I’m an intern managing 8 people

A reader writes:

I got hired as an intern 8 months ago, and continued to be trusted with more and more responsibility. About a month ago, I was given an informal title change and responsibility of leading a small team; I manage 8 people and work directly with leads on sister-teams.

I wasn’t given a pay raise due to budget cuts and recent layoffs, so according to payroll, I am still an intern. The pay doesn’t bother me since it’s a great opportunity to have so early in my career, but when I apply to my next job (which may be soon if projects keep getting cut), I’m worried getting credit for the experience I’ll have.

My company has a rule that prohibits letters of recommendation or contacting direct supervisors. Potential employers are allowed to call HR, who is only able to verify job title, dates of employment, and if they would re-hire you. 

If I put “intern,” they will brush off my experience, but if I put anything but that, it will look like I’m lying. I’m not sure what to do. Please help!

That’s ridiculous, and your new informal title needs to be reflected in your company’s record. Talk to your manager and say this: “Now that I’m managing a team and using the teapots manager title, I’d like my records with the company to reflect that. I understand that there’s no budget for raises right now and so I’m not requesting one, but it’s important to me that the company records are correct. How can I get the title change reflected with HR?”

If your manager pushes back and tells you there’s no need for that since everyone working with you is using the new title anyway, say this: “I’m thrilled to be doing the work I’m doing and have no plans of leaving, but with the recent layoffs, I’m not comfortable risking that my work here will stay recorded as an internship if my role is eliminated at some point. It’s important to me to ensure that it’s recorded accurately.”

Also, your company’s rule on references is horrible. Fortunately, in most cases if your manager loves you, they’ll find ways to communicate that to reference-checkers anyway (and once they move on to a new job, all bets are off anyway and they can say whatever they want).

Paying someone intern-level pay to manage eight people is also pretty horrible. I totally get you deciding to do it in exchange for the experience and resume-builder anyway, but it’s still horrible of them … and at a minimum, they need to ensure it really is a resume-builder by formalizing the title. In fact, you could point that out — “I’m being paid intern-level pay for managing eight people, which I’m willing to do because I’m glad for the experience, but for that trade-off to make sense to me, I absolutely need the correct title reflected in our records.”

{ 165 comments… read them below }

  1. VintageLydia USA*

    I would push HARD on that official title change. That is such BS they’re paying you intern pay for management work, but not even giving you the proper title? Layoffs or not I’d be planning my next move as soon as it makes sense.

    1. College Career Counselor*

      I agree with you, but I have worked at institutions where the official title change would HAVE to be accompanied by a pay raise, so the OP should be prepared to hear “no, we can’t do that.” I still think it’s worth pushing for the formal title, however.

        1. Kyrielle*

          Yes! If an existing formal title would have to come with a pay raise, then ask for a new formal title.

          Be prepared that some places can have Procedures for creating new titles that would block it, but generally, those should be large enough not to be titling and paying a manager of 8 people as an intern, also.

          1. Jessa*

            Exactly, it needs to be noted in some way that a newcomer reading the file if called for a reference describes the OP as something other than an intern. Even if the annotation is “job title is intern but the OP was actually supervising x number of people and we couldn’t change the title” which could theoretically be explained in a future cover letter as long as the OP knows that the information is there.

      1. Cambridge Comma*

        I also wondered whether the company might have an internal rule that they have to increase her salary or benefits if ‘intern’ is dropped from the job title and are therefore rigid about keeping it, despite the fact that her responsibilities have left the internship (and even an entry level position) way behind.
        Perhaps a compromise title such as ‘intern team lead’ might work if that is the case (assuming that the people she is managing are interns).

        1. The Intern*

          So, they tried, but unfortunately this was the case. If they drop the “intern” from the title, they must give me the same pay and benefits as others on that “level”

          So unfortunately, my title cannot be changed. :(

    2. Another HRPro*

      To be fair, we don’t know what the OP’s “Intern-level” pay is. At my organization, interns are paid very well. Their hourly rate is comparable to what they would get paid as an entry-level full time employee.

        1. mortorph*

          Based on the other descriptions of the company, I’d wonder if they really have a budget shortage. I know I’m cynical, but I get the feeling the company is just taking advantage of the situation.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        That’s true. OP, any chance you’d be willing to tell us what they’re actually paying you so we’re working with better information?

    3. Adam*

      Agreed. This company is definitely in “doing you no favors” mode across the board. I would make sure that title gets changed as soon as possible so you’re ducks are in a row when you need to start job hunting, which odds are heavy on being less than a year away at most.

      Also evaluate your relationships with your supervisors and decide if any of them would both be willing and trustworthy to provide you a reference outside these strict reference rules. You’ll want to speak to them about that when the time comes.

    4. Artemesia*

      This. I don’t believe for a moment that they cannot pay you properly. If some important friend of the owner was hired, you can bet he would be paid properly. They do it because they can — and the very least they can do is correct the title in your employment records. If they do not do so, I would immediately start looking for a new position because this one is going to wring you out and not help you in the long run.

      Others have pointed out that a key argument here is ‘since this company doesn’t allow specific references, the only way a future employer has to judge my experience is the title — if I am going to manage 8 people for internship pay then it is critical for my future that my job title reflects what I do.’

  2. Katie the Fed*


    Yeah, you need to make sure that gets changed. They’re having you managing people! That means they need you in that role – you have a pretty strong bargaining position to make sure you get it changed.

    It’s really your only option. If you applied for a job with me and your resume said intern but you said you were managing 8 people, I’d think you were straight-up lying about it or delusional.

    I’d also try to suss out how much support you have from your own leadership. I don’t like that they’re not pushing for this title change for you. You really can’t effectively manage if your own leadership doesn’t have your back, in general. They’re basically setting you up for failure if they’re not willing to support you.

    1. some1*

      “If you applied for a job with me and your resume said intern but you said you were managing 8 people, I’d think you were straight-up lying about it or delusional. ”

      I think this point is really important, because you aren’t even going to get to a phone screen where you could explain this ridiculous situation with that on your resume, and it would be difficult to explain it in a cover letter well.

      1. Ama*

        Yes, that’s what I was thinking — especially if company policy is going to prevent OP’s manager from confirming their story.

      2. Erin*

        Ugh. I didn’t think of this. What else can she do though if they refuse the title change? That kind of management experience is too important not to mention in a resume or at least cover letter.

        1. MsM*

          Frankly, I question what kind of managerial lessons the LW’s really getting at a company that would do this. Which wouldn’t help in future interviews, either.

          1. AnonaMoose*

            Actually, managing effectively IN SPITE of the environment is a wonderful lesson, one that I learned myself and it made me a way better leader in the long run. Even though I hated it, looking back, it was absolutely the best sink or swim experience on my resume today.

        1. The Intern*

          So, they tried to get the title changed, but unfortunately, if they drop the “intern” from the title, they must give me the same pay and benefits as others on that “level”

          So unfortunately, my title cannot be changed. :(

          1. Annonymouse*

            Oh it could be changed – they just want to be cheap and not pay you what your worth.

            So you’re managing people and getting experience
            But not
            The pay
            Or the title
            Or even someone who can verify that you’re doing this when you look to work elsewhere?

            Sounds like they want to trap you OP.

    2. Allison*

      “It’s really your only option. If you applied for a job with me and your resume said intern but you said you were managing 8 people, I’d think you were straight-up lying about it or delusional.”

      I’m inclined to say I’d make the same assumption. I may give someone the benefit of the doubt if their resume and cover letter is otherwise really strong, because job titles are weird, but it would raise a red flag for me.

      And I can imagine it’s tough to explain the situation on a cover letter and have it look good. The negativity might turn someone off , or a really cynical recruiter who’s been burned by BS “I know it looks bad, but it’s my employer! they’re screwing me over!” sob stories before (or just fake sob stories in general) might think OP is lying.

      1. AnonaMoose*

        I would assume she was leading contractors, students or other interns, not actual employees. But I wouldn’t automatically assume she was delusional. But I have also been privy to some very peculiar orgs.

        1. The Strand*

          Student employees are, if they’re paid real money, actual employees, whether she’s at a university or college, or somewhere that hires and then lays off people during the summer. Someone can be a work-study student, sure; that doesn’t mean that the law of the land doesn’t apply to how they’re managed and paid.

    3. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

      I would make that assumption as well. I frequently find that the way interns characterize their roles on their resume is a gross exaggeration. I’ve seen resumes from past interns who work in my office and thought, “wow, that’s not what you were doing. That’s what your boss’ boss was doing”. So yes, I agree there is a significant risk that no one will believe you. This isn’t just bad because you won’t get credit for the experience you have, it also makes you look dishonest. I’m sorry you’re in this position!

      1. Katie the Fed*

        Yes. I have a finely tuned bullshit detector after seeing many people exaggerate their resumes. This would look like a gross exaggeration at best.

        1. AnonaMoose*

          I was guilty of this as a youngster, but it was driven from reading a lot of online resume advice (ugh, not proud). “Strategic Planning” was one of the ones that I totally thought I was doing. Nope, just planning out a project. *oops*

          1. AVP*

            I remember that line of thought! “Well I was planning a thing…and I was doing it strategically…sounds like Strategic Planning to me!”

          2. Anx*

            Do you know what phrase you’d use if you were working on a 5-year plan for your organization? I didn’t know “project management” meant something specific before, and I don’t know the proper phrase for managing projects. Likewise, I wouldn’t know how to explain the process of setting up a multi-year plan for putting your vision into reality.

      2. anonanonanon*

        Agreed. A few of the interns we’ve had at our company have really exaggerated what their roles. I understand no one wants to say they only did photocopying or worked on spreadsheets, but we had one former intern say she edited an entire book when she only photocopied pages (because that particular author refused to write on anything but a typewriter).

      3. Artemesia*

        I have worked as an academic supervisor of interns as well as employed them in other settings and I couldn’t agree more that 1. sometimes interns really do professional level work and 2. anyone claiming that without a strong specific supervisor reference will be assumed to be lying or cluelessly embellishing. The title ‘intern’ immediately devalues the experience — it is better than no experience, but it will not fly as ‘management experience.’

        1. Ad Astra*

          Really, if an intern isn’t doing professional-level work, then it’s not a good internship (or maybe they’re not a good intern). People seem to think that internships are just about making copies and getting everyone’s lunch order right. If that’s all you want, hire an administrative assistant. Interns are there to get experience doing professional work in their chosen field. They might not be capable of all the tasks your entry-level full-timers are capable of, but they should be fairly close.

          That said, I would also have an incredibly difficult time believing an intern was supervising eight people. Even a talented one who does great work.

    4. Sunshine Brite*

      I would too unless the internship is also tied to some sort of management/leadership/program development grad program. I know some people in my social work program as interns weren’t considered managers (because they were supposed to be learning like the OP!) but had some leadership over non-educationally trained staff at times if they were on the more administrative track.

      That said, her title doesn’t reflect what she’s doing anymore. Pretty much all the positions I’ve had except for maybe this one and even then I’m not certain, have had that same restrictive rule regarding supervisors. It’s super frustrating and makes job searching hard unless you have trusted coworkers willing to step up or past supervisors willing to bend the rules now that you’re no longer affiliated. Internship supervisors however are supposed to have a dual role with the learning organization and should be able to provide feedback as related to the internship itself. That’s part of the point of an internship.

  3. BRR*

    If you’re being paid at intern level, what are the 8 people below you being paid?

    If your company continues to be ridiculous maybe you could list it as something like this:
    Intern (internal title, associate director chocolate teapots)
    Thoughts from others on that???

    Because your bullet points likely will sound fake listed under an intern title. That might at least keep a hiring manager’s attention and you can also explain it in a cover letter.

    1. Erin*

      I assume they’re unpaid interns.

      I would lean against the double title you mentioned, tempting as that may be. It feels too much like directly lying. I would phrase it in the bullet point as, “Role expanded to directly managing eight other interns.”

      1. Adam*

        Agreed. And judging by the company’s policies if someone calls them for a reference HR is going to give the official on paper job title with no mention of any sort of internal designation or the mumbo jumbo surrounding it.

      2. The Intern*

        Contracts are frozen, so no changes have been made to anyone’s positions. Everyone on my team is a higher pay grade than I am. I knew going into this it would be a risk.
        I’m investing a lot without an immediate return, yes. But the knowledge I’m gaining now will help prepare me to do better in future situations. While, yes, ideally, I get my credit now to make my transition easier, I’ll figure out a work around if I need to. When I get into a role that uses that experience, I will see a return on that old investment.

        1. AMG*

          Okay, so then what you need to do is network really well, starting yesterday. Make sure there are lots of people who know what you do and can vouch for your intern/manager situation in order to combat all of the skepticism. The good news is that most people find jobs though networking anyway.

        2. BRR*

          The other thing I want to point out is future positions. Unless you went back to grad school after multiple years of working you might have to measure expectations since you’re unusually high up now if you don’t have a lot of years of experience.

          1. The Intern*

            I have 2 years of unpaid project management experience. 1 for a non profit before grad school, and 1 on a large scale project in grad school. I’m certainly not claiming to be above entry level; I would just like to include this experience on my resume without looking dishonest.

            1. AnonaMoose*

              What does your LinkedIn profile say right now? If it’s not including the supervision detail, you really should add it and then start ‘friending’ folks in your org, both present and those that you worked with (that know your current work) that have left the org. Perhaps they can at least do a LinkedIn recommendation as colleagues instead of as leadership speaking on behalf of the company. (admittedly, my last company didn’t allow this for a certain job type, sales, but everyone else was allowed to recommend to their hearts content. If the policy doesn’t specifically say anything about LinkedIn, I would jump on that.)

              1. The Intern*

                My linkedIn profile reflects my current job responsibilities, and I have connected with many co-workers. I’m not sure how linkedIn recommendations are viewed at the company..

  4. Three Thousand*

    This company is ridiculous to the point that I’m actually angry. The mismanagement and incompetence reflected in making an intern a manager is bad enough. Taking advantage of this person’s need for experience and trying to save money by paying them as an intern to do a job that’s no doubt worth several times their compensation is deeply unethical. This puts corporations who illegally use unpaid interns to shame.

    1. Abby*

      Oh man, this letter got me riled up, too! My friend was in a similar situation where she took on a ton of extra responsibilities without getting a pay raise (it was nonprofit), but she pushed back and got the company to give her a new, appropriately-impressive-sounding title. It was really the least they could do, given all that she had done for them.

    2. The intern*

      While this certainly isn’t the best situation, I don’t believe they’re trying to take advantage, or at least not intentionally. Given the circumstances, I was the best equipped to run this team; it just happened at a time when contracts are frozen.
      This was a graduate internship and I have always been paid (much higher, I might add, than anything I could be making at any job outside of my field, such as retail or serving).

      1. Cambridge Comma*

        Please imagine this in a supportive tone of voice: you don’t need to be grateful for being paid at all or for being paid more than retail and food service. It’s what you deserve.

          1. Kelly L.*

            (And that’s not to say that retail and food service workers are not valuable–rather that they’re paid like crap.)

            1. Cambridge Comma*

              Of course, those are difficult jobs and should be paid a living wage. But it’s still OK to expect more than that from a graduate job that has years of study and probably debt as a prerequisite.

        1. Three Thousand*

          Exactly. If they think you’re qualified to manage 8 people and paying you as an intern, you’re almost certainly worth more than what they’re paying.

        2. Ad Astra*

          This is so important, and not something many people learn until much later in their careers. A fair wage is not a favor. Businesses don’t pay employees out of the kindness of their hearts; they pay employees because they need them to function.

          1. AnonaMoose*

            BOOM = “Businesses don’t pay employees out of the kindness of their hearts”

      2. Katie the Fed*

        They may not be TRYING to take advantage, but they are. None of this hurts them at all – it only stands to hurt you. It makes you less competitive for jobs, it denies you pay you deserve now, and I frankly think they’d throw you under the bus in a heartbeat if there were any legal issues.

        1. MsM*

          +1. If the company is so cash-strapped or bureaucratic that they cannot find a way to make this fairer for you, then this is really not the golden opportunity you’re trying to spin it as. Please listen to everyone telling you this is neither standard nor okay and stand up for yourself.

        2. Grad Student*

          + 1000. Although they (perhaps) lack awareness or malice in taking advantage, they are. Unfortunately this sort of thing is all too common. It has happened to me in my graduate internship experience (not managing 8 people, but being asked to perform the work of a senior manager for no pay). Really, though, what can we do other than walk away?

      3. LizNYC*

        YMMV but when I was at OldJob, the company officially had a hiring and raise freeze … yet people who were promoted or had title changes managed to walk away with more money AND they still hired people. (There’s a reason this is OLDJob.)

        1. Zillah*

          Yep. If it was really important, I feel like they’d probably find a way to get it done.

      4. Artemesia*

        And I say again — if someone ‘important’ to the boss came through the door whom they wanted to hire, they would suddenly discover plenty of money to pay them adequately. They are not screwing you because they have no choice, they are screwing you because they can. In nearly 50 years in the workforce I have seen people treated like this repeatedly — no money for a raise for you — but suddenly plenty for HIM and it is usually him. It is done because people put up with it and are boxed in in a poor economy.

        1. AnonaMoose*

          Ugh, this is so true. And it’s always so much more pay, too. It’s like, you could have an additional THREE of me, all I wanted was 5% more (or whatever).

      5. notamanager*

        While not quite the same, I can say I was hired in to a support position with the understanding that I would move into an implementation role after a year or so. A pay raise was supposed to come with that move, for what-ever reason, the move came significantly earlier than planned, but the official title and pay change only came 2.5yrs later, after I’d already started looking for another job. No matter how much asking about it I did nothing changed, when it finally did change, it was for the pay I was supposed to be making 2 years earlier.
        The best thing you can do is make sure LinkedIn is up to date, get a few recommendations, and START LOOKING NOW. You can keep doing your current job while you look, once you have a written offer, turn in your notice and when they offer what you’ve been asking for, tell them no and explain why.

    3. Colette*

      There’s no requirement that managers get paid more then the people they’re managing, let alone several times more. Sometimes that happens, but it’s not ethically wrong to be paid the same or less (think specialized technical roles) than the people you’re managing.

      Having an intern manage is problematic in other ways, though. For example, internships are often short term – what happens when the OP leaves? What kind of training and support is she getting to help her succeed? And, of course, how can she get proper recognition for her work?

      1. Three Thousand*

        Managers don’t necessarily have to get paid more than their reports, but they should almost certainly be getting paid more than interns, unless this is the best-compensated internship ever.

        The whole thing seems like blatant misuse of an internship to me. Internships are supposed to benefit the intern more than the company, even if the intern is being paid. That’s why you can pay interns less. If this person is experienced and talented enough that they’re qualified to manage a team of 8 people, they really shouldn’t be an intern, and they shouldn’t be getting intern pay.

      2. BRR*

        Definitely agree with your first paragraph. My cousin was in sales and he got promoted to managing the sales people but actually made less money than he previously was because of his commission (not sure how this wasn’t figured out before the promotion). So he asked to be demoted.

        In addition to the short term I also wonder about experience.

        1. Ad Astra*

          I think a situation like that is fairly common, but I’m not sure it’s good management. I have a family member who worked at Sonic in her 20s (so she was a bit older and more experienced than your average carhop) and they wanted to make her a manager. She refused because carhops make minimum wage + tips (not the $2.35 + tips that most servers make), which added up to be significantly more than a manager, with less responsibility.

          If your company is set up so that management is a tougher job with less compensation, how on earth do you expect to promote and retain good managers?

      3. AnonaMoose*

        “There’s no requirement that managers get paid more then the people they’re managing”

        Actually, that’s been the ‘rule’ at every leadership role I’ve had, otherwise it’s way too inequitable.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          There are times when it makes sense though, like in some roles where you’re managing people whose skill set is harder to come by than your own (you see this with I.T. sometimes).

        2. Colette*

          Well, if you don’t believe the pay is sufficient, you don’t have to take a management role.

          Think about fast food – a shift manager might be making a dollar an hour more than the people they’re managing. In industries where the market has change, the manager might be making a fair, market wage, but be managing people still making inflated pre-crash wages.

          1. The Intern*

            Yes, but I felt I couldn’t pass up the experience. I really am learning a lot. It may be difficult to move to my next job because of my title, but I will have this job’s experiences to draw on for better handling situations in the future.

  5. Jillociraptor*

    Why in the world would a company prohibit letters of recommendation or references from direct supervisors?

    OP, everything about your letter bums me out because you seem like a really driven and talented person and they just do not have your back!

      1. Mike C.*

        Which almost never happens and are easily dismissed with anti-SLAPP laws. You only get in trouble when you actively defame someone. So as long as you can trust your management not to do that, you’re fine. Otherwise you’re being a petty, paranoid jerk who is only interested in punishing people who leave your workplace.

        1. RVA Cat*

          This. They seem to think of their employees/interns as peasants who don’t have the right to move on.

        2. Natalie*

          A letter would be even more lawsuit proof than a reference call. It’s literally written evidence that you did or did not defame anyone.

      2. fposte*

        Which is foolish, because it doesn’t prevent lawsuits being filed by nutcases anyway. It’s also really hard to win such a lawsuit, because defamation generally requires falsehood, and many states provide employers with qualified immunity.

      3. Former Usher*

        The HR director at my former employer had the same policy. When I pointed out that they required five(!)references, she suggested that employees use their performance reviews as references. Neither of my managers ever gave me a performance review.

        1. AnonaMoose*

          I’ve never heard of this as a strategy. And go you (!) for pointing out the irony of their policy. Idiots.

    1. Sheepla*

      My former company had this policy as well and I can tell you that all of us who were managers just ignored it and gave direct references anyway (it was a HUGE company).

      1. AnonAnalyst*

        This was how things worked in my last company as well, although it was a pretty small company. Essentially, all the policy was really used for was avoiding giving a (usually negative) reference if a manager didn’t want to do it; then they would cite the policy and apologize that they are prohibited from providing additional information. Otherwise, the managers all provided direct references, often with the full knowledge and blessing of our HR and company heads.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        That’s been my experience with companies that have those policies too; I’ve been able to get plenty of references from then. It’s often only HR that sticks to the policy.

    2. BRR*

      CYA move.

      Alison has a post about how to get around it. It’s essentially “I want to tell you that Jane was one of the best employees I ever had, however my company policy prevents me from saying that to you.”

  6. Observer*

    You need to insist on the title change. And as soon as that’s done, start looking as hard as you can. The level of mismanagement here means that your job is totally at risk. Either the place is going to fold or new management is going to com in. Anyone with a shred of competence is going to look at “intern managing 8 people” and put a stop to this immediately.

    Just and FYI, what they are doing to you is almost certainly illegal.

    1. Bend & Snap*

      How would it be illegal? It’s crappy, but I don’t see how it wouldn’t be legal.

      1. VintageLydia USA*

        If she’s paid over minimum wage, especially if she’s not working overtime and is able to log ALL her hours, including emails and phone calls outside of office hours, it probably wouldn’t be. But a lot of internships are either unpaid, or paid via small stipend or very low pay, in which case this is very illegal.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          She says above though that she’s earning more than she could elsewhere, which says it’s at least above minimum wage. It’s possible there’s an overtime issue, but that’s not anywhere in the letter.

          1. Observer*

            That response came in after I wrote my comment. And, yes, it definitely changes the issue of legality.

            I still stand by the issue of incompetence.

      1. Observer*

        The original letter does not indicate that the OP is being paid. (I just checked the timestamps – I posted about 20 minutes before the OP, so it’s no wonder people are seeing my post after hers.)

      2. BRR*

        There could be an exempt/non-exempt thing but from what I have learned here that happens a lot.

    2. CAA*

      What about this would be illegal? She said she’s getting paid, so she must be at least getting minimum wage. There’s no law that says managers have to be exempt or have to be paid more than the people who work for them or more than minimum wage.

      1. LBK*

        Supervisory duties are one of the main factors in determining exemption status, actually. I’m not sure how you could have someone truly managing a department (hiring/firing, performance management, making major decisions) without them qualifying as exempt.

        1. CAA*

          But nobody job required to be classified as exempt. You can be a CEO and get paid hourly. Companies usually want to classify people as exempt because of the savings and flexibility it gives them, but they don’t have to do it.

          1. LBK*

            Salaried/hourly aren’t the same as exempt/non-exempt, although they’re usually tied for payroll convenience. But the guidelines for exemption are laid out by the FLSA. Companies don’t get to choose whether you’re exempt or not.

            1. Lionness*

              A company does not have to classify you as exempt even if you qualify. The reverse, however, is not true. You can be exempt and be classified by your company as non-exempt (although why they would do this is beyond me!) but you cannot be non-exempt but classified by your company as exempt (this is far more common and very illegal).

            2. mskyle*

              I think you’ve got it backwards – companies are not allowed to decide whether you’re *non-exempt* or not. It doesn’t go both ways. Managerial status is a factor in determining whether someone is *allowed* to be considered exempt.

              I’m not in HR or employment law but it’s my understanding that no one has to be classified exempt; many people *do* need to be classified as non-exempt.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                That’s correct. If an employee qualifies under the law to be treated as exempt but the company chooses to pay them hourly and with overtime eligibility, that’s allowed. You just can’t take away the overtime pay of someone who’s entitled to it under the law, nor can you treat someone as exempt most of the time but then pay them hourly in pay periods where that would be cheaper for you.

          2. Oryx*

            As LBK said, you’re talking about two different things.

            Certain jobs DO require to be classified as exempt.

            1. Elsajeni*

              But you can work a job that’s classified as exempt (passes the tests of supervisory responsibilities, pay over the minimum threshold, etc.) and still be “treated as non-exempt” in the sense that you track your hours and are paid extra for overtime. There’s never a case where the law requires an employer to not pay for overtime, which is what “required to be classified as exempt” suggests.

  7. Mike C.*

    OP, do you work >40 hrs/week ? Are you paid overtime in those situations?

    Also, I’m seeing more and more companies with these asinine reference policies. T-Mobile does this, and they will punish managers that are caught. It’s complete bullshit.

    1. The Intern*

      In case you didn’t see the above comment, I do work overtime when needed, but it is optional and I am compensated accordingly.

  8. Erin*

    This reminds me of admin jobs I currently hold and have held in the past where I wore so many other hats. It’s frustrating and does reflect poorly on your resume. I agree though that you should not lie about your title.

    Please do speak up. You’re not out of line. It’s a very reasonable request. If they say no, start looking for another job/internship. I say this not just because of the title thing, but the other red flags Alison mentioned.

    So worst case scenario: they refuse, you continue on as as normal, and apply elsewhere. In your resume, under your stupid intern title here, list how many people your directly managed as your very first bullet point.

    1. Seconded*

      Yeah, me too. This whole discussion makes me wish I’d pushed back when it was happening to me, too. Now, I have to explain to people that although I was technically a Teapot Merchandiser, I became The Person We Call When We Need Help With Anything Teapot-Related. I wish I’d known back then exactly how much of a bargain they were really getting at like $7. an hour… I guess the best I can do now is to not make the same mistake going forward.

        1. Seconded*

          Thanks! Yes… yes it did. Retail, go figure. It was a sinking ship that sunk months after I left. All noted on resume. The added crazy became carefully worded bullet points. Hoping it helps more than it hurts.

  9. Math Guy*

    I’m in the exact same situation as an intern working under a principal engineer/engineering manager. I’ve taken on a lot of project management and even led a few meetings where I was much more in the know than the engineers who make much more than my $10.00 an hour.

    1. Laurel Gray*

      Math Guy, do you have plans on taking the PMP? If so, I would start logging these hours and projects toward the requirement needed for the PMP exam. And making $10 an hour working under an engineer should be criminal, I wish you luck!!!

      1. Math Guy*

        I actually have over 9000hrs of PM experience from the navy. Additionally, I have accumulated roughly 750 of PM experience. I plan on taking a PM class or two for the requirements, and will take the exam. Yeah, $10.00/hr as an electrochemical engineering intern for a major supplier to aircraft manufactures is a crime. I’ve been tying like mad to get a better job for a year now. But at least I’m gaining a lot of experience that everybody must have these days.

        1. RG*

          WHAT? Dude, you are absolutely right – there is no way you should be getting paid only $10/hour.

        2. BananaPants*

          Dude, as an engineering major doing internships 15 years ago I earned $13+/hour. You can get $10/hour working at a big box retail store!

          1. Anx*

            I know quite a few people doing more technically skilled work for about $10 an hour instead of working in retail for several reasons:

            -It can be more difficult to land a retail job these days
            -Hope that they can transition to a job where they’d make more money eventually
            -More job satisfaction

            I think the part that stinks is having so much more experience and still working at $10, plus doing so much management work.

  10. Kiki*

    A company that allows an intern to manage eight people sounds like a hot mess to me. I’d start actively looking for a new job — you have plenty of experience. When the interviewer inevitably questions the intern/manager thing, be prepared to make that a talking point. (this is why I am looking for a new job, here’s what my experience taught me, yadda yadda).

  11. CAA*

    When you say you’re managing the people, can you clarify that a bit? I assume you are assigning projects to them and reviewing their work and possibly doing a schedule if that’s relevant; but are you also responsible for hiring and firing, performance evals, salary increases, coaching and mentoring for career development?

    If it’s more the former, and they don’t want to give you a Manager title, you could ask for a Lead or Supervisor title. If necessary, you could even put a bullet under the Intern title that says you took on a lead role where you did x, y and z. I don’t think that’s unbelievable for a good intern.

    1. Erin*


      I totally agree the title doesn’t necessarily have to have “manager” in there, but for heavens sake something other than “intern.”

      “Took on a lead role” would be a great phrase to use.

    2. The Intern*

      Yes, I am in charge of creating a schedule that fits the goals of our individual team, paralells goals of sister teams, and fits into the overall goals of the project.

      I report to a supervisor, and do not have ability to fire people.

      I do actively mentor people on the team, though not necessarily in the way you expect. I’m involved with tech, and much of the team is still learning the more current workflows/practices. It is one of the reasons I was chosen for this role. Outside of task managing, my primary function is to ensure the team has everything they need to get their jobs done. In most cases, knowledge and information is the largest blocker, so I am a also a teacher/mentor.

      1. anonwithoutaname*

        That….actually doesn’t sound at all like managing 8 people to me. It sounds more like an assistant role.

        1. The Intern*

          I apologize if the word choice was misleading, at my company those words are used for my current role.

          1. Another HRPro*

            Do you do performance management? Give evaluations? Have compensation and performance conversations? Do they formally have you listed as their boss?

            If not, it sounds like you are a team lead. You may coordinate the work and provide guidance, but that does not necessarily make you a manager.

      2. CaliCali*

        This actually sounds like more of a team lead/project manager role, rather than a true managerial role. My title is “proposal manager” but no one technically reports to me; however, I do create project schedules, coach people on content, review people’s work, and hold them accountable to deadlines. But I don’t manage anyone’s overall performance — just performance on the proposals. I think in terms of titles, “intern” is wrong, but a general manager title isn’t right either.

      3. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Ah, okay, this changes things! It sounds like you’re not actually managing people (which normally means setting goals for their work, assessing performance, giving feedback, and hiring/firing). So this isn’t quite as outrageous, but you should still get a title change that reflects what you’re doing.

        1. The Intern*

          Sorry about the word choice! Yes, project management is an accurate name. My company uses lead roles interchangeably with management. Now I’m extra glad I brought this up! I will be more careful with word choice on my resume.

          1. Meg Murry*

            When I was managing projects but not people (because I was at a company with horrible management practices and I didn’t want to be responsible for enforcing their policies, I was specifically asked if I wanted to be promoted to a Group Leader position and I said no) I used the phrase

            “Performed the role of Project Manager for X projects, leading a team of 5 other [my role] and [next lower role]s to accomplish …”

            I was responsible for assigning tasks and making sure we met deadlines (and I contributed to the annual reviews as to how people performed on my projects), but if someone was having performance issues or wanted vacation time or FMLA that was my supervisor’s job.

            Are you actually telling people what to do or assigning tasks, or are you just there as the “if anyone has any questions or needs training, see The Intern first” – more a role of “most knowledgeable team member” than of an actual “Leader” ?

            1. The Intern*

              Performance issues are handled by my superior.

              While I am the “go to for information,” I am leading the team. I “tell them what to do.” That is the internal name discrepancy I mentioned. I lead team planning, direction, meetings, and communicate this information to leads on other teams, as well as higher ups. I am in the lead meetings to solve project-problems, etc.

      4. anonanonanon*

        This sounds a lot like the role of Project Coordinators at my company. They usually update schedules for larger projects or get trained on new programs first so they can answer questions from other team members. I wouldn’t exactly call that mentoring or managing, though.

  12. Adam V*

    Alison, I know normally companies want to talk to your past supervisors, to be able to talk about how you did – but in a case like this, would it make sense to also give them the names of some of your reports, so they can verify you were their manager? (This is assuming the OP doesn’t succeed in getting the title change; if they do, it’s moot.)

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think you could offer it if you sensed skepticism, but I wouldn’t go in on the defensive about it / assuming they’d need proof.

    2. TootsNYC*

      I think that’s a good idea. (I do know that some companies ask for subordinate references when they hire managers–one of my former bosses asked me to be a reference for her.)
      As a hiring manager, I’d be intrigued, and I’d probably call.
      Though, I’d be alert to the “I’m her friend, and I’ll fudge it” kind of thing, so credibility would be important. I’d pay more attention to someone not in the candidate’s age group, and of course to what that person said. So choose the person carefully with an eye to credibility.

      1. Jesse*

        Yeah, I’ve given a former subordinate as a reference, but she’s a seasoned professional who I was confident would give a solid reference (not just positive, but credible).

    3. MaryMary*

      I was thinking along this line too. Maybe OP could ask a lead on one of the other teams to provide a peer-level reference.

  13. Julia*

    Who would be willing to be managed by an intern? Who are these 8 people?

    I would assume they are lower level hourly workers? Are they high school students?

    I once got into the situation of managing high school students who were paid when I was a volunteer at an organization. It was very weird and eventually corrected when they hired someone to take over as a director of youth volunteers.

  14. Ad Astra*

    What is with these insane reference policies? It’s got to be so frustrating to put in years of work at a company and only have a completely neutral reference for your trouble. I’m lucky that when my last company laid me off, they laid off my manager, too, so he could still give me a good reference.

      1. Observer*

        Actually, this seems to be a stupid HR policy dictated by lawyers who don’t understand HR (including the needs of their own companies) and HR people who don’t know about employment law and relevant liability. So, the lawyers say “Don’t let anyone give references, good or bad. That’s the best way to protect themselves. There’s no downside.” And the HR people say “OOOH liability! No! It’s our job to protect the company from liability and the lawyers say we’ll be sued if we give references. We’d better go along.”

        1. Artemesia*

          And as someone else noted, these same dipsticks REQUIRE multiple references when they are the ones doing the hiring.

          1. Observer*

            Exactly – they are making a policy with absolutely no idea of what their own company does and requires.

          2. Anx*

            It’s kind of like companies that want entry level workers to have substantial internship experience, but don’t offer internship opportunities.

      2. Sunshine Brite*

        Agreed! I kind of like that the policy was in place during my last move because my manager and I left on negative terms. We had a difference in interpretation during a meeting which I thought was minor and wasn’t brought up again until my review which was a surprise to me. Then a few months later when I gave notice she started freezing me out of meetings, one where she asked me to leave at my end time even though my position could flex some more than others and the meeting with outside people wasn’t over yet and another internal meeting where she shut the door in my face after 2 of my coworkers entered. I can’t imagine what she would’ve told my current employers. She just didn’t like people who didn’t see that company as a forever job and has always had a reputation for being particularly hard on my position and one other.

  15. TootsNYC*

    Are you truly managing these people, or are you managing the workflow for a team of 8 people?

    Like, would you be the one to sit them down and say, “We need you to stop coming in late”? Would you do their review?

    1. anonanonanon*


      There’s a big difference between actually managing people and being in charge of delegating work or being responsible for deadlines and schedules.

      I think a title change is definitely needed, but if you’re supervising or leading people instead of managing, I’d ask for that to be put in your title instead. You may run into hiring managers who find it bizarre that your resume goes right from intern to manager. (Though, of course, if you are managing in the traditional sense, that’s a different story.)

  16. Not an IT Guy*

    OP, please take of this ASAP for your sake! Having an inaccurate title can be a career-killer no matter how stellar you are or the amount of responsibilities you may have handled.

  17. GlorifiedPlumber*

    Interesting, reaction to the situation seems pretty vitriolic as would be expected.

    I wonder what the OP’s estimation of salary difference is. Is being full time manager employee like… 20% more than intern? Or, is it like 3x Intern. If it is only a little bit more… it might quell the tempers a bit. A lot of folks won’t overlook a doubling or tripling of salary, but might if it is only 10% different or something. Other than that, I’d jump on the train, the company is taking advantage of OP based on the way information was presented.

    It is funny how big of a gap their can be when discussing interns, normal employees, and managers. Our fresh hires are probably 75% higher than Intern salary (versus other engineering firms or manufacturers who are smart and pay their interns darn near full time salary), but our manager salaries are likely on par with technical experience of the same experience level.

    Our manager, by far, is not the highest paid person in the department, in fact she is probably middle of the road as she is only middle of the road experience wise.

    Interesting, I look forward to a follow up! :)

    1. The Intern*

      At my company, there roughly a 30% difference in my pay from what someone at regular entry level is paid, and a little over 50% difference from what someone in my role would currently be paid.

  18. OriginalEmma*

    This sounds so ridiculously illegal. Aren’t there laws against using interns in place of employees?!

  19. Tomato Frog*

    I’m always a bit thrown by conversations on this site regarding using your official title on your resume, because I have never done so. My official HR titles have been things like “Specialist” or “Clerk 3” or “Storekeeper” (!). I always used an informal title that actually reflected my duties in a meaningful way, with my manger’s approval. Many of my peers, and even some of my managers, have done the same. I’ve only worked at libraries and universities, and in non-management positions, for what it’s worth.

    I do understand why the OP is nervous, and I do think she should push for the official change, but if it had been me in her shoes I wouldn’t think twice about using the informal title on my resume, and I’d just make my first bullet point something like “Hired as intern and given expanded duties after 3 months…”

    1. Jem*

      Same here. I work at a university and my title is Administrative Assistant which covers maybe a quarter of the work I actually do. I feel like I shouldn’t speak up though because there are many other people in the same situation so I guess that’s just how it’s done here. But I hate that people might look at my title when I’m job hunting in the future and think $10/hr.

    2. Sue Wilson*

      I think the problem is that neither HR nor management will verify that informal title when called for a reference.

    3. Titles*

      I was reading over the archives, as well as the two books Allison has published. Somewhere, in one of those places, there was a reference to this.

      I’ve been working my resume based on that advice, so I have: Official Title (Nickname everyone called my job in parentheses). Reason being, the official title really only had to do with HR/ pay grades, and the older/nickname title had been around for ages. Most people were either unaware of the change or just used the old title out of habit. I’m just trying to buffer myself for those reference calls if someone uses the older/less impressive sounding title.

      1. TootsNYC*

        If the OP can’t get a title change to reflect the team lead / project management aspect, this parenthetical nickname thing is what I’d suggest.

        Date Company XYZ, Intern (eventually assuming Team Leader role)

        And play with the bullet points so they indicate some level of progression as well. That might indicate to a resumé reader that the Intern is aware of what true “intern level” tasks would be, and isn’t just rounding -everything- up to look more impressive.
        It would make the “team lead” tasks more credible.

  20. CompGirl*

    Not that you’d want to lose overtime, but if you are truly *managing* 8 people, that may jeopardize the exemption status of the other managers/supervisors at the company, if you are doing equivalent work as others but they are salaried (exempt) and you are paid hourly (non-exempt).

  21. The Intern*

    Thank you, everyone! A special thank you to Alison for the advice.
    I had a feeling before writing to you that I would have to request a formal title change, but the advice here was very helpful in framing the information I presented.

    I was able to talk to my boss today and expressed these concerns, asking not for a raise, but a title change.
    He was really understanding about it and said he’s not sure how that would work exactly, since normally our company changes pay with title. However, he really wants me to get credit for the work I’m doing (he told me I make his job way easier, ha) so he requested the change with the overall project lead to see if they can make it happen. He said he can’t promise anything, but he was very sincere in trying.

    He also offered me a personalized letter of recommendation!!!! I didn’t even ask. He really doesn’t want to see higher-management’s mistakes screw over hard working employees, so he is allowing me to use him as a direct reference to vouch for the work I did (provided I do not tell any of my co-workers or let HR find out). Sadly, he was also very honest and told me he doesn’t think upper-management will open up the budget anyyyyyytime soon, so it looks like I will be applying to places in the very near future.

    So for now I will wait to see what happens with the title, but at the very least I am relieved my boss will vouch for me (whether or not I have to put “intern” on my resume). I doubt I’ll have an update about that in the next week…

  22. The Intern*

    So, they tried to get the title changed, but unfortunately, if they drop the “intern” from the title, they must give me the same pay and benefits as others on that “level”

    So unfortunately, my title cannot be changed. :(

    My boss says to go ahead and put the new title anyways, and he will explain the hiring freeze and that being why my title change didn’t go through….but if they call HR it will still be intern….any advice on this?

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