I missed the deadline for a video interview, giving feedback to a part-time intern, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. Should I give feedback to a part-time intern who isn’t proactive and has a hard-to-read demeanor?

Now that I’m (sort of) supervising someone for the first time, I’m trying to do it properly, based on your advice! I work at a tiny nonprofit with only paid staff, and it’s pretty informal. We have an intern who’s been coming in one day a week, and although he’s a grad student at a great university, his work isn’t great. That is, his work product is fine, but he’s not very proactive, didn’t do any problem-solving for a tiny but pretty basic concern, isn’t very emotive, and when I ask him to do something differently, he just says “okay” kind of blankly. It’s kind of a turn-off (and if we’d had more applicants, we probably wouldn’t have taken him on staff to begin with).

He’s said that he wants to work in nonprofits going forward, and I think these traits will make it harder for him. I’d like him to learn from this, and our organization also really wants to maintain a good relationship with the grad school program he’s in. How formal should I be with feedback? Since he’s only in one day a week, would it be awkward, or overkill, to do a mid-point and/or final assessment? So far, he’s on week 4 of a 10-week internship. That’s really only going to be ten work-days total, so it’s hard to judge.

(I don’t know if this is relevant, but he’s also a little older than I am – I’m not in grad school yet; I finished undergrad in 2011, and he finished in 2010. My boss, the executive director, is also fairly new at managing people; I am the first person he’s hired.)

Give him the feedback! Part of the point of interning is to gain professional skills, and getting feedback is an essential part of that. Don’t unload it on him all at once, of course, but pick the two biggest things (probably not being proactive and not doing any problem-solving) and sit him down and talk to him, just like you would with a full-time employee. You could do it in the context of a mid-point assessment, or you could do it more informally — but don’t wait until a final assessment to do it, because at that point he won’t have the chance to work on improving in it.

However, with the flat “okay” thing, I’d just address it in the moment rather than making such a big deal of it. With that, when he does it, just say something like, “I’m having trouble reading you. Can you tell me more about your thinking about what I just said?”

2. I missed the deadline for a video interview because of technical problems

I recently applied for a job at my dream company, and I was asked to do a video interview before a set deadline. However, I didn’t manage to complete the interview because of internet network problems. I was given one week to prepare, with some assignments and presentations to do. I could record the video interview anytime within that one week. The problem with not being able to get another internet connection other than the one at my place was because it was 3 a.m. I’ve emailed HR and explained my situation, but I doubt they would reply to me because it just sounded like some lame excuse. Could you give some advice on what I should do? The position is still being advertised. Do you think I would still possibly be considered if I apply again? Should I state in my cover letter that I actually missed my video interview and am replying again? Will you actually be annoyed if you see my application again, if you were the HR at that company?

I think this ship has sailed, unfortunately. You emailed and explained the situation, but they didn’t reply — so I don’t think reapplying with an explanation will change things much. If you’d had technical problems earlier in the one-week period they gave you, or if they’d given you a much shorter period of time to complete it, a reasonable employer would make an exception, but if I were the employer in this exchange (which I’d never be, because I think video interviews suck), I’d be looking at the fact that you waited until the very last minute and didn’t leave yourself any buffer … which isn’t the greatest reflection on you as far as planning and work habits. I’d be worried you’d wait until 3 a.m. the night before a work assignment was due and run into trouble if the work required troubleshooting at that point, and if I had other strong candidates, I’d probably just move forward with them.

There’s no harm in reapplying with an explanation, but I think you’ll want to be prepared for their thinking to be something like the above.

3. Did my boss fire me through my coworker?

I was supposed to work at night, but my son was sick and I couldn’t find anyone who would take him, so I informed my boss and she said it was alright. The next day, I was informed by a coworker that I was fired from my job. I didn’t know if there was legal action I could take against my boss for improper management. I am not scheduled to work until next Saturday, and I planned on going into work anyway, because I don’t want them to say I “abandoned’ my position, because she could just deny that she ever said it. I am unsure what to do, because I have not heard from my boss, and I was told yesterday that I was fired.

It’s pretty unlikely that your boss would relay that message through your coworker. Not impossible, but highly unlikely. If you think there’s any chance that your coworker was serious (and not joking or pulling a horrible prank), call your boss and ask. You don’t need to wait until Saturday, and you don’t need to spend this whole week worrying and wondering about it. Pick up the phone and find out.

4. I was fired for saying I’d like to punch my manager

I was blowing off steam and regretfully said something like “I’d punch my manager in the mouth” and my coworker snitched on me … in turn I got fired. If I didn’t act on it, is that a good reason to be terminated?

Yes, threatening violence is pretty much always reasonable grounds to fire someone. You might have meant it in jest, but it’s not crazy that a workplace wouldn’t want to mess around with that.

I’d also suggest not framing things like this as “snitching.” That’s a concept that doesn’t generally apply in the workplace, because it implies that you and your coworkers are on one side and your manager is on the other — not a great mentality to have at work and one that will generally work against you in the long-term.

5. Does this mean I didn’t get the job?

I had an interview with an HR manager and 3 engineers for an engineering position. At the end of the interview, the HR manager initially said, “We should get back to you in a week” and then immediately looked at the engineers and said, “We will let you know in a week either way.” Does this mean that I did not get the job?

No. She might have been thinking out loud, or confirming her timeline with them, or emphasizing to them that they need to meet that timeline, or who knows what else. Maybe she likes to repeat herself. It doesn’t mean anything, other than that they hope to let you know in a week, either way.

{ 298 comments… read them below }

  1. Dan

    #1

    This is only tangentially related to your question, but you’ve written something that’s been on my mind for awhile, and I’m genuinely curious what people mean by it:

    “He’s said that he wants to work in nonprofits going forward.”

    What do people mean by that general sort of statement? (As in “non profits” being a career.) Non profits hire lawyers, accountants, IT, software developers, people in marketing, and in my case, mathematicians. I can all but guarantee that whatever generalizations/stereotypes people want to make about nonprofits don’t apply in my case — for starters, my company employs just shy of 7000 people.

    So if I meet you on the street, and you say you work for a non-profit, what is it you want me to know about your career and/or job role?

    1. Maeve

      My experience is in volunteer coordination, nonprofit communications and to some degree nonprofit development, and while certainly some of the skills I’ve developed could be transferable to a for-profit situation, a lot of it is pretty nonprofit-specific.

    2. doreen

      I think people only say that about a certain type of non-profit- maybe not small, but on the charitable/service end of the non-profit sector. I’m pretty certain no one working for the NFL has ever said they work for a non-profit.

      1. Nonprofit

        They don’t say that because the NFL is not a non-profit. And you don’t have to be in the “service end” of non-profits to say that you work for one. Performing arts organizations, think tanks, etc. are all non-profits, and those of us who work there will describe them that way sometimes.

        1. Heather

          Yes it is, actually – the teams themselves aren’t, but the NFL is tax-exempt under section 501(c)(6), which covers not-for-profit associations, etc.

    3. Anon E Mouse

      I think most people mean they want to work someplace where they feel they are contributing to a cause, not just to a company’s bottom line.

  2. EngineerGirl

    #1 – Timing and phrasing is everything. I’d swing by and say to the person “Now that you’ve been here for x months, I’d like to give you feedback on your performance. Would you be available at (time)?
    Then go over the good things – his work quality. I’d even bring up things such as “If you want to bring it up to the next level you might consider “X”. After that, I’d say something like “By the way, we all have blind spots, and I’d like to talk to you about some things that are holding you back. I want you to succeed, so, I’d like to talk to you about that. Is that OK?” This makes a soft segway into a difficult topic.
    The goal is to show the person that you want them to succeed.

        1. Jen in RO

          Muphry’s law!

          (Until I saw someone misspell “segue” on this blog, I never knew how it was pronounced. So thank you, person who misspelled this word a few weeks ago!)

          1. KayDay

            It took me an embarrassingly long time to learn that the word pronounced “segway” and the word spelled “segue” were actually the same word. =\

            1. Jen in RO

              I read almost exclusively in English, so I find many words that I’ve never heard spoken. Sometimes it’s really hard to guess the pronunciation!

              1. Artemesia

                I was embarrassingly old before I realized that facade was pronounced ‘fahsahd’. I knew one word ‘fahsahd’ in spoken language and understood its psychological meaning and another ‘fahcayd’ in written English and understood its architectural meaning. I didn’t know it was the same word.

                I appreciate the grammar police and pronunciation police on something like this when it clearly isn’t just a typo.

                1. Elizabeth West

                  Haha, I always thought “succumb” was pronounced “soo-cyoom.” Nope. It’s a short U like uh, not a long one like oo. (I can’t type it phonetically without using a naughty word, LOL!)

                  Hey, I know a lot of words by sight and meaning, but I don’t always know how to pronounce everything because I picked them up from reading. My mother corrected me and now I always check before I use a word in conversation. Thank God for online dictionaries with audible pronunciations!

                2. Anon

                  My mom will never let me forget the time I pronounced ‘gazebo’ as gaze-bo. I was nine. English is hard, even for native speakers.

                3. tcookson

                  When I was a kid reading Nancy Drew books, I thought the word “bedraggled” was a compound word: bed + raggled (as in one’s clothing and hair are “raggled” as if one had just gotten out of bed).

                  I didn’t realize the actual word pronunciation until I was an adult. I think I said “bed raggled” to my husband. Now that phrase is in our household lexicon and we laugh about it.

                4. Liz in a library

                  No worries Anon; I remember my mother learning gazebo/gaze-bo when I was a child and she was in her late 30s.

                5. LAI

                  This might be my favoritest AAM comment feed ever. When I was a kid (also reading Nancy Drew books), I thought the word compromise was pronounced “com-promise”.

                6. Pennalynn Lott

                  I was in my 30’s when I realized that “rederic” and “rhetoric” are the same thing. I’d always envisioned the spoken word to be spelled as it sounded, “rederic”, but pronounced (in my head, at least when reading) “rhetoric” as “ruh-tor-ick”.

                7. Rebecca Z

                  I didn’t know how to pronounce nonchalant until high school – always read it as non-chal-ant (chal like in chalice). Heard someone same it correctly and a big light bulb went off.

              2. cecilhungry

                I was almost finished with college–as an English major–before I finally figured out that the word everyone said as lee-ay-zon was the same word that I read as lie-ah-son. I knew they meant the same thing, but I thought one was a fancy French term or something. That was embarrassing.

                1. the gold digger

                  fposte, I would have had no idea about German words, but La Jolla threw me as well, even though I speak Spanish, because I was living in San Antonio before college and all the Spanish words are anglicized there. So it never occurred to me that “La Jolla” should be pronounced properly, as I was used to pronouncing “Blanco Road” as “Blank-O.”

                2. TL

                  @the gold digger: Blanco Rd drove me nuts! I grew up way south of SA and all our white words got Spanish-ized; when I moved to SA it was quite different!

                3. TheExchequer

                  Because all the cool kids are talking about it . . .

                  I was convinced the word teatotaler was pronounced tea-o-taler. No idea where I got that idea. (I suspect I saw it typoed somewhere). It wasn’t until I was reading it out loud (of course) with my mother (of course) that I was corrected. And then laughed at. :)

                4. chicagoan

                  Fposte — Goethe is pronounced correctly on the CTA (or at least on the Clark bus). This is the only indication I have that the bus voice isn’t a computer.

                5. So Very Anonymous

                  My mother was a church organist when I was a kid. I’d hear “Where’s Mom?” “She’s at quire.” So I was really baffled by the word “choir”– choyr? what was that? Ohhhhh.

              3. en pointe

                I have wanted to ask this for so long but would have felt stupid bringing it up out of the blue – finally, an appropriate opportunity!

                Can anyone please tell me how to pronounce the word ‘caveat’?

                I’ve only ever seen it used on this blog and have no idea how to say it.

                1. Jen in RO

                  This is another one of those words that I had seen written, but I had not heard. The first time someone (my ex-boss!) used it, I did a double-take and it took a few seconds to understand that my “cah-veet” was actually “ca-vee-yacht”.

                2. Ask a Manager Post author

                  If you google “how to pronounce X,” you will find videos and audio recordings of people saying the word. I’ve taken advantage of this several times!

                3. CAA

                  Forvo dot com is an incredible site where you can hear people from all over the world saying all kinds of words the way they’re said in their local areas. It’s super helpful if you’re an American visiting Scotland or Ireland, because a lot of place names (and even other things) are not pronounced the way they look. If you can even guess how Laoghaire should be pronounced, without having heard it before, you’re much better at this than I.

                4. Loose Seal

                  @CAA — re: Laoghaire. Or you could watch Outlander when it comes out this summer! (Cannot wait!)

                1. A Cita

                  reh-spit

                  Though I know the proper pronunciation, I do still sometimes say “ree-spite.”

                  When I hear people mispronounce words, I assume they are an avid reader. So it’s always a plus in my mind.

                2. Laufey

                  I’ve always thought that the two different pronunciations had two different meanings – respite (rhymes with despite) for respite from punishment, evil, whatever, and respite (rhymes with pit) for health/medical care. Is that true or is that just a side effect of learning English in New Jersey?

              4. A Cita

                This reminds me of a friend from Poland who pronounced epitome like epi-tome. So we had a running joke where instead of saying epitome, we’d say, “It was the epic tome of fantastical–like The Lord of the Rings!”

              5. AVP

                In my youth, I was almost exclusively a reader – never watched tv and rarely movies. Never watched the news, but always read newsmagazines. Even at the age of 29, you would be amazed at how badly I mispronounce things on occasion, particularly the names of news figures of the 80’s and 90’s.

                1. Mints

                  Yeah this is something I actually try not to feel too embarrassed about, or if I correct someone, I try not to make it a big deal. Because learning primarily through reading is a pretty good thing. And knowing the meanings of words, without knowing pronunciation is not that bad to me

                2. De Minimis

                  I do this a lot with certain words….in college someone once told me it was a sign of being a self-educated person!

                  In class once I heard a student pronounce “conscience” as “con science.” I actually like the image that brings forth.

                3. LMW

                  I’m late to the party, but this is one of the reasons I never judge people on mispronunciations. I know so many brilliant people who learned words from reading and it’s really, really common!

              6. hi

                My biggest pet peeve is people online who write “Walla!” instead of voila… (my guess is that they’ve heard it pronounced but never seen it written)

              7. Simonthegrey

                My husband – native English speaker – has a wide vocabulary due to his reading, but he is very quiet and doesn’t converse, so many of the words he knows, he has no idea how to pronounce.

                1. Heather

                  Story of my life :)

                  Then there was the time I was a freshman in high school auditioning for the school play, and the audition scene mentioned “pinochle”. I got made fun of for the next god knows how long because I pronounced it “puh-noke-lee”. In hindsight that seems ridiculous…how many 13-year-olds even know what pinochle is?

                2. Liz in a library

                  Heather–I did pretty much the exact same thing. There was the phrase “pee knuckle” from the campfire song (the worms crawl in, the worms crawl out, etc.) and there was the separate word pinochle that I read in a book in college. It was some time before I realized they were the same thing.

          2. Jennifer O

            When I was growing up, I couldn’t understand why the Bay used a flower instead of a B for its name on their buildings. The Flower-ay?

            I *knew* it was supposed to read as “The Bay,” but I was embarrassingly old (i.e., late teens/early twenties) before I realised that the flower was really a stylised B. Sigh

            (For those unfamiliar with the logo: http://bit.ly/N6tv0L)

          1. Felicia

            I can’t stop myself from saying renumeration not matter what I know about it:)

            I read somewhere that you can tell that someone is an avid reader because they have a large vocabulary that they use accurately, but don’t know how to pronounce anything.

          2. Diet Coke Addict

            Oh my god. My mind is blown. I don’t even want to think about how many times I’ve probably said “renumeration.”

      1. Kane

        Didn’t Allison say we should stop correcting people’s grammer/spelling on the comment’s section? We all know what the original poster meant.

        1. KJR

          If it were me, I wouldn’t mind in this particular situation…it’s not a typo, it’ a misspelling. I’d rather someone I don’t know in a blog correct me so that I don’t use it again where it matters (i.e. into a business correspondence where people do know me).

          1. en pointe

            Agree with this. Jumping on typos is pedantic and annoying but, personally, if I’m using / spelling a word or idiom incorrectly, I’d definitely appreciate someone letting me know!

        2. Ask a Manager Post author

          Yes, I did. In this case, it turned into a nicely supportive discussion our of our own foibles, but yes, in general I’d prefer people forego the corrections, since there’s no need to proofread each other here, after all.

          1. EngineerGirl

            I think we’ve had that discussion too. I’m a numbers girl – and was always first one down at our spelling bee. For a quick blog response I’m not going to bother too much on spelling, and auto correct still can zap me in spite of my best efforts.

            But we did have a discussion in the past of judging people based on spelling and grammar – and that there was only a minimal connection with ability/intelligence.

            There’s a right way and a wrong way to go about correcting people. Taking them aside and going “psst – did you know…” is the correct way. Publicly correcting someone you don’t even know? Kind of pathetic – I mean, there are a lot of other more important things out there.

        3. S.K.

          I think if it is done with regards to an obvious phonetic confusion, and done with a smiley face, there should be no problem with it. I’m always baffled when people get defensive over a correction of this kind**. Why on earth would you want to keep making an obvious mistake when it can be avoided???
          ** (unless it’s done at an inappropriate time, like in the middle of a business meeting or while making out).

      2. Anonymous

        When I moved to MA, I pronounced Leominster the way it’s spelled…silly me. It’s pronounced “Lemon-stir”. My response was then why don’t they spell it THAT WAY! I got over that quickly as almost nothign here is pronouced the way it’s spelled (Quinzeeeeee).

        1. Annie

          Oddly, Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg is pronounced almost exactly how it’s spelled ;)

          1. Anonymous

            Worcester? That’s an English place name too. Leicester (les-ter) is another one that confuses people too. I love English :-D

            1. RJ

              So is Taliaferro always, always, always pronounced “Tolliver”, or is that going to be a hyper-correction in some situations?

            2. Anne

              Watching North American cooking shows always cracks me up – no one seems to be able to pronounce Worcestershire sauce correctly (WUSS-ter-sher, with sher resembling stir).

              1. MaryTerry

                We’ve unilaterally decided that “Worcester” pronounced “Rochester” because we live near a Rochester.

            3. Rene

              I was looking for an address in Southampton and spent some time trying to find ‘Key’ Road. I asked someone who, very puzzled, pointed at the sign next to me… Quay Rd! In San Diego it’s ‘ kway’. I did look it up and it’s regional ended even in the States.

        2. Cath@VWXYNot?

          Place names are the hardest!

          I’m English, so I know all the Worcester, Leicester, Gloucester etc. pronunciations. But when I moved to Scotland, someone laughed at me for not knowing you’re supposed to pronounce Milngavie as Mull-GUY (because apparently that’s obvious?).

          When I first moved to Vancouver, I pronounced nearby Chilliwack as “Chilly-WACK”, and was laughed at a lot by Canadians. I was quite gratified when I heard other new arrivals from the UK say the same thing (it’s CHILL-uh-wack).

          1. Hunny

            When I moved to New Jersey, there were (and still are) a ton of names I have no clue how to pronounce. But my favorite example was Gloucester county – misspelt/abbreviated in all my predecessor’s notes as “Glouster”.

            1. en pointe

              I’m not American but I did get laughed at by one recently for pronouncing Arkansas as “Are-Kansas”

              That was embarrassing but, in my defence, you guys do have that other state called Kansas!

              1. Heather

                I’m on your side. Who in the world would think that adding an “ar” in front would completely change the pronounciation?

            2. Heather

              Oh, we have tons of those in NJ. I remember a whole bunch of us at a wedding trying to convince my cousin-in-law, who’s from Philly, that “Kearny” is pronounced “Car-ny”, not “keer-nee” and “Kean” is “kane”, not “keen”. :)

        3. EvilQueenRegina

          I used to live in Leominster, England, and that’s pronounced differently again, as “Lemster”. I never knew it was Lemon-stir in the US, you learn something new every day!

    1. Kou

      And do it sooner rather than later, too. The initiative/problem solving bit may very well be due to the fact that he’s under the impression that he needs permission to do things and isn’t supposed to go outside of whatever his explicit instructions are. If you wait months to bring it up, that could be a lot of wasted time.

    2. pgh_adventurer

      My mother was an english major, and one of my favorite stories of hers is when she was doing a speech for a class about a book and referred multiple times to a girl being “misled”. Except, she didn’t say misled, she said “MY-zled.” Her prof not-very-kindly corrected her after the talk.

      1. Kerr

        I had to look that one up, and realized I’ve been saying it wrong all these years! Well, not entirely. I’m familiar with “misled” (“miss-led”), the past tense of “mislead”, but thought that “misled” (“my-zled”) was a different word with a similar meaning, used in a slightly different context.

        My pronunciation skills are dubious. I also learned most of my vocabulary through reading, and I make frequent use of online dictionaries with pronunciation guides.

      2. Cath@VWXYNot?

        I had one high school English teacher who’d make us take turns reading chapters from a book out loud (she was excellent apart from that particular torture, so I didn’t mind too much). I remember one kid pronouncing “moped” (the vehicle) to rhyme with “roped” and the whole class falling about laughing. Which is why you shouldn’t make teenagers read out loud in front of their peers :)

        1. Al Lo

          I had a classmate (in grad school) whose second language was English reading a piece where the word “fetuses” was repeated numerous times, and he kept pronouncing it as “fee-TOOS-us.” Thing was, it was in a play-reading workshop, so we weren’t sure at first if he was doing it intentionally as a character choice or if it was a mistake, so it went on for almost the whole selection before someone corrected him. (And then we all decided that it somehow worked as a character choice.)

  3. Alexa

    I posted regarding number two. Would like to ask advice on whether I should reapply again, and if I do, should I mention I applied before? Would my application not be considered on purpose?

    Anyway, thanks so much for answering my question Alison. It gives me insights to what an employer might think. To me, I always felt that as long as one meets a deadline, no matter near or earlier, it is okay. But your insights really gave me a different perspective. :)

    1. EngineerGirl

      This is a good life lesson actually. If you absolutely positively have a fixed deadline, plan on getting there early. Then you have slack in case Murphy steps in (and he will). Need to fly in to a wedding or a cruise, fly in a day or two early. Big interview? Arrive an hour early and sit in the parking lot if needed. Big deadline? Plan on finishing 1-2 weeks ahead of time. And the bigger and more complex the project, the earlier you should aim. For really big projects it’s reasonable to plan to deliver 1-2 months ahead of time. Don’t worry, it won’t happen. It’s Murphy again. But you have lessened the probability of being late.

        1. AmyNYC

          He’s the guy who makes the bus run every 10 minutes when I’m trying to fall asleep suddenly vanish when I need it

      1. rando

        I agree. If you don’t aim to arrive/finish before the deadline, you are taking a big risk. You may need to from time to time, but it’s still a risk.

        For example, I took the bar exam for my state this summer. The exam was an hour and a half away from my house. I went to that town the night before and stayed in a hotel. If I was going to get stuck on the side of the road, it was going to be the night before.

      2. Ann Furthermore

        Any time I have an interview, I drive to the location the day before, so I’ll know exactly where I’m going, and then plan to arrive early and sit in the car if I have to. This is especially helpful, if the location of the interview is in an area with many variations of the same street name — Elm Street, Elm Place, Elm Way, Elm Drive East, Elm Drive West, and so on. Even though everyone has navigation in their phones, it’s never a good idea to assume that navigation will always be correct, or that you won’t have to take a detour due to road construction, etc.

        I can see how you thought that as long as you met the deadline, the timing wouldn’t matter, since you’re still in school. It’s not like you get extra credit for turning things in early. But in a job interview context, this approach can raise questions about your time management skills, how well-organized you are, and so on.

    2. LAI

      You’re right in that it is ok as long as one meets a deadline – the problem is that you didn’t meet the deadline. I think this is similar to leaving an hour early to make sure you get to your interview on time. You won’t need to do that for work on a daily basis but you always have to make the best first impression when you’re in the interview stages.

      1. Alexa

        Hi Lai and EngineerGirl,

        Thanks so much for the comments. I am a fresh graduate so your comments really offered me previous insights into the working world.

        I felt indignant because the problem lies with my internet connection and it lasted for more than 6 hours (way past the deadline), and I am not the only one who experienced the same issue. I have tried completing the assignment about 3 to 4 hours before the deadline, but I guess I have only my bad luck to blame. I’ll certainly keep your advices in mind if the company offers me a chance for this application or for another role again.

        1. LisaLyn

          Alexa, I am so sorry that happened, but you seem to have a great attitude so lesson learned and on to the next!

          1. NotSoFreshOuttaCollege

            I don’t know, Alexa, you still don’t seem to fully understand that giving yourself only a few hours to complete something that had been assigned to you for a week is poor planning. I’m not sure what your school is like, but even professors tend to be very unforgiving when it comes to excuses like a bad internet connection. And that’s exactly what it is: an excuse. It certainly isn’t the reason why you missed the deadline; that would be due to your lack of time management. Feeling indignant that the employer wasn’t giving you a free pass isn’t going to get you anywhere. You need to take accountability and try to learn from this experience.

            1. TL

              Yeah, that wouldn’t have flown for most of my professors.

              I mean, we had lots of students squeaking by the deadline, but we made it, even if it was cobbled together by begging your friend for her building and printer access and hiding from the security patrols all night.

        2. Observer

          6 hours IS a long time for an internet connection to be down. But it really does sound like you pushed it to the very last second. And, for a time period when you have the least likelihood of getting help if you need it.

          Unless there was a LOT of prep work, employers would not see it as bad luck. Rather they would be thinking “does this person always leave SO little leeway for the unexpected?”

          If this is the first time that you’ve failed to meed a deadline because of some glitch or other, count yourself lucky. But do yourself a favor, and always allow for some slack – you may not be able to put a LOT of extra time in there, but do what you can.

          By the way, when job hunting, if you do submit something REALLY close to the deadline, and the employer knows when you got the information, as in this case, it might count against you because experienced employers worry about those things – especially when dealing with someone new to the work world.

          You ARE right that what counts is whether you deliver on time. But, as you see, when you don’t leave any extra time, you don’t always get to deliver.

          1. Judy

            It can be about planning. If the deadline is at noon, and you have family in another part of town that uses a different ISP, or a school internet you can use, or the public library, then it’s more OK to leave it later. With fewer backups, then you have to do it earlier to make sure.

            Never take the last flight of the day, I learned many years ago. If you take the last flight of the day, you’ll be spending the night in Chicago or Atlanta sometimes.

            1. Payroll Lady

              Especially Chicago! Even if you are scheduled on the 4 pm flight, you might take off by 10 pm if lucky!

          2. some1

            Totally. I don’t mean to sit on a high horse, but even if your internet connection was working you could have encountered other issues once you started the assignment (like not understanding the assignment once you logged in, or a car alarm going off right outside your window, a power outage, your computer battery dying), so with things like this it’s best to start as early as you can.

            1. fposte

              Also relevant is that employment can be very different from school in this area. School is focusing on the student’s experience and definitely takes individual circumstances into consideration. Employment is about what’s good for the employer, so they don’t really care why you missed the deadline; they got what they needed before the deadline, and the gate is now closed.

              1. TBoT

                This reminds me of the time when I was a kid when my mom wrote a note for me to be excused from a spelling test, since an eye injury had kept me from studying the night before. The teacher excused me but also did not pull any punches about the fact that I ought to have been studying my spelling words well in advance of the night before.

                1. Jamie

                  You’re lucky. What your teacher said is what my mom would have said…as an explanation for why she wasn’t writing me a note.

                2. TBoT

                  @Jamie Oh, she did say that. Extensively. But she also wrote the note because I was genuinely injured and couldn’t do anything but flush my eyes and cover them with wet washcloths all evening.

                  I think she probably felt like a chemical burn to the eye was punishment enough without also failing a spelling test the next day.

        3. TL

          But you still left it until the last minute – 6 hrs is an unreasonable amount of time for your internet to be out, but you also couldn’t go anywhere because it was 3 am the night before (when you had a week to complete it.) Whereas if you’d started earlier, you could’ve run to a library or coffeeshop to upload it.

          The issue, I think, is that you had an entire week to do it and your internet was only out for the last night – and it sounds like really late in the last night. It sucks but it also speaks of preparation that depends on everything going right in order for you to meet deadlines and that is a problem.

          (Btw, McDonald’s often have free wi-fi that you can access from their parking lots or drive-thru lanes, so next time sit in one of their parking lots! I doubt they turn it off overnight.)

          1. Re #2

            Except, in her defense, she had a week to do a lot of work: assignments, a presentation AND the video interview. She’s a recent grad so therefore may have a lot of free time to perform all of this work but maybe not. Maybe the other things were more labor intensive that the video; that could have been a 5-10 minute spot.
            Don’t get me wrong, I agree with everyone saying it’s best to plan for the worst. It just seems like everyone is focusing on the fact that she couldn’t make the deadline and less on if there’s a way to recover – which there doesn’t appear to be a way.

            Alexa, I don’t think you can reapply to the same posting.

            1. TL

              Maybe. But – there’s still no room for error in the OP’s planning. It’s the 3 am the night of that’s getting me – if it’s something with a hard deadline and you can make it happen, generally it’s best to do it when you have a back-up available, even if it’s just a mental note of where all the free wi-fi is and when it’s available.

              Maybe this is the first time it’s happened to the OP but I’ve had enough internet/computer/software problems that I wouldn’t be very forgiving of someone missing a deadline because of those things. They happen, yes, but you should be able to work around them most of the time.

              1. fposte

                Yes, while it’s not technically the last minute, you have very few second chances if you leave it till out of business hours.

      2. danr

        OR, maybe you *do* need to put extra time into the beginning of your commute. The point is to start working on time, and not always be blaming traffic or mass transit breakdowns. It’s the same with project timing.

      3. NutellaNutterson

        To me, this falls into the same life-lesson category as learning how to figure out that you’re running late, and letting the affected parties know immediately. i.e. If it takes 15 minutes to get there, and you are not already in transit 15 minutes beforehand, you KNOW you’ll be late. Space and time will not suddenly bend. It’s vastly more considerate and responsible to call immediately and inform people.

        This was actually a hard lesson for me because I grew up with a mom who feared being late and consequently made us arrive absurdly early everywhere we went. Fast forward to my own adult life and I didn’t know how to budget my time very well!

    3. Anonymous

      “To me, I always felt that as long as one meets a deadline, no matter near or earlier, it is okay”

      And that works. Until you don’t meet a deadline and it’s because you waited until the last minute and then ran into a problem and had no buffer time to fix it.

    4. Elsajeni

      It’s true that, in general, it shouldn’t matter whether you turned your work in three days early or just five minutes before the deadline. It only becomes a problem when you realize you won’t be able to meet the deadline — the further ahead you plan, the earlier you’re likely to realize that you need extra time, and if you do have to ask for extra time, doing it well in advance is better because it allows other people to plan around you and shows that you’re planning ahead and respecting their time. Since you said downthread that you’re a recent grad, maybe think of it in terms of asking a professor for an extension on a paper — if you send an email at 3 a.m. the night before the assignment is due, what it sounds like to the professor is, “Hey, I didn’t bother to work on your paper until the last second,” no matter what reason you give for needing extra time or how legitimate it is.

    5. Anonymous

      If I was hiring for this my first extremely easy cut would be if you didn’t get your required video interview done on time.

      This is your first impression. If someone showed up for a date an hour late? I wouldn’t be there and I certainly wouldn’t give another chance unless I was really desperate or there was something else (extremely highly recommended by a friend, etc).

      So this is the same here. If the date is at 8 pm and you show at 8 pm exactly, that’s fine. But if you show up at 8:30 with some blustered excuses I’m already gone.

      If you have a connection that is extremely solid and has a lot of pull that’s the only way you should get another shot.

  4. EngineerGirl

    #5 HR usually doesn’t hire the engineers. The other engineers do. HR is merely the coordinator, and makes sure nothing illegal is going on. That’s probably why the HR person looked at the engineers. The offer, if it comes, will be through HR because HR is the agent for the company. But the person giving the offer will be the engineer.

  5. JustSomeone

    #1: I agree on addressing the ‘flat “ok”‘ thing in the moment, but I would advise against using ‘I’m having trouble reading you’. It can very easily be taken more personal and more insulting than is intended. But maybe I’m biased because I once had a supervisor who would use this all the time, but only with people from different cultural backgrounds… I’d say just stick with ‘Can you tell me more about your thinking about what I just said?’

    1. Elkay

      I don’t like being asked about my thinking when I’ve acknowledged something. To me “Okay” is an acknowledgement that everything is alright. If he says “Okay” then doesn’t do it that’s an issue to be dealt with but it doesn’t sound like that’s the case.

      1. Sue

        Same here – I can’t think of any way to reply that wouldn’t sound a bit sarcastic. “My thinking is that I’m going to do the thing you just asked me to do.”

        Fortunately my boss also says OK to things, so I don’t find myself wondering if he’s wondering what I’m thinking every time I say it, when what I mean is…OK.

      2. JustSomeone

        I agree with you, but OP seems to consider it an issue so I think if they want to raise it, they should raise it in the moment.

      3. KayDay

        Yeah, I was thinking the same thing. I mean, I usually say ‘okay’ if given feed back, especially critical, that I will implement. Why does the OP need more emotion in his response? If the intern is not actually implementing the correction or legitimately seems confused address that issue.

        1. Anon Accountant

          I agree. Sometimes people need time to process things and think “here was the steps I did but they want this in the future” and to think it over and learn from the corrections.

          If he wasn’t implementing corrections or was getting hostile or getting an attitude when corrected, that’d be a different issue.

        2. LAI

          Actually, I think tone can matter a great deal here. There’s a difference between “ok, sure, happy to do it” and “ok, fine, I don’t like it but I’ll do it because you told me too”, and I think that difference can be very obvious even if all one says is “ok”. If I were a manager, I’d be much happier with the former – it shows a positive attitude and being willing to take on anything asked of them. The other one is not necessarily going to get you fired but it can certainly hold you back professionally. In some cases, it may even make people reluctant to ask you to do things, which makes it harder to get work done overall.

          Maybe the OP could say something like “I’m having trouble reading you. Do you have any concerns about what I just said?” or “I’m getting the sense that you might have some concerns about this – can you explain what you’re thinking?”.

          I have to say that I have been guilty of the flat ok when asked to do something that I don’t really want to do. I’ll do it, because my boss asked me to, but I’d rather be invited to have a conversation about why I don’t want to do it and what other alternatives there might be.

          1. Emily

            Or “Okay, Mom!” which I got a few times from an extra special summer intern! I knew exactly what her “ok” meant!

      4. A Cita

        Completely agree. When I read that, I cringed. I would find it so condescending to be asked that, as if I were a child. Now, I understand how unsatisfying it can be to hear a simple “ok” rather than a thoughtful response, especially if the issue touches on more than just a simple change (and alludes to bigger issues), but if so, you would frame the feedback differently so it’s a conversation anyway.

      5. Diet Coke Addict

        Yeah, I’m having a hard time coming up with a better answer in a casual conversation.

        “I need you to be more proactive about finding an answer for X, and also to be absolutely sure you submit your documents by Y Deadline.”
        “Okay, I will.”
        Asking “What do you think about what I just said?” or words to that effect reads as a bit….teacher-y? Boss made a request, employee verbally confirmed it, it should be fairly straightforward, no?

        1. Us, Too

          In your scenario, your boss just told you to be more proactive. “Okay, I will” is not a proactive sounding response and may be exactly the problem the OP is worried about. A proactive response would look more like this:

          Boss: I need you to be more proactive…
          Me: I think I understand. I’ll start looking for an answer to X by reaching out to Apollo to discuss it. He’s done some work in this area before. Also, perhaps Janet may have some insights after her work with similar protocols. I’ll set up some time with her to chat. In terms of the deadline, you’ll see my document by 5 pm the night before Y to be sure there’s a little buffer before the final deadline – just in case something happens. Are there any other opportunities to be proactive I’m missing that you can think of?

            1. A Cita

              Agreed. I wouldn’t expect that from the intern in the scenario described. That’s a lot of quick on the feet thinking and if the intern were that solutions driven from the go, this probably wouldn’t be problem. I’d expect they would need time to process it and come up with solutions. As the boss in that scenario, I would probably be the one to be pro-active and say something like, “Why don’t you take a little bit of time to think about how you might approach problems differently and then we can talk about some techniques to get you started.”

            2. Us, Too

              Me, neither. However, the discussion had segued (ha ha) into the propriety of an “OK” answer in general.

              1. A Cita

                True. It segued into a different lane, much like an novice on a Segway.

                Ba-dum-dum

                I’ll be here all week, folks. Thank you. Thank you.

          1. Sadsack

            Seriously, you expect this sort of response from an intern who has only been working for a total of a few days at your organization?

          2. Zillah

            Yeahhhh, this is not something I would expect of an intern, particularly an intern who’s only been there for a few days.

            In fact, it actually seems a bit inappropriate for an intern – for example, IMO, an intern should not be “reaching out to Apollo to discuss it” without their supervisor saying that they should reach out to Apollo to discuss it.

            Proactivity in interns is a tricky thing, because as an intern, you’re still learning the culture of the organization and, often, the workplace in general. Being too proactive could easily lead to you stepping on people’s feet and being a pest, which you absolutely do not want.

        2. Observer

          “Okay” and “Okay, I will” are two different things. The first could mean a lot of different things. The second specifically states that you intend to follow up – and think you know what you were just told.

          1. ChristineSW

            Cringing right with you A Cita! I don’t think the OP needs to worry about a terse “OK”. Yes, maybe it sounds dismissive, but there’s no need to pry for further thoughts.

      6. Us, Too

        The propriety of an “OK” answer depends on the context of the feedback/request. Generally speaking, the only time I give my boss a response of “OK” is when the feedback is absolutely trivial and very briefly stated. If my boss thinks something is important enough to spend 2 full minutes explaining, he’s potentially going to be put off by my replying with a 1/2 second answer. Plus, anything that could possibly be misinterpreted deserves a response that verifies understanding and confirms details.

        Without knowing the OP’s situation, it’s very hard to say whether OK is contextually strange, but given that OP thinks it is a problem, it may be.

        1. fposte

          Yes, this is where I’m going. And especially when you’re new in a position, you err on the side of being overresponsive, not underresponsive. And I think it’s okay (heh) if the intern is a little thrown by being asked–this isn’t a situation where making him comfortable is paramount.

          I think the fact that he’s not emotive shouldn’t in itself be considered a flaw, but he needs to step him his communication.

        2. BCW

          But the problem is, just a couple weeks ago, there was someone who wrote in because when she gave feedback or a correction, her employee would give a longer answer explaining why they did that, and she took that as not taking criticism well.

          What you have to realize is that people respond to things differently. I think it should be more about what comes after the feedback in terms of actions, as opposed to the response.

          1. fposte

            If the intern were brilliant aside from this communication, I’d agree. But he’s not.

            The other thing is that we’re talking feedback for an intern, which isn’t the same thing as corrections for an employee. And while he has the right to be cryptic and monosyllabic, it’s going to hurt him, and that’s useful information.

            1. Us, Too

              Agreed. The issue here isn’t only the communication, it’s that the work itself suffers from his lack of being proactive. His internship has only 6 weeks remaining so there may not be time for a “wait and see how he reacts to the feedback” approach. If you wait another week to see if he does what you told him to and he doesn’t – that’s a week lost and for a short duration internship, that’s appreciable. If you strongly prefer a “wait and see” approach, I’d accompany that by a little bit of micro-management or interim touch-bases to make sure he’s actually acting on the feedback in the way I want. I don’t want to get a nasty “not doing it right let’s try again” surprise at our next meeting.

              1. fposte

                Though because of the internship, I think it’s valid to give feedback for the future, not just feedback that’s about improving his role here. You have to differentiate from the “Your fly was open the whole time” kind of retroactive critical unhelpfulness, of course. And maybe you can get some buy-in and feedback from him in response to help shape the internship program there. What was helpful? What was confusing?

                1. fposte

                  She says his work *product* is fine–that’s not the same thing.

                  I think that there are kinds of proactivity it’s reasonable to expect even of a one-day a week intern; there is proactivity I expect of people on the first day they’re employed. Is this case one of them? That’s up to the OP to say.

                  I do think we are also getting at something the OP might need to figure out, too–the difference between “He doesn’t work the way I want him to” and “He’s not doing the job as well as he should.” While the first will still lose you a job if the fit isn’t right, it’s not necessarily feedback-worthy.

                  However, the person the OP describes would be feedback-worthy in my organization. It’s below the standard of engagement I expect, and my easy out would be to point to the other student staff as models for him.

                2. Hunny

                  I remember Alison once responded to a LW who was worried about a “strong” employee with really bad interpersonal skills. Alison flat out said that an employee with excellent product but poor soft skills was definitely not a strong employee. Same thing here: the intern isn’t working in a bubble.

        3. A Cita

          It’s hard to completely tell, obviously, but I think in the situation described, an OK would be ok. :) But if it isn’t, I still wouldn’t approach it in the way outlined in the response (sorry Alison!). I just find that really condescending (though, granted, I can only picture it in my own context and not as an intern–though I have had to recently give similar feedback to a similarly aged grad student intern and I wouldn’t have said that to him). I would ask different questions if I wanted more of a response, like what I posted above or framed it as definitely feedback, but also a discussion.

          1. fposte

            I might lean toward doing it in a discussion rather than at the moment myself–the question for me is what response I actually want in the place of the one I’m getting, and if it’s the overall tendency rather than the actual response of the moment, I might want to choose my time to contextualize rather than doing it on the spot.

          2. Us, Too

            I didn’t love that phrasing, either. It seems vague to me. (I’m a very concrete type of person)

            I’d probably just say “Can you please outline the steps you’re going to take this week for project x? I want to be sure I understand what’s happening and when.”

          3. Jamie

            I agree. The OP says that when asked to do something differently they say okay. The OP doesn’t go on to say that then they disregard the directive so I’m assuming they make the changes.

            If I ask someone to use a different template, or do a task differently, or whatever and they say okay – and do? I don’t know why I’d need more than that.

            I think A Cita hit it on the head differentiating feedback and discussions from a directive to change something.

            I don’t think I understand this question.

        4. NylaW

          There’s also the tone of the “OK” to consider. If the tone comes across as very blase, if there’s a shrug of the shoulders, anything like that (which I could see possibly coming from an inexperienced young intern) then that puts a whole different spin on it as well.

          1. Windchime

            I was thinking this, too. There is a difference between a nodding, smiling “OK” and a sullen, flat “OK”.

        5. Posted #1

          Hi, OP #1 here.

          I agree with Observer above that “okay, I will” and “okay” are different.

          It’s also that he and I were thinking differently about what the final product would look like; his structure might have made sense, but it didn’t make sense to *me* (and I’m the one who will be using the document, after his internship ends). He didn’t take the initiative either to ask what might make more sense to me, OR to explain his thinking – he just sort of sat there with it, even though there was clearly a disconnect.

          He also doesn’t consistently check before starting something to see what it should look like after; I know the projects we’re giving him are small, but it’s a good habit to cultivate, and even if it doesn’t matter too much either way on a half-day resource guide project, I think I’d be doing him a disservice if I didn’t point out that on some projects in the future, it could save him from wasting weeks.

          Agree with fposte, too.

          Thanks all!

          1. fposte

            Though I’m seeing a step missing here. Did you show him a template or ask him to show you his prototype before continuing? If you just waited until the final product turned up, I think you were being a little underdirective. I think it’s still fair to have a conversation about the fact that sometimes supervisors miss stuff and that’s why it’s good to be willing to check back, but I think there’s a touch of learning curve for you here as well.

            1. Posted #1

              Neither, actually – but not an ideal situation. It was a small project that the ED had given him to do, but I’d be the one using it – I’d have spelled out more clearly what it should look like, but the ED gave him a task, I was working on something else and/or meeting with a client, and then he didn’t check in… we both should have communicated a little more here.

              1. fposte

                Which I think can actually be a good thing in broaching a conversation–it can be about your learning curve and his.

          2. Ask a Manager Post author

            Here, I think you need to spell out your expectations. Interns often don’t know that you want things like this (like checking before he starts a project); you need to be very explicit about that at the outset.

      7. Sunflower

        I agree. If someone says ‘Ok’ and starts doing something the way you asked, I’m really not sure what else you would expect them to say?

        In my job if someone asked me to do something a different way, I might ask why because I want to know why one way is better than the other but in the wrong terms, that could come off as snarky. I think because he is only an intern and has little experience in the professional world, he is saying just ‘okay’ to let you know you are being heard and he is listening.

        1. Decimus

          I was thinking about this. In some cases “Okay I will” may be enough, particularly if there isn’t really anything ongoing at that moment, e.g. “Ashok, I’ve done it this time but I need you to refill the copy machine paper when it runs out in the future.” “Okay.”

          On the other hand there is a difference between “Yes I hear you” and “Yes I hear you, I will do so.” That is the difference between “Okay” and “Okay, I will.” A comparative – my understanding is that this is why you get “Aye aye” in the navy. “Aye” the order is undersood, “Aye” it will be carried out.

          I would like to know what sort of things the OP is expecting the intern to be more proactive about. Is it Ashok runs out of work/has a problem and just sits there, or Ashok runs out of work/has a problem and asks what he is supposed to be doing instead of coming up with his own solution? Without more information, it could be either.

      8. Calla

        I don’t know, I get the feeling this is about attitude (which is probably better to address). At my previous job we had an office clerk start who would respond to anything asked of him with a very dead “Okay.” It’s totally different from “Okay, will do!” I know the secretaries (and I) felt that he came across as very bored and was doing these things grudgingly. That’s not the attitude you should be projecting at work. The intern sounds like he could be the same.

      9. Nichole

        It also took me a minute to process what was wrong with “okay” for the OP. It reminded me of that episode of Friends where Monica and Rachel couldn’t accept the guy in their building’s acceptance of their apology because all he said was “okay.” In practice it feels awkward and annoying, but sometimes we have to accept that “okay” just means “okay.”

        1. fposte

          Why would we have to accept it when we’re managing the person and can tell them what works better, though?

    2. Posted #1

      JustSomeone, that’s really helpful! He is from a different cultural background – I didn’t indicate it, since that shouldn’t drive the feedback, and I’m trying to be aware of the fact that I don’t have a lot of familiarity with his background, but also not reduce him to Person Of That Cultural Background; I’m trying to focus on behaviors/actions.

      I probably won’t use that exact phrasing, then – but I said something like “I don’t think I understand how you’ve structured this document, can you tell me about it?” and he was just sort of blank. A response to “I don’t understand this work you did” should at least include some amount of “what structure would make sense to you for this.”

      Thanks again!

      1. Anonymous

        Just an observation: I’d be thrilled if I gave a team member feedback and got a simple “okay” rather than ten minutes of defensive blather.

      2. Zillah

        Umm… I don’t know about this. I mean, yes, ideally he would ask this, and the fact that he didn’t does indicate that he wasn’t really being as proactive as he should have been.

        At the same time, though, I’m not really sure why you didn’t just say, “I was looking for this and this and this.” He didn’t have much direction, so he did it in a way that made sense to him – there may not have been a deeper reason for it. Honestly, by going with a “can you tell me about it?” rather than, “this is what I want” seems to me to be setting him up for failure. You don’t care why it makes sense to him – you need it to work for you.

  6. Anonymous

    #2 I’m curious what industry this is in; something in social media? It requires assignments, a presentation and a video interview and this is just the application stage?

    But then, I complain when I have to do more than submit a resume! ;-)

    1. Alexa

      Hi, I wouldn’t want to say exactly which company it is but it is in the ecommerce industry. I guess they just want to screen out the less eligible applicants before inviting the eligible ones to a skype interview (yes, there’s a skype after the video) with the department personnel. So I assume that my application is still at the HR stage. :( I’m willing to do all these for the company because it is really where and what I want to do.

      I also know a lot of advertising companies have a high requirement as well. For e.g. I know that a graduate traineeship (something like an internship) requires its applicants to do several assignments as well.

      I guess the hiring process is changing with the prevalence of social media, and technology. At least for areas relating to Marcomm, I think?

  7. IronMaiden

    OP #4, you didn’t “regretfully” say you wanted to punch the boss, you “regretably” said it.

    1. fposte

      Aside from the Muphry’s law there, it’s asked that we don’t correct the OPs, who have no chance to amend their posts.

  8. Anon1973

    I think there’s a typo in #4: “That’s a concept that doesn’t generally don’t apply in the workplace…”

  9. The IT Manager

    legal action I could take against my boss for improper management.

    For #3, just wanted to say that there’s no such legal concept as “improper management”. Your boss can fire you anyway he or she likes and the law has no control over it.

    You should totally ask for clarification now as Alison said, but don’t act indigant like the manager might have done something illegal by conveying a message through your co-worker.

    1. some1

      That jumped out at me, too. I don’t understand why you wouldn’t get ahold of your boss immediately after the conversation with your coworker — if you were let go, your boss is not going to reinstate you just because you show up for your next shift, and if you were not, your boss needs to know that your coworker is acting unproffesional.

      1. Ruffingit

        +100 million. Just made the same comment below and then figured that someone else probably said the same thing. Improper management is not a legal concept and what a nightmare it would be if it were.

  10. BCW

    You know, maybe I’m the only one, but to me, #1 doesn’t seem like a bad intern at all, it just seems like his personality isn’t one that the OP likes.

    On the not being proactive thing. I guess it depends on your field, but for some things, there is only so proactive you can be. Plus, as an intern, some places only want you to do what they ask and nothing more. Now I know for some of these big companies with super competitive intern program where at the end they hire 5 out of their 50 interns that may be different, but if he is the only one, I don’t think its that bad.

    I guess I can see the problem solving being an issue, but without knowing what exactly happened, its kind of hard to say either way, because some people would rather just ask how to do something than risk messing it up.

    But what really got me was the not being emotive and saying ok. Some people just aren’t very emotive by nature. Again, it depends on the role, but for many roles its completely not necessary. I’ve worked at non-profits, and my roles yes it was good because I was client facing. For an accountant? Probably not as big a deal. And if you tell him to do something, what do you really want him to say instead of ok? Does he say ok then just do it his way anyway? That would be a problem, but it doesn’t seem like that is happening. You just don’t like his response, but to me that seems perfectly valid.

    Now, as has been discussed on here many times, personality fit in an office is an important, and its fair that it would be a reason to not hire him. However, you are acting like because he doesn’t fit what your preferred personality is that he can’t be successful in the “non-profit” industry (which as someone mentioned is really a nebulous thing because there are tons of roles that can be there)

    1. Another English Major

      It could be a little of both. I especially agree with “ok” not being a good enough response. If he’s making the corrections/changes, why does it matter if all he said was ok?

      I can see how a intern is not proactive enough though. It could be as simple as not replacing paper in the copy machine and waiting for someone else to do it instead of just doing it himself or asking someone how to do it if he doesn’t know how. Or maybe when he runs out of work he just sits there waiting to be told the next thing to do instead of asking for more.

      1. De Minimis

        The lack of “proactivity” I can understand being a problem–I’ve seen it elsewhere with a lot of interns and student workers.

        Not sure about the “ok” issue. I don’t really see the problem with it either, although I suppose it might be if all he does is say “ok” instead of asking questions and then the work isn’t being done properly.

        1. Zillah

          Well, you see it a lot more with interns/student workers for a reason, IMO – as newbies to the work force, they don’t always know how to be proactive, and even if they do, they may not feel comfortable doing so. As someone who falls into both roles right now, I would never think of doing a lot of problem solving on my own – my bosses set the priorities, not me, and mostly, being “proactive” could actually sabotage what my work study bosses want me to be doing and could lead to a lot of wasted time at my internship.

      2. Cat

        That said, if he’s only there one day a week for ten weeks, I think that seriously limits the proactiveness the organization can expect. That’s just not enough time to get a real feel for the culture or environment.

        1. BCW

          Exactly, I mean after 10 days on the job, most people are just getting a feel for the office and what needs to be done. After 10 days on the job, he is done.

          1. De Minimis

            That’s true too….it doesn’t really seem like the best set-up for the intern or for the employer.

            1. Kelly L.

              Yeah, with someone who’s really really new to both your business and the industry, “being proactive” could end up translating to “getting into something he doesn’t understand and messing it all the heck up.”

        2. ChristineSW

          That’s a very good point. I’m surprised that, as a grad student, he only only has to work 1 day a week for 10 weeks. It’s not clear from the post whether the internship is a required part of his program, but it doesn’t sound adequate to me (For an undergrad internship, yes, that might be more expected). Assuming an 8-hour workday, that’s only about 80 hours for the semester. My first-year MSW internship required 7-hour days twice a week for the full academic year.

          1. Posted #1

            For sure.

            It’s a pretty informal situation – and to all of you saying “why do you have an intern for a total of ten work days?!” – I didn’t set it up that way, and I agree with you that it is perhaps… not ideal. :)

            That’s a piece of feedback I will give our ED regarding future interns – these are definitely not ideal conditions for an internship. (It’s not for an MSW; he’s in a masters program for area studies, and our clients are from one of the countries in that region.)

            1. fposte

              While we’re at it, maybe think a little more about the selection process? It sounds like you got exactly the person you interviewed, so this performance should have been predicted. Was it that you didn’t get a lot of candidates, or that you didn’t realize that his limitations were going to matter?

              I confess I’m kind of itching to create a whole set of guidelines for your internship program now starting with the hiring :-). You don’t have to share my enthusiasm, but if you do, I bet the ED would be fine with you taking this over and being the point person.

              1. Posted #1

                fposte, I’m with you!

                I mentioned that to the ED yesterday, and I’m going to be managing our summer interns (if we get any. And they’ll be full-time.) There will be goals templates, and expectations documents, and just way more structure.

                He was the only person who applied – because the internship was posted on our website, but nowhere more visible (because ED didn’t want to deal with a massive influx of applicants). I’ve also mentioned to him that that’s not ideal. Based on reading AAM every day for about 8 months, I think I have a better idea of where to start! This is such a great resource.

                1. fposte

                  Good for you! And you *want* a pile of applicants. And if you promise to do first cut, the ED doesn’t have to deal with the noncompetitive ones.

                  BTW, this also suggests that this guy had some decent initiative if he found this semi-secret internship. Tell him so, and tell him that’s the kind of thing you like seeing.

            2. ChristineSW

              Oh I figured it wasn’t for an MSW intern…sorry if I came across as if that’s what I was assuming.

      3. Ruffingit

        Yeah, the OK thing is not something that strikes me as a problem. On this one, I have to disagree with Alison. If I was in the position of the intern and my boss said this ““I’m having trouble reading you. Can you tell me more about your thinking about what I just said?” My reply would be “My thinking is that I’m going to get more copier paper the way you asked me to.” This is an intern who is there for one day a week for 10 weeks so he’s working in the office a total of two business weeks over the course of two and a half months. I just can’t see delving into his OK response and treating it like he needs to say any more than that. He’s probably not being asked to do things that require a more thorough response given how little time he’s in the office.

          1. Ruffingit

            Yeah, I can see what you’re saying there, I just wonder how substantive the stuff this intern is doing could possibly be because he’s only there for 10 days in a 2.5 month period.

            1. Posted #1

              We’re having him create some resources guides – there are some common questions our clients have, and he’s doing some research to answer them and to point them toward the resources they’ll need for more in-depth answers.

              Next week I’m going to teach him pivot tables, because pivot tables are the best. Also vlookups, if he doesn’t know them.

    2. fposte

      I don’t think he has to be a bad intern to merit some helpful feedback about improvement, though.

      “Okay” is a fine response–sometimes. If it’s all you ever say in response and you’re low on initiative, you seem disengaged. That’s not a useful impression.

    3. JC

      I was thinking something similar. I’ve never had a part-time intern so maybe I’m way off base, but how proactive would you expect someone to be who has worked for you for 4 workdays? I doubt I’ve been very proactive on my 4th day at a full-time job, when I was still figuring out where the bathroom was, even if I was proactive eventually. But since a part-time internship is brief, I guess interns need to hit the ground running.

      1. KarenT

        This. He’s been there for 4 days. Unless he’s been truly awful, its seems rushed to decide he isn’t problem-solving focused or pro-active, and that this will hold him back in his career. When you have a recent grad or intern, you should expect to have to train them more fully and lie out clear expectations. In other words, if the phone rings, don’t expect him to just pick it up. Tell him, “When the phone rings, please pick it up and say ‘You have reached Non-Profit, Bob speaking.'”
        I don’t remember much about my first four days as a recent grad in my first job, but I doubt I had a chance to show off my problem solving skills.
        In fact, reflecting on all of the people that I hired, I can’t say much ever happened in four days. There is training, introducing people to their projects, meeting colleagues, maybe bringing them to meetings that will be relevant to them. I would address a negative performance issue (i.e., if they do something unnacceptable) but I wouldn’t be expecting them to dazzle me. I would be expecting them to settle in, and this is magnified for those without a lot of professional experience, such as your intern.

        1. Jamie

          Wow I totally missed the 4 day part. Four days one could easily still be nervous and it’s too early to pick up on the culture of how verbose one needs to be in answering questions. And for an intern with presumably little experience.

          Those are some very high expectations – I don’t think I’d be comfortable working for the OP if 4 days in this level of scrutiny of personal communication is being applied. Can’t they at least have a full week to get acclimated?

            1. Posted #1

              I think that’s a great way to frame it. I’m going to try to present it as “these are some things that separate doing a good job from being a rockstar, from advice I’ve been given, and from my experience.”

              1. fposte

                I might be biased because I come from an educational perspective, but I assume that a big point of having an internship is to get as much information as possible about the work world and the field, and I would take an intern with the notion that they want as much feedback and info as I can give them. (To that end, I don’t think I would ever take an intern for one day a week for only ten weeks–there’s not enough intervals between work periods to allow for development and rejigging.)

                But I also think that it’s a moment for both sides–this was your first intern supervision, and you should be learning a fair bit about how you want to set up expectations in the future (and your current intern probably has some good advice for you on that). Maybe clarify your feedback structure in advance (“I think it’s important for you to get feedback, so we’ll talk 4-5 weeks in about some things that might help you here and as your career progresses”) and articulate more clearly what your organization values?

        2. De Minimis

          The complaint I’ve heard about a lot of interns is that they have to be told repeatedly to continue doing certain tasks instead of realizing the tasks are a regular part of the job they need to do on their own each day. They wait to be prompted every single time.

          But if someone’s only there one day a week it’s going to be tough for them to figure out a lot of those tasks.

          1. KarenT

            The complaint I’ve heard about a lot of interns is that they have to be told repeatedly to continue doing certain tasks instead of realizing the tasks are a regular part of the job they need to do on their own each day. They wait to be prompted every single time.

            I agree with this fully, but that is part of managing people without a lot of work experience. And a good manager will manage it by outlining those expectations. Tell your intern he needs to anticipate business needs. Tell him you expect that he will not sit at his desk and wait for you to give him instructions–that he’ll find himself something to do. And tell him the kinds of things someone in his role should be doing pro-actively.

            I think a lot of interns do see those needs, but don’t necessarily feel they have the authority to act pro-actively since interns often feel very temporary and very in the way.

            And I’m with Jaimie–I’m not sure I’d be comfortable working for this OP either. It sounds like the OP has her mind made up about him, and there are some pretty rigid conclusions for a 4-day employee.

            1. Posted #1

              Situation was sort of, well, we had only one applicant for the internship (and the ED already knew him somewhat beforehand); I’m not sure I’d have recommended that we take him, but the ED had already decided that we were going to… so, I guess yes, I had already decided that he wasn’t quite as energetic as I’d like, but it wasn’t up to me. But hopefully I can try to make it a good learning experience for him?

              It’s clearly being a learning experience for me – though, yes, I realize that “junior staff learn about management” is not supposed to be the purpose of having interns! Whoops.

              1. KarenT

                It’s definitely a learning experience for you, but that’s a good thing!
                I’ve only been in management for about two years (though I’d been managing interns and freelancers for years before that) and I’ve felt the same as you–it can be challenging to manage people you didn’t select yourself. When I was an editor working on a team, I had a co-worker I couldn’t stand and I thought she was a terrible editor. Then I became the manager of that group, and it was hard for me to evaluate her work fairly, because I knew I never would have hired her and quite frankly I didn’t really like her. I had to be careful to evaluate her work fairly, and not let my opinion be coloured by my feelings toward her. It was tough!

                And for the record, the types of things you are picking up on are good things to watch for. I just think the duration of work really prevents you from actually seeing how he functions, and to bring him feedback with such a small glimpse into how he operates is not doing him any favours. It feels like a biased assessment to me. If he had done anything inappropriate/unacceptable it would be different, but not being proactive/enthusiastic/problem-solving are unfair comments after 4 days.

                1. fposte

                  I think that would be absolutely true if he were a hired employee. However, I think that feedback should be a requisite part of the process for an internship; the only other alternative would be to be so detached that you couldn’t even serve as a reference (which you’ll probably be asked to do). I think the OP should have done more up front, both in hiring and in orienting the intern, but I don’t think it’s too late to make it a much more active experience that will bring more value to both sides.

    4. Posted #1

      It’s not that I don’t like his personality – I like him just fine! Just, I think it would help him to work on connecting the dots all the way. I don’t mean proactive in the sense of proposing new projects, but in small things. It’s a tiny thing, but it makes a huge difference to say “I think I’m working on x, y, and z today, is that right?” rather than “In terms of things I’m working on today…” and trail off – which is the question he asked me this morning.

      His interview was also kind of mediocre – he generally described what he did, but didn’t get to the “results” part of the question. I think it’s the same mental habit of bringing something all the way through, both in results-oriented interviewing and in asking “what should this look like” in conversations about a new project or task.

      I know it’s only been four days! That’s a big part of why I asked – if he were going to come in every day, I’d wait longer – but I’m not a fan of the management style “wait a while and see if someone improves on something they don’t know needs improvement.”

      More experienced managers! Am I radically overthinking this? (If yes, I’m still not the only one who’s going to think the trailing-off non-question could use a little more forethought, right? He should know that, even if I’m being overly picky, other Overly Picky People exist?)

      This isn’t his first job, by the way, and he’s a grad student who’s led some planning activities – he’s not a young college student.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        Part of the point in doing an internship is to learn this stuff. Also, interns often don’t know this stuff until someone tells them or they learn the hard way. So give him feedback!

        Another way to address the flat “okay” thing would to reframe what you’re saying that’s producing those responses. So for instance, you might instead say something like, “Let’s talk through how you think you’ll approach that” … or something else that requires a more substantive response from him.

        1. KarenT

          Considering the duration of the internship (10 working days total) I can’t imagine the intern is doing much nuanced or critical work.
          While I don’t love, “Okay,” as a response either, it’s probably pretty suitable for the type of work I’m imagining him doing.
          OP: Stuff those envelopes.
          Intern: OK

          OP: Make 1000 copies of that flyer.
          Intern: OK

          Of course, I may be way off base and he is performing work that requires a more nuanced conversation, but again I just can’t picture that in a 10-day experience.

          1. Ruffingit

            That’s the same thought I had. I can’t imagine what a 10 day intern is doing that would require a deeper response than OK.

        2. Posted #1

          I gave him feedback, compliment sandwich style. I mostly framed things as “I know we’re pretty informal, but this is stuff that will matter elsewhere, so it’s good to cultivate.”

          Hopefully I did an okay job of that. It’s a bit hard to tell, since his response was to say just “okay” – and to point out that he wasn’t the only one doodling in that meeting with our partner organizations. (Yes, but you’re the only one making a first impression…)

          Well, it’s done, anyway. Thanks for your help, all!

            1. KarenT

              It’s a legit thing for him to query, and it’s a legit thing for him to do if everyone else is doing it (and yes, obviously there are limits to it. I’m not saying he should jump off a bridge.) If you’re new to an office, and you sit in a meeting, and a few people are doodling and no one is saying anything, it’s reasonable to think it’s okay to doodle.

              1. fposte

                I think it’s fine to impart the lesson that you can’t necessarily do what senior people do and use that as an example, but it’s not exactly intuitive, and I don’t see this as being a particularly important example–timeliness might be a better one.

                What I think we have here is a cart before the horse–an intern was acquired before an internship program was designed. I think given that fact it’s reasonable to cobble together a program as best as one can on the fly so the guy gets some value out of it beyond just being parked at a desk, but unfortunately for him he’s going to have to live through some of the growing pains.

                1. KarenT

                  I agree it’s reasonable to point out. I didn’t write my post very clearly–I don’t mean it’s necessarily that he should be allowed to doodle in meetings, but rather that it’s reasonable for him to assume it’s okay since others are doing it.

          1. Jamie

            I know it looks bad, but it shouldn’t. Studies have shown that people who doodle tend to retain more information than those not engaging their hands…I’ll find the study because it was interesting and justified my need to doodle.

            And just as a general observation, I hate the whole compliment sandwich thing. One should absolutely give both good and bad feedback – but the method of having something negative and then deliberately front and back loading positives comes with collateral damage for some people. I had a boss who did this once when I was new to the workforce, and very quickly every positive remark did nothing but make me brace for what was coming next. And I didn’t trust it, because for all I knew they were pulling something out of the air to have something nice to say.

            It’s much better to have genuine rapport and flow of communication so when there is something good you tell them and when it’s not good you tell them – if negative feedback is done in a kind and professional way it doesn’t need a cushion.

            1. KarenT

              Not a fan of the compliment sandwich either. It’s too distracting from the middle (meat, I guess, in this analogy). “Bob, you’re an awesome intern. Please stop doodling in meetings. Also, great job on the Jones account.” People need direct feedback, and using a compliment sandwich really muffles your message.
              That said, I do believe that giving good feedback is as important as giving negative feedback since people also need to know what they are doing right.

      2. fposte

        “He should know that, even if I’m being overly picky, other Overly Picky People exist?” I’m kind of disagreeing with this–the point for me is that there are several trees that make an unprepossessing forest, not that trailing off is in itself a problem.

        The term I’d use for what you’re describing isn’t proactive, it’s scope. I want somebody to be invested enough to be thinking about where their work fits into the Big Picture, and part of my job is to give them enough information to be able to grasp that. I tell people that when they interview, and it’s modeled strongly by the rest of the staff. There’s a little calibrating for newbies on what needs to be checked with me and what doesn’t, so I expect a few missed calls on that; it’s the overall awareness that we’re all contributing, we all have to stay involved, and we’re all interdependent that matters to me.

      3. BCW

        Thanks for the clarification, however to me this seems a bit more of a management issue of you not really making clear what he should be doing. If he isn’t sure what he is supposed to be doing, then I wouldn’t blame him for not being proactive about doing it. You don’t like the way he phrased it, and thats your prerogative to prefer a different way, but the end result is the same that he is questioning what he is supposed to be doing that day.

        Plus, it is just weird that you hired him knowing full well how he was, but now you have a problem with it.

        But if you do say something, definitely just frame it as “you are doing fine, but here are ways to improve”

    5. Anon

      I have an issue with the idea that only someone client facing needs to be emotive. (Or just somewhat pleasant, because saying more than two syllables to a boss or colleague is a pretty low bar for pleasantness.)

      To take your example, I work with an accountant who is not at all emotive and often monosyllabic. Every effort I have made to build a rapport with him is met with a blank stare. He never interacts with clients, but he interacts with pretty much everyone else at the business. It would be so much less stressful to work with him if he were more communicative and more pleasant.

      1. BCW

        My point with that is that in life their are plenty of non-emotive people, and they seem to find jobs. Based on what type of job (and I just picked accounting as a random example) it is sometimes very important, and sometimes way down the line of things to care about.

  11. ConstructionHR

    “I was blowing off steam”

    “regretfully” – acyrologia, as noted above

    “said something like ‘I’d punch my manager in the mouth'”

    “snitched”

    So short a post, so much “Fail!”. Look in the mirror. Intently.

  12. Bwmn

    #4 – this really brings back to mind the case of the employee who was arrested for a domestic altercation during a business trip, and won’t be fired. When you hear cases like this of people are fired – the notion of waiting for the legal process to carry out in that scenario seems ludicrous.

  13. ETF

    #2, you have my sympathy. I am guessing you were nervous and avoided the video interview until the last minute because of that. I have similar issues, which I am trying to deal with so that they don’t affect my work.

  14. anon in tejas

    #1. At my former job, I supervised a lot of interns (1-2 a semester for a couple of years). It was certianly more exhausting than rewarding. Here’s what I found helpful. I met with them on the first day, and gave them an idea of my expectations (i.e. being on time, will not make myself late to meetings/court waiting on them, expect them to do small tasks wells so that I can trust them with bigger tasks). Also, I would tell them that I would like to touch base with them in a few weeks and give them a short eval to let them know how they are doing and what they can improve on.

    At the eval, it would be door closed, but informal– nothing in writing. But I would talk to them for about 10 minutes about how they are doing. Even with the worst intern, I would start with at least one positive and end with at least one positive.

    For your guy, here are some possible ways that I would phrase what you are experiencing (based on what you wrote here)…
    — You’ve expressed a desire to work in this field post graduation, and I am having a hard time seeing that in your work.
    — You appear very thoughtful in your demeanor, but sometimes I have a hard time reading whether you are okay with my feedback or not.
    — If you have questions about why I’m asking you to do/organize something differently, please speak up, I’m more than happy to discuss those further so that you understand a bit more of the behind the scenes.
    — I’d like you to get more out of this internship, and give you more challenging work, but I am concerned about giving you more time consuming, important, detail oriented tasks, because I feel like I am not getting through to you and seeing that you understand where I am coming from.

    The other thing that I would suggest is that you consider what you would want for an ideal intern. It sounds like this guy isn’t it, but the opposite isn’t it as well. For me, this was key. Some interns questioned everything at the wrong time, and some didn’t ask any questions ever. Both were not ideal, but somewhere in the middle was.

    1. BCW

      I think a good point to bring up is what the expectations were that were set at the beginning. Did the OP set up expectations and the intern isn’t living up to it? Or did the OP just decide that he wasn’t what she wanted without knowing what she does want?

      1. fposte

        I think that’s fine when you’re talking about an employee hiring practice, but I also think with students and an internship, there’s a role for giving them feedback that isn’t a job assessment. I think if the OP is genuinely dissatisfied it would indeed be wise for her to consider how she gets interns in the future, but this is a real opportunity for this intern to hear about his work style–this is the kind of feedback people beg for in applications.

        1. KarenT

          I’d agree with you about this is in most cases, but the fact that the intern has had only four working days really makes me question how much the OP has seen of the intern’s performance.

          1. fposte

            True, but he’s only got six days more–if you want feedback to affect the rest of his time there, now would be when you’d want to mention it.

  15. en pointe

    My first thought was that the boss in #4 is on the same wavelength as the OP in #3.

    If she’d forgotten about approving the night off, perhaps she was just blowing off steam and said something in the heat of the moment, in front of OP’s coworker.
    Something like “Jane better not even think about coming back next week”, or similar. Doesn’t make it OK, but I would definitely lean toward assuming she’s not going to actually follow through with it.

    OP, if I were you, I would call your boss but wouldn’t explicitly mention what your coworker said about being fired. I would just call under the guise of confirming the time or date of your next shift (or whatever other reason might be appropriate) and see what she says. Or even just find an excuse to stop by work quickly before next Saturday (a jacket, book or anything else of yours there you can say you need to grab?) and do the same.

    If she’s really fired you, she’ll let you know. No need to put her on the ‘awkward offensive’ IMHO. (Also, consider that if she’s really crazy and you bring up what your coworker said, she might actually fire you just to not have to explain herself / back-track.)

    1. Mike C.

      Wait, why would you avoid the issue? If I was told by a coworker that I had been fired, I would directly confirm the issue. Why make excuses or dance around the issue? What do you mean by “the awkward offensive”?

      1. fposte

        Yes, it’s not like the boss is going to say “Well, I wasn’t thinking of firing you, but now you bring it up…”

      2. en pointe

        I mean that it sounds quite possible that the boss in question isn’t all that reasonable. Based purely on my speculation that she “fired” the OP in a moment of frustration and didn’t mean it, I don’t think that I would confirm this directly, out of concern that she might lash out, particularly if she’s someone awkward that goes on the offensive when questioned / confronted.

        Undoubtedly a wimpy way to handle it, but I would probably just test the waters with a less direct conversation and, if she wants to pretend it never happened, then I’d just roll with it.

  16. some1

    “I’d also suggest not framing things like this as “snitching.” That’s a concept that doesn’t generally don’t apply in the workplace, because it implies that you and your coworkers are on one side and your manager is on the other — not a great mentality to have at work and one that will generally work against you in the long-term.”

    I agree *generally* as well, but I have definitely had coworkers do things that felt like tattling or trying to needlessly get me in trouble, such as emailing a request (like a first request to return the shared three-hole punch, for example) or asking me to do a process differently over email, and CC-ing my boss or some other manager*.

    Certainly when an employee makes mistakes there are times that person’s boss needs to be brought into the loop, but I’m talking about situations that are inconsequential enough that coworkers can work it out together.

    *Wierdly enough, 90% of the times this has happened to me, the coworker cc-ed the wrong manager.

    1. Katie the Fed

      if it’s any consolation, many managers won’t take kindly to that. I can’t speak for all of us, but I definitely wouldn’t look favorably on someone throwing a coworker under a bus – it makes me think you’re untrustworthy and a jerk.

      That being said, I’d like to know if someone threatened to punch me in the face. I like my face.

      1. some1

        No, reporting that you overheard a coworker threaten to punch any other coworker (manager or not) should definitely happen, and it’s not snitching or tattling — ugh, sorry, I thought it was implied in my response.

        My point was that there are things that you don’t need to tell the boss, or at least not until you have tried to work it out with your coworker.

      2. Jamie

        Yep – my conversation is going to be with the person who is emailing me about 3-hole punches, not the one who took it.

        And ccing people when asking to change a process, that’s sometimes just shorthand to let someone else know the request has been made. If I ask X to talk to Y and ask them to change how they do 123 ccing me on it just saves them a separate email to me saying they addressed it.

        Not every request to change means someone did something incorrectly – sometimes it’s just a request to change.

  17. smallbutmighty

    With regard to the intern, I would a) try to regard him with some empathy and b) offer him some honest feedback in the most non-judgmental way you can.

    I can really relate to this guy, at least based on the OP’s description. I spent the first 25 years of my life with my nose in a book. I didn’t really have friends, because I was socially awkward and intensely bookish and came across as a little strange. My teachers liked me because I did a good job on my schoolwork and didn’t cause trouble. My parents didn’t see any problem with the way I related to others because they didn’t observe me in social situations and because they were a little strange, too.

    If, as a new graduate, someone had asked me how I planned to succeed in my career, I’d have said something like, “Do a good job completing the tasks assigned to me.” It never would have occurred to me that my employer might expect me to present the appearance of being engaged and enthusiastic and proactive.

    I was lucky enough to have a family friend take me under his wing and explain to me how work worked, that enthusiasm and engagement and proactivity were as important as completing my assigned tasks. He helped break down for me what these words actually mean and what they look like in practice. Yeah, he took a risk of appearing insulting when he offered me this feedback, but I am so glad he did. It’s made a huge difference in my career. It would have taken me decades to figure out this stuff on my own.

    1. fposte

      See, this is what I’m thinking–feedback here isn’t punitive, it’s an opportunity to be really helpful.

    2. Posted #1

      Yes, entirely. That’s what I’m trying to accomplish here, too – a year ago, I got some very similar feedback regarding tiny things, and I really hadn’t understood the impact.

      Like, almost the same exact things. I can probably share that, too – another small thing is that, since he’s only in the office one day a week, if he forgets to throw out his leftovers, they’re going to sit in the fridge for two weeks and ferment. I’d asked him to throw out some leftover horchata from the previous week, and he didn’t, so I had to… small, but annoying (especially since he’s almost still in the “first impressions” stage).

      Similarly, at my previous job: my boss moved offices, and I took three weeks to clean up some files and papers the previous occupant of her new office had left around. It was a small boring task and never seemed urgent, but it was untidy and irked her – and by leaving it for weeks, communicated a lack of urgency, time pressure, and sloppiness on my part. I really didn’t realize the impression it gave until she told me and laid it all out.

      1. smallbutmighty

        I remember almost verbatim what someone said to me about this kind of stuff. I’ve adapted it slightly to address your intern:

        “You know, people around you notice the little things you do. They notice the way you dress, they notice the way you keep your desk, they notice if you aren’t paying attention in meetings, they notice if you leave your leftovers in the refrigerator, they notice if you don’t greet them in the hallways, they notice if you arrive five minutes late every day. None of those things are listed in your job description, but they’re baseline expectations for anyone working alongside other humans. Whether you think it’s fair or not, people will notice these things and judge you if you’re not meeting expectations in these areas. If these things don’t come naturally to you, work to build them as habits. Pay attention to these little things. They really matter, and if you do them right, they’ll help you gain a reputation as a good colleague who is well-liked by others. And being well-liked will get you ahead every bit as much as being competent will. Being competent is a necessary condition, but it’s not a sufficient one. Being competent AND well-liked will get you everywhere career-wise, and it will make you happier in life. It’s worth working at.”

        1. Jamie

          Great advice – although if people want to judge my desk today then I’ll just pack up my HK cup and smart putty and be on my way.

          In addition to my usual gear I have 7 additional towers, 3 extra monitors, a box of POE switches, an extra motherboard and some hard drives.

          All this stuff and I can’t find my glasses. It’s okay – I’m making my Mr. Magoo squint work for me.

          I think instead of judging me these anonymous co-workers could help clean my office!

          1. smallbutmighty

            Haha–we can TOTALLY be friends.

            My desk contains a dozen mobile device, their various cords and chargers, a whole tangle of “wearable” technology (ours and various competitors’), several pairs of shoes, a French press, a sock monkey, an oversized Guinness hat, a bunch of framed awards, the Lolcats calendar in English AND Japanese, and God only knows what else. It is the desk of a working tech writer, and it absolutely looks it.

            I don’t think everyone needs to have a neat desk, but I do think it’s useful to be aware that people look at your desk and draw conclusions about you based on what they see.

            I would look at your desk and conclude, “I could totally be friends with Jamie.”

            1. Jamie

              You had me at lolcatz calendar and sock monkey. You’d totally be my new work BFF.

              And absolutely people draw conclusions – the conclusion they should draw from mine last couple of days is that if it’s not on fire then it won’t be done today.

    3. Ruffingit

      Mentors who are willing to guide you honestly and compassionately are worth their weight in gold.

      On another note smallbutmighty, have you had the conversation with your manager that you mentioned in the open thread? I know it may make me a weirdo, but I think about people here and hope things go well for them when they mention such things so I thought I’d ask. I’ve been thinking of you and hoping you’ve gotten some positive resolution!

      1. smallbutmighty

        Hey, thanks for asking! Apologies for the novel I’m about to write.

        I’m happy to have that conversation in my rear-view mirror. It was not a fun one. It turns out that the whole time I was feeling sidelined by my team, my team was perceiving that I was disengaged and uninterested. My manager explained that my colleagues felt that they had been reaching out to me by looping me into email conversations about several projects that were ongoing while I was gone. But it hadn’t been clear to me what, if anything, they wanted from me; most of the communications were of the FYI variety, without any kind of ask attached, and everything seemed to be moving forward without my input, so my impression was that no input from me was needed.

        In particular, my manager noted that she was disappointed that I hadn’t contributed feedback to a large site redesign project in which my team was involved (along with IT, an external agency, and other key players). I explained to her that because the project was design-focused and I don’t have a strong background in design (I’m primarily a writer, though I’ve picked up a few design skills along the way), I didn’t think my feedback would be meaningful or of interest to the team. I had to hedge this one a little because, honestly, I didn’t see the point of the redesign. In my mind, it didn’t represent enough improvement to justify the cost or the effort, but I lacked the design vocabulary to explain WHY. My feedback, had I offered it, would’ve amounted to, “Uh, can someone tell me what we’re going to Abilene for?”

        Key takeaways: If I’m feeling out of the loop, I need to say so, schedule meetings, and be more proactive about getting caught up, rather than stew about it and make it into a bigger thing than it really is.

        The really good news, though, is that by being out of the loop, I unexpectedly found myself with some white space. When I pointed this out to my manager, she assigned me a really sweet project I’m very excited about. So, yay for that!

        1. Ruffingit

          So glad to hear things worked out and the conversation is done! Your story is a good example of how easy it is to have misunderstandings on both sides when all we’re looking at is actions. As in, “Well, she didn’t reply so she doesn’t care” vs your feeling of “This is an FYI thing, no reply needed.” I can see how you felt there was no point in replying to things that people are just informing you about rather than asking for input. I’d have done the same thing.

          Great news on the new project you’re excited about!!

  18. Anon Accountant

    #4- I really hope you learn from this. In the future, it’s best to walk away, take a restroom break, or go get some coffee and take a few minutes to calm down if you need to “blow off some steam”.

    Sometimes we all just need to walk away for a bit before we may say something we regret later.

  19. Cody c

    I would concur that one can never be to careful about comments made about management when around ones coworkers. I got in trouble for saying I must be wearing Harley Davidson underwear because the boss is really riding my a**. Also on the subject of checking the pronunciation of a word via the internet please make sure you try several sites. If one didn’t know better an just watched a you tube clip one would be walking around pronouncing faux pas as fax piss.

  20. ew0054

    #4) Someone should be fired for saying that. This is not professional behavior. Bet they’ll never act this way again.

  21. Ruffingit

    I didn’t know if there was legal action I could take against my boss for improper management.

    Considering the crappy management that abounds, if you could take legal action for that, the courts would be horribly clogged.

  22. cs

    #4 – I wonder what tone the coworker used. What if he was joking but has a deadpan sense of humor? Although, I would think he would have let OP in on it afterwards. On the other hand, possible that if it was a joke, he didn’t see how OP was caught off by surprise and took it literally. I just hope this was all a misunderstanding.

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