seem to have the life experience to see beyond it, so it will drag on as long she and her friend can sustain it.

      I’ve had to deal with this type of person a few times, and I’ve learned the hard way that it’s best to keep everything short (correspondence, recommendations, conversations about it with others, the amount of time your spend worrying about it, etc.) and not dwell on the negative. Don’t get sucked into the drama they’re creating. If you keep stressing about what someone else is doing, you don’t really come off looking that great either (you look like you can’t handle problems).

      1. Lynda*

        You didn’t do anything unkind, but I do think you did something you shouldn’t have done. You crossed the line between a work relationship and friendship in the space of 3 days. It sounds like you functioned at an appropriately professional distance until she arrived, and then you began taking care of her as you would a friend in distress. The most important thing you could have done for her is to demonstrate the real-world consequences for not bringing enough money. One of them is returning home. A real-world consequence for poor work quality is a conversation about the substandard work. The ultimate real-world consequence is termination, which she misinterpreted as personal – I think it’s because she perceived this as a personal relationship. The suggestion to check with your mentor about keeping these boundaries more clear in the future is a really good one. No need to beat yourself up, but learn from this.

    2. Ev*

      It sounds like you tried to give her guidance but she wasn’t ready to listen. It sounds like she expected a international adventure and little work without consequences.

      I think the only thing that you did wrong is possibly not set up in advance the scope and expectations you had for the intern strictly enough. I only say this because can’t see if you discussed expected hours/days of work in your pre-event discussion. Perhaps its best to have a stricter format, almost to the level of contract of employment level (clearly stating its an unpaid internship though)?

      It wasn’t your responsibility to point out expenses to her or to advise on travel arrangements. That is her own responsibility and the reaction she had to realising she’d mucked that up was unwarranted – especially the part about blaming you and the company.

  32. Anonymous*

    Is it really a generational thing tho? We’ve had a few interns at my workplace that seem to think they are doing us a favor, working for free for us. . .

  33. Jamie*

    I’m confused – and I may be off base here, but my understanding of the laws governing unpaid internships are that it needs to be primarily of benefit to the intern – and not the company.

    It’s possible laws are different in your region, or different rules apply overseas – but it sounds odd to me that she had tasks which needed to be done independently for the employer so early in.

    Some of her behavior is understandable. I did a summer abroad in high school and didn’t handle being away from home well. And the plans to stay with the friend of a friend – I can see why that offer wouldn’t be extended until they had met over dinner.

    The tweets, however – unconscionable and completely inexcusable. Immediate dismissal was the proper (and imo only) response.

    And I would ignore them – people tend to recognize crazy when they see it – they won’t hurt you nearly as badly as if you dignify them with a response.

    I think you tried to do a nice thing and got slapped for it – and that really stinks. Your intentions were good – and you mitigated the damage quickly – it’s the uncontrollable human element that got in the way. When you have the chance to mentor again I hope you get someone who appreciates your efforts.

    Am I the only one thanking my lucky stars I’m not in an industry where letting co-workers move in to my house is considered normal? :)

    1. Lynda*

      One more thing – huge congratulations on taking care of this so quickly. It’s hard to assess a situation when you’re emotionally hooked into it, and it sounds like you really took control of the situation effectively.

  34. SIG*

    I have to agree with Eric Woodard. Going forward keep this experience in mind.
    As for her and her friend bad mouthing you, your company and the university… no one of significance should have the time or the withdrawal to entertain their frivolous behavior.

    While it’s unfortunate the situation happened, things could have taken a drastic turn. You never know how far someone will go and what they’re capable of doing.

  35. lapreghiera*

    “Unfortunately ‘said intern’ miscalculated the expense of interning at ‘our company’ in ‘our town’ therefore she was unable to complete the full term, and I am unable to give her a formal referral under those circumstances.”

  36. Lisa*

    This has a ton of comments already so I am going to be quick knowing OP may already have moved on, but I have a slightly different perspective:

    She was ambitious, in WAY over her head, and panicked at being in a strange country. She was also a rotten, entitled jerk who probably has seen parents or other role models get what they want by doing a public flipout. (I blame you, Consumerist.) She may or may not have learned her lesson, but I think as the older, more mature, and kinder person, showing empathy is a good idea here. Karma will eventually teach her if she keeps behaving this way–you don’t have to be the instrument of karma at the cost of feeling like a nice person.

    I would just say, “I’m afraid the internship was not completed as she was unhappy with the experience, so I don’t feel I can give her a referral.”

  37. Anonymous*

    Regarding the “nuclear option” Rose mentions, I urge everyone to not mention lawsuits unless they are actually willing to go through with it. Threats/warnings that are not real diminish credibility.

    And I should mention that as someone who has been been on the receiving end of such a threat, it was *extremely* satisfying when I called the other person’s bluff. That type of warning can blow up if not real.

  38. Bad_Wolf*

    I’m sorry, I never understood why a student would pay for their own internship. To me that is weak in the beginning, as well as your company having a mentoring program with no funding for hotels, meals and travel, as well as pay. If the intern is such a good fit for the organization, the organization should be picking up the tab. As far as negative stuff on the Internet, let it go. People who you interface with are the most important, and they know and appreciate you.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Oooh, no, I need to jump in on this one. Interns are rarely such a value to the organization that the employer would pay for travel, meals, etc. The idea of an internship (outside of the nonprofit sector) is supposed to be that the intern is getting more value out of it (in terms of learning) than the employer is (in terms of work product). There’s little if any incentive for an employer to pay an intern’s overseas travel expenses. And in this case, the intern lobbied for the chance.

      1. Anonymous*

        Um, who on earth is meant to be able to pay interns, in this economy? they wouldn’t be interns then- they would be freelance employees! I did numerous internships as a student, and the only one I was every paid for was paid as part of a government grant program for students. Nice internships will buy you coffee, maybe reimburse for gas if you travel for work. Now, I’m a journalist, so I got loads of tangible stuff out of it: bylines, clips for my portfolio, experience and references, all things that helped me when I went to get a job. But comments like this annoy me now, as someone who knows intimately the budget of the places I work. In this economy we can barely afford to pay our staff and most of them have had their perks cut to the bone- we can’t pay interns without firing staff.

        end of rant.

        1. Anonymous*

          Your field is journalism, that’s why you never got paid. I know plenty of interns in the financial industry that get paid the big bucks.

  39. Anonymous*

    I skimmed the responses so I might have missed this, but… did anyone recommend she meet with her boss to discuss her concerns regarding her credibility? It’s a hard thing to do when you make a mistake or have a lapse in judgment, but I’ve found that approaching them and letting them know where I goofed, asking for feedback and if needed proposing a solution is something each manager has appreciated.

  40. Jane*

    One thing your organization can do is make the rules under which interns are hired as public as possible. So that the information that the internship is unpaid, and the cost of travel, accommodations, meals and whatnot is the responsibility of the intern are not communicated in a private email, but are posted for the whole world (or at least the university and/or your industry) to see.

    Another item to make formal and/or public would be to specify official working hours, even if the intern is working out of someone’s house (or her own). That way, you can always refer to official rules of the internships when saying that the person hasn’t met the expectations – she was not familiar with the rules she signed up to follow, and she was not at her job by lunch.

    More importantly, you should make this story known to all your future interns, although you may want to keep the girl’s name and the university out of the conversation. (I sincerely hope you will keep mentoring).

    Encourage the people who do work out, and especially those who work out spectacularly, to tweet/blog/FB about their experience interning with you and your company. Talk to your boss and/or your company’s PR department to organizing some training for future interns to let them know what is and what is not appropriate to make public.

    And don’t worry about the stuff that’s sitting out on the Internet – just because it’s out there, doesn’t mean it’s true, or makes any sense, or you need to be worried about it. Instead, work on building your true public persona on and off the Internet – hard-working, dedicated, and willing to pay it forward.

  41. mentoringisforlifenotjust3days*

    So this happened over 3 days? But the OP is making it sound like, you know, the greatest drama ever, right, like, totally. Oh noes! Someone is spouting off on the twitterverse, that has never happened once ever to anyone or any company before. C’mon.

    Maybe the OP simply isn’t up for being a mentor? I mean like who pulls the plug after 3 days? When the alleged panic attack/sobbing took place, why not suggest she take a few days to get acclimatised and start fresh the following Monday?

    Sounds like the immature leading the immature.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Her job wasn’t to be this intern’s mentor; it was to be her manager. And no employe could responsibly keep on an employee who posted negative rants about the company online (particularly when they’re not even accurate), demonstrating immaturity, unprofessionalism, a willingness to sabotage the employer, and in this case a lack of understanding of the terms she’d agreed to.

      The OP’s job was to manage this intern, not to mentor her; she absolutely did the right thing by firing her. Frankly, she would have been irresponsible not to.

  42. Sara M*

    I had to comment on this one.

    I was a bright, superstar student who would have had tons of recommendations from professors. In my college years, I was not very stable emotionally. I also had no real-world experience.

    I could have been this intern. I _think_ I would have handled things more maturely, but I’m not sure about that. I would never have tweeted nasty things, but I wouldn’t have stopped friends from doing it on my behalf. The other things (staying with my boss, trying to go shopping mid-day) I might have done.

    I’d guess this intern is someone who’s never failed at things in her life. She got in way over her head and fell apart. If she’s not the most stable person, jetlag and culture shock might well have triggered a mental health problem. It happened to me when I went abroad.

    Maybe it would help to look at it this way: As a human being, you can have compassion for a young person who isn’t as mature and sensible as you are. She will never achieve a great job like you have (working in another country, and from home?? I would have killed for that when I was younger.) She’s living proof for how well you’ve done for yourself and how hard you’ve worked in your life. So as a human being, it’s okay to feel a little sorry for her being so naive and spending all the money to get there. (I agree with others that the tweets will soon be forgotten and gone.)

    But while you can have compassion on a human level… on a career level, you don’t owe her anything at all. She wasn’t working out and you had to terminate her. I’m glad you did it so quickly; given how out of tune she was with the working world, there’s no way she would ever have worked out. Many new supervisors would never have had the guts to take care of this issue as efficiently as you did. You did her a favor long-term.

    So relax about the whole thing. If your coworkers are giving you grief about it, just laugh and say, “She was a good lesson for me about putting my expectations in writing,” and leave it at that. I think most of us have had some sort of career problem based on unwritten expectations. And that comment takes no blame and gives no blame; it’s just true. (I know, you put things in writing–but anyone who knows that will also know that she ignored what was written.)

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I love this comment. I think you’re absolutely right about everything you wrote. (And I say that as someone who was a messed-up, irresponsible 20-year-old myself.)

    2. Anonymous*

      Perfectly stated. As a a twenty-something, I agree with what you just stated as I have been there-done that too.

      Interns are rarely a problem for the company despite the tweets, so I wouldn’t take it as personal as someone who is actually an employee at the company.

      I also wouldn’t try and get revenge on her. You would do her and yourself a huge favor. Trying to get revenge on her would make you look unprofessional. She’s young, naive and both parties learned lessons here.

  43. JT*

    One reason to pay interns is for social justice – without paying interns, most internships tend to be held by people who can afford to go unpaid for long periods of time, and perhaps undermines efforts to have a more diverse workplace. Among (the few) nonprofits that can afford to do so, I think paying interns is the right thing to do. And if it’s not possible, consider having interns in the office only for a few days a week so they can use the rest of the time for paid work.

    I know this is a little idealistic, but if the hosting organization might want to consider the social implications of internships. In a for-profit setting, the expense might even be positioned as a part of corporate social responsibility efforts.

    1. Anonymous*

      sure, social justice, woot. But a lot of organizations can’t afford to pay an internship- does that mean they have nothing valuable to offer participants? And it sounds like this one was based on a short term, from a university for a school requirement- I agree with you if it’s an unpaid internship that’s going to last a year, but for 6 weeks? No. Also, from a social standpoint, I think it’s a GOOD thing for students to do this kind of work- many internships involve essentially being a grunt, getting coffee, doing repetitive or boring tasks, and being grateful for it. Isn’t that something that will benefit them when they graduate? I see too many people with freshly printed degrees whinging they aren’t immediately given an executive job (and the people who have to work with them whining about the immature entitled twits in their offices). I think an unpaid internship is great not only for job skills but for real life skills- namely, humility and an appreciation for every dollar you do earn.

      1. jane*

        While some internships are truly valuable professional experience, and are worth doing for free, no one should be made to fetch coffee and do other ‘repetitive and boring work’ for free under pretense of an unpaid internship.
        Granted, many internships are a mixed bag. However, there are companies that use interns as free labor to do menial tasks, instead of hiring entry-level people, and that’s wrong.

  44. Tonya*

    As an employer who relies on references to hire people, I want the people I contact to be truthful about the person whom I’m referencing. Otherwise, how can I make an informed decision.

    On another note, I think that there should be a response about the reality of the situation that happened with this girl but run the responses through the legal team first just to make sure nothing in slanderous. I do believe that no unjust claim should be ignored when there is a potential downside to your reputation or your company’s reputation. I think people who see the facts will be able to realize that this girl is clearly problematic and that she is aimlessly ranting because she didn’t plan properly.

    Just my two cents.

  45. Dean*

    With regards to reference checking, I’d stick with the facts.

    If the vitriol nature of the tweets and social media conversations was that bad (and it lives online permanently), her reputation is off to a bad start.

    A company’s reputation recovers over time. An individual’s … well, it will live on forevermore. Doesn’t matter if people discern whether she was right or wrong. If she’s applying at future jobs with 200 other applicants, a negative Google connotation will land her squarely in the “no” pile.

  46. Anonymous*

    I may be mistaken, but it sounds like the OP picked the intern up from the airport, helped her set up some things, lent her a phone to use, and gave her some tasks to start on. Oh, and had a conversation about setting up a hotel stay in another city. I’ve done a fair bit of international flying and I have no way of knowing how far this intern was traveling, but when I arrive somewhere all I want to do is crawl into bed and sleep. NOT do work, NOT talk about future plans. I understand that the OP suggested she give herself a few days to come earlier, but that doesn’t mean that it was really a viable option for the intern. Also on the first day, the intern asks about meeting guys and other people her age and the mall. The OP has already set up a somewhat social tone already – I don’t think it’s out of bounds for her to be asking these questions. The second day, the intern was still sleeping at noon, which could be laziness but honestly to me it seems like she was overtired, overstimulated, and needed to rest. She has a freakout about being homesick, and the OP has another ‘conversation’ with her about it.

    I agree that the intern was out of line here, that she acted unprofessionally and needed to be fired. But I ALSO think that the OP was out of line too. This is a girl who probably has never been away from home, she probably was too excited and nervous to properly rest before the flight or during, and was expected to work…I can’t really see anyone but a seasoned professional being focused enough to pull it all together. Perhaps if the OP had given the intern a little space and let her rest up and acclimate to the area first, this wouldn’t have happened.

  47. Memphis Manager*

    I’ve had my fair share of “Satan’s interns” and thus why I don’t bother today. I don’t think the OP has any responsibility to this intern nor her school. I think the university should have done a better job at the outset of giving the intern all the information related to the position (which they almost never do) and how much the personal costs were.
    In my company, a small-non-profit, JUST tweeting negative information about the company would certainty have gotten her fired, end of story. HR would handle any reference requests, personal or otherwise, that I would’ve received for her. They would likely say “not eligible for re-hire”.
    It’s so unfortunate, the potential of getting a “bad” intern is so high these days when they’re not being paid (because everyone – qualified or not – is looking for a foot in the door) , it’s almost not worth the time spent training and mentoring them.
    Side note: I was an intern here, but I was paid and I worked for every dollar I earned and moved up into department manager after 4 1/2 years. Which saddens me even more, knowing my own background and how I got here.

  48. Katrina Prock*

    Just a quick for-the-record comment. I work in finance, we hire an intern every summer, we do not pay big bucks, most of our interns can afford (via their parents) to take a low-paying position. We hired a young man last summer from a relatively prestigious local university. He was a Hard, Smart worker who learned a lot and contributed to our firm in several ways. Being privileged or even being able to accept a position that won’t pay the bills is not indicative of poor work ethic or entitlement. Being young or inexperienced is not an excuse for poor work ethic or entitlement.

    In my opinion, this young lady could have used more guidance from her parents and professors before taking on such an incredible task. Especially if the university was aware of how valuable internships are in your field.

  49. Bobby Davro*

    Company exploits someone for free, then they have the cheek to fire her? From a job that didn’t even pay in the first place? Unbelievable.

    1. Richard*

      Taking on an intern for ‘free’ does not mean that the intern doesn’t cost the company in resources. You’ve got your paid employees having to take time to train them up, and little guarantee that they’ll make a valuable contribution to your organisation, they might even take more than they provide.

      Generally, interns are given at least some leeway on this; they’re inexperienced, after all, and expecting them to be at the same level as an established employee is unreasonable.

      But it’s not unreasonable to ask for basic things, like turning up to work on time, not sleeping in past noon (in your home, when you have kindly given them a place to stay, no less!), making effort towards trying to contribute.

      What’s more, it’s not unreasonable for them to understand that when a position states that it is unpaid, that they are not going to get paid for their work, and that they’re expected to cover any expenses.

      I don’t personally agree with unpaid internships, but I do think that a company is well within their rights to fire an intern who decides to start badmouthing the company online (or allows a friend to) because they were unprepared., as you might do with any employee who openly badmouths the company in a public forum.

  50. Eric Woodard*

    Internships aren’t supposed to be about money…they’re about education. Students don’t pay schools to learn; so long as mentors and students set clear expectations from the outset, there is no reason that employers need to pay interns. Is it ok if they do, especially if they are in a position to provide stipends that defray living costs for the student during the tenure of their internship? Of course. But that’s not the point…those stipends aren’t meant to be salary or compensation (if they were, it wouldn’t be an internship, it would be a job).

    An internship isn’t a job. It’s a guided learning experience. It’s not about money. It’s about education.

        1. Richard*

          In any case, even if schools don’t pay students to learn, that’s generally because they either already live with their parents, because they get student loans to pay for accommodation and food, because they work a part time job to help with their expenses, or a combination of the above. Expenses are non-existent/minimal, or can be covered elsewhere/later down the line.

          These options are not always available to people who want to do internships, which is one of the reasons I disagree with unpaid internships as a rule. I’d prefer to see a company pay an intern some amount to make them feasible for non-local people, or those who don’t necessarily have the financial backing of their parents/savings. It’s all very well to claim that they are getting an education out of the experience, but it should never be treated as free labour. A well run company should also be able to structure their internship programme to ensure that they’re receiving something in return, even if it’s just talented future employees.

          1. Eric Woodard*

            Agree – all internships – paid or unpaid – should offer a guided learning opportunity. Internships aren’t free labor – internships aren’t a job – it’s about education.

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