our intern is driving everyone crazy!

With summer internship season in full swing, you might be thrilled with your office’s crop of interns – or you might be counting down the days until summer ends and they return to school.

If you’re finding yourself aggravated by interns who are unprofessional or don’t know work norms yet, remember that you once didn’t know these things either. After all,  part of the point of an internship is to start getting experience in how an office works, and that it’s normal for things that seem obvious to you not to be obvious to interns. That’s part of the price you pay for hiring really cheap labor; you get to teach it to them!

Here are three of the most common difficulties you might encounter with your office’s interns and what you can do in response.

1. Interns who chafe at doing low-level work. Most interns understand that they won’t be coming in at a senior level, and that they’ll be doing relatively low-level work, at least until they prove themselves. But occasionally you’ll encounter an intern who seems to expect to be doing glamorous, high-profile work and who seems put out when asked to file or do basic computer work.

What to do: Address it head-on. Say something like this to the intern: “I’ve noticed that you seem disappointed in some of the work that we’re giving you. The reality is, when you start as an intern, you haven’t proven yourself in the work world yet, so you’re given pretty low-risk assignments. But if you do a great job on this stuff – pay attention to detail, follow instructions, and care about quality – that’s how you start to build your reputation and eventually get trusted with more interesting work. Let’s plan to check in a few weeks from now and see how things are going, and we can talk then about additional projects you might be able to work on.”

2. Interns who don’t know professional norms. Interns who don’t know how to operate in an office can be disruptive – stories abound of summer interns singing loudly as they walk through the hallways, texting during meetings, interrupting colleagues, and generally not quite understanding how office life works.

What to do: Remember that one of the biggest goals of interning is to learn this kind of thing! We all had to learn it at some point, after all, and better to learn it during an internship than during a full-time job after graduation. As the intern’s manager, it falls to you to give direct feedback when you spot things like this.

In some cases, you can be very straightforward: “Please don’t text in meetings; we’re all expected to pay attention and be engaged with the conversation” or “Please don’t sing in the hallways, since it’s distracting.” In other cases, it might take more nuanced coaching: “I want to talk with you about some things I’ve noticed about your approach with me and other coworkers. I’m sure you don’t intend this, but you sometimes come across as very abrupt in your questions and requests. Saying please and thank you and acknowledging when you’re asking someone to you a favor or to do something that might be inconvenient will make people more receptive to helping you. For example, when you asked Jane to find a file for you, you sent her a message that simply said, ‘find me the Jones file.’ Most people don’t like that level of abruptness from their manager or a peer, let alone someone they’re senior to.”

3. Interns who dress unprofessionally. Whether it’s flip flops, overly short skirts, or sweatpants, interns who haven’t quite grasped the office dress code yet are a pretty routine element of most internship programs.

What to do: Again, remember that if you’re the intern’s manager, this is part of your job to address. The best thing to do is to talk with the person privately and say something like, “I want to mention something that has nothing to do with your work, but is important. In our environment, we can’t wear skirts quite that short. Generally you need to stick with knee-length.” (Try to have this conversation toward the end of the day, so that the person isn’t stuck there the whole day feeling embarrassed but unable to do anything about it.)

And if you’re willing and you sense that the person would be receptive to advice, you could say something like, “I know that it can be tricky when you’re just starting out in your career to figure out what is and isn’t appropriate for the office, especially on an intern’s salary. When I was in your shoes, here’s what I found worked…”

With this and any other tough feedback conversation, if your tone is “I think you’re great and I want to see you succeed,” your message will probably be easier for your intern to hear.

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 317 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    Figured I’d put this up here too to make sure that people see it: I may use some of the intern stories being shared here in a future post. If you don’t want me to use yours, just note that when you comment!

  2. Allison*

    This! So much this! I know that, to many people, things like dressing professionally, coming in on time, and not texting in meetings is common sense and no manager should even *have* to address them. And that’s true, to an extent; I would expect that a college student would understand that they need to be at work when they’re told to be at work, that they need to pay attention in meetings, adhere to the dress code, do the work they’re given quietly and in a timely manner, etc. BUT if that college student didn’t know these expectations, or did kinda know them but wanted to see what they could get away with, I wouldn’t hesitate to say something while the problem is in its infancy and can be easily corrected.

    But here’s the thing, office norms are changing – fast! Workplaces are becoming more flexible, many places are lax about cell phone use, and in many places dress codes aren’t nearly as stuffy and conservative as they used to be. I’m not saying this to mean “there are no rules anymore, let the kids run wild, wooooo!” but I think a lot of young people can’t be expected to “just know” what the rules are. They need to be told what the rules are, as redundant and silly as that seems.

    1. Violetta*

      Or they think they ‘just know’ but really they’re going by what they’ve seen on TV (oh, no, I definitely didn’t spend my first year in ‘business casual’ wear that only the cast of Friends would have considered appropriate to wear to work)

      1. some1*

        Yeah, I definitely think the dress code standards should be given to all the interns before they start or on the first day – business casual doesn’t mean much if you have never worked in an office before, and it can vary from office to office.

        1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

          This! We ended up creating a manual with pictures because “business casual” can mean something different at every company.

          And a lot of time students don’t understand why something that was school/class appropriate might not be work appropriate. One of my favorite interns showed up in her outfit that she had worn for Panhellenic Board meetings (Blazer with blouse and leggings) and didn’t understand why my boss sent her home to change :(

          1. Tara*

            My job is 100% leggings friendly! I was the one showing up in business casual every day as everyone else dressed in school clothes until I gave in because I just looked so out of sync with the culture.

          2. Today's Satan*

            Hoo-boy, this brings back memories. Still in my 20’s, but old enough to know better, I started wearing leggings with a blazer to work. And not just black or navy leggings, but crazy-print, brightly colored leggings. I worked for the male owners of the company, and it was a really awkward day when they sat me down and told me I’d have to wear “normal pants” to work henceforth.

      2. anonanonanon*

        Honestly, I think the “what they’ve seen on TV” applies to most situations from high school through your mid-twenties for a lot of people. Which is unfortunate because events on TV are obviously exaggerated and unrealistic….like people who are laid off from a job and suddenly broke but can still afford a ridiculously large 2 bedroom apartment in downtown NY. Or, you know, all your friends going to the same college as you.

        I’m always bemused by people who model their lives after what they’ve seen on TV shows.

        1. Muriel Heslop*

          You mean, when I bought suits with mini-skirts because Amanda Woodward on Melrose Place wore them…?
          My poor office manager. She handled that conversation really well.

            1. KJR*

              TOTALLY off topic, but I used to loooove Melrose Place (the original one). Watched it every week, taped it on the VCR when I had to miss. Was really psyched for the Season finale, which took place on 5/24/99, from 8-9pm. Wouldn’t you know my son was born at 9:02?? There was no TV watching from 8-9. Luckily someone taped it for me.

              1. bridget*

                I hope you frequently remind your now 16-year-old about the significant sacrifice you made on his behalf that night :)

                1. KJR*

                  Oh I do Bridget!! However, I get no sympathy whatsoever. Perhaps I should liken it to his missing a Chelsea match!

        2. Koko*

          When I re-watched The Office last year, the one thing that stood out is I was horrified at how overly-involved the office workers were in each other’s personal lives. When I first watched it as a student, that level of enmeshment seemed normal measured against the yardstick of my college friendships.

          Stanley seemed like such a curmudgeon the first time around for never wanting to have any fun or participate in any outings and the like, but the second time around, I remember constantly thinking, “Stanley is the only employee in this office with reasonable boundaries!”

          1. Ad Astra*

            The Office is a great example of that, but I think any TV show set in some kind of workplace (Grey’s Anatomy, Ally McBeal, Parks & Rec) has characters who are way too involved in their coworkers’ lives. I was a little bit bummed when I started my first job out of college and realized none of my coworkers would become my best friends, but now I’m glad to have a buffer between work and home.

            1. Koko*

              Ally McBeal gets a semi-pass since the backstory was that they were all college friends before working together, but you’re right about the others for sure!

              A common scenario on a lot of these workplace sitcoms will be that one of the workers is trying to cajole her coworkers into attending a function of some kind – a gallery featuring their work or them as a subject, a birthday party, a volunteer event they’re organizing, etc. It never occurred to me before I started working how weird it was that inevitably it’s a scenario where if the coworkers don’t come, nobody comes! So it’s not just that they’re overly-involved in each other’s lives, but also – where are their real friends? Where are the relationships outside of work, the people you can actually expect to come to your improv performance? (I realize this is probably as much a function of the fact that it’s logistically difficult to cast a whole second tier of actors to appear infrequently but consistently in bit parts as “friends of the main cast, who they presumably spend time with outside of work, which scenes are rarely if ever shown on camera.”)

              1. Honeybee*

                That’s one of the reasons I stopped watching The Mindy Project – Mindy had this whole vibrant life outside of work and then suddenly halfway through the first season they axed all her college friends and the entire comedy began revolving around hijinks at the office. It was weird because the show was originally marketed as a 30-something doctor who was trying to figure out her love life.

              2. Cath in Canada*

                Right, like every time they had a party on Friends I would think “these guys have other friends?! Why do they never show them outside of party scenes?”

                1. Collarbone High*

                  It’s especially weird when it’s like the 9th season and suddenly there’s a guest star who’s supposed to be one of the main characters’ best friends, but we’ve never seen or heard mentioned before, and never will again.

              3. Three Thousand*

                Yeah, for a sitcom ensemble you can’t just have them dating people outside of work or spending most of their time with non-work friends like real people would do. It wouldn’t work as a sitcom.

                The nice thing about The Office was that it started out naturalistically, with most of the employees not having much to do with each other outside of work, so that Michael’s constant neediness made him stand out among everyone else who just wanted to go home to live their real lives. Over the years the show basically collapsed into a standard sitcom, where there was no awareness of any character existing outside the office or having any relationships except with each other.

            2. Allison*

              I’ve been in workplaces where people do have close work friendships, and people party together after hours, there are cliques, people date each other, people befriend their bosses, it was like I was still in college and it sucked, because I didn’t connect with anyone! Which may be part of why they managed me out. I’ve also been at companies where people chat at work, people might befriend each other on Facebook, but most people don’t develop super close friendships with their coworkers. I like this better, no pressure to get buddy-buddy with anyone and less guilt for having a life outside of work.

              1. Vanishing Girl*

                Me too! Personal lives are just hinted at slightly, but the work take center stage.

              2. Honeybee*

                And that’s why I’ve kind of fallen off the SVU bandwagon. It was my favorite show for years and I can still watch a marathon of the old episodes all day long on USA, but the newer seasons have focused far too much on the personal lives of the detectives and I simply do not care enough about them, not even Benson.

                1. Gene*

                  I’ve been trying to define why I just decided I didn’t want to watch that show anymore. I think this hit it on the head.


                2. A Dispatcher*

                  YES! My sister and I remark on that all the time – that every other episode these days seems to involve some sort of personal drama with one of the detectives. Once in a blue moon was fine, now it’s just exhausting.

            3. Anx*

              I think I give Scrubs a pass because (like Grey’s) many of the main characters are still students in a way. Also, two of the characters lived together.

          2. Honeybee*

            I watched The Office much later than everyone else – I was in graduate school, and my mid-20s, and I just remember thinking how much I identified with Stanley. I was rooting for him to get a new job!

          3. Blue Anne*

            Yeah…. I think I seem like a real curmudgeon in my office because we work by hiring a crop of 8-10 new graduates each year. So everyone starts at the same time, has just come straight out of college and is used to partying, this is their first workplace and they don’t have much to compare it to other than TV, etc.

            Whereas when I started I had actually graduated a couple of years before, had been working in a small office and gotten married during that time. So I’m really not up for being facebook friends with everyone or going out binge drinking or… etc etc. Argh.

      3. Allison*

        A lot of my wardrobe blunders, from my first co-op interviews to my first internships, into my first job, had a lot to do with the fact that I just didn’t have a lot of work clothes to start off with. I’ve worn a lot of stuff I knew wasn’t perfect for work, but tried to get away with anyway because that’s what I had. A few years out of college, I do have enough decent outfits, as long as I keep up with the laundry!

        And a lot of my initial purchases turned out to be super dumb. Lots of skirts that were too short and tops that were too tight. And a really cute dress that barely fit in college, but hasn’t fit at all since graduation. Why did I buy those??

        1. T3k*

          Hehe, during college (and really, still today) I’m adamant about not wanting to dress formally, but we were required to get something formal for some college interviews. I ended up buying this suit jacket that looked more like a motorcycle jacket with the asymmetrical zipper (I swear, they had it over in the suit jackets section!) I never ended up wearing it though as, by the time the interviews came around the weather had warmed up and all the girls could get away with just wearing nice top/skirts/trousers.

          1. Allison*

            In my co-op preparation class, we had a male advisor tell us that women could wear “a nice blouse with a skirt or slacks.” Okaaay, but what else? It was winter, and it was freezing! I didn’t even think about what I’d wear over my “nice blouse” or what sort of coat I might need. Did I wear just anything and take it off for the interview? Was a sweater okay? Cardigan? Did it need to be a blazer? I didn’t even really know what a blazer was! I didn’t really own any nice sweaters or cardigans yet, so it didn’t occur to me to get something like that.

            1. Blue Anne*

              When I worked at a little tech company we used to get people turning up for developer interviews in slacks, a button-up shirt, and over it… a zip up hoodie. It was the “Look I just want to be a codemonkey but I will observe this norm, grudgingly, to the minimum standard” uniform. (Those guys were almost always hired over the ones who turned up in full suits.)

        2. NacSacJack*

          I had no idea what to wear to work at my first job. I wore what I wore to work for my internship – khaki’s and button down shirts with ties. I have to have custom-fitted shirts. I absolutely cannot buy off the rack. They sat me down a month or two after I started and said, you need to be more professional and I was like “Huh?”. They had to tell me go out and buy dress clothes and a couple suits. $1000 later… This is something parents should help their kids with, but my parents were govt employees. Dad wore jeans to work in the 90s.

          1. Amy*

            Why should parents help their kids with this? Unless you mean theyy should help you by telling you that you need to put away some money out of your paycheck each pay period to buy appropriate clothing for the culture of the company. Yes, I suppose parents should tell their adult children that if they don’t figure it out on their own. If you’re hinting parents should be paying for your grown-up needs, um no. You’re an adult. Time to make some sacrifices and buy grown up things, like your own clothing.

        3. Ad Astra*

          The dress code for my sorority’s weekly meetings was technically “business professional,” and even though we got away with a lot of things that wouldn’t fly in a bank or a law firm, I had a small but respectable professional wardrobe when I graduated from college.

          But my first jobs out of college were in newsrooms (completely invisible to outsiders and executives), which ended up eroding my professional wardrobe. Nobody wore heels or blazers or dress pants except sometimes the editor in chief. One of my coworkers frequently wore jorts and T-shirts with dumb sayings on them like “Without me it’s just AWESO” and “I’m here! What were your other two wishes?”

          So building up a wardrobe for my new business professional office has felt like college all over again. But with slightly better judgment.

          1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

            I am very grateful I went through a crazy Southern rush! Thanks to the attire list they sent home, I ended up with my first suit, first black sheath dress, and nice dress pants.

            At the time I thought it was a bit crazy (and my mother wasn’t thrilled with the cost) but my sorority days really helped me build a nice basic wardrobe.

        4. SevenSixOne*

          I think a lot of business casual guides aren’t helpful because they assume you have the body of a fashion model! What looks fine on the “ideal” body doesn’t always look appropriately professional (or even EXIST) for someone with a different body type.

      4. Vicki*

        >> ” I definitely didn’t spend my first year in ‘business casual’ wear that only the cast of Friends would have considered appropriate to wear to work”

        Whereas I did. :-)

        1. Anx*

          This is really getting off topic, but I cannot for the life of me figure out how Phoebe’s hair is so magical. I’m sure a lot of it is just Lisa Kudrow having really straight, thick hair…but the way it fans out of her updos so perfectly and straight is just….wow.

          1. JBinNC*

            She really did have beautiful hair that seemed to do whatever they wanted it to. I was very envious.

      5. Honeybee*

        I remember watching Ally McBeal as a kid with my mom, and my mom mentioning to me more than once that I couldn’t dress like that at work and nobody actually wears skirts that short at office jobs. I mean, she was supposed to be working at a top Boston law firm, which is one of the most conservative workplaces!

      6. Windchime*

        Yeah, if I went by TV to tell me what to wear to work, I’d be wearing skin-tight pencil skirts and blouses unbuttoned to show several inches of cleavage. Fortunately, I looked around the office instead and wear casual pants/jeans and a nice (non-cleavage baring) top instead. Sometimes I shake things up with a cardigan.

      7. Connie-Lynne*

        Oh my god the outfits I wore as a secretary (in aerospace! Which is stodgy!) in the 80s.

    2. Ad Astra*

      I finished your first paragraph and started typing up a “Hey, standards are changing” response… and then I noticed you covered that too. Many smaller offices don’t have a lot of formalized policies, which can make things like cellphone/internet use and appropriate dress even harder to figure out when you’re new to that company and professional world. Guidance goes such a long way.

      1. S*

        Especially when you go from corporate consulting in a very stuffy city, to a tech firm in Silicon Valley, to small non-profits like I did… 3 very different set of office norms and cultural standards!

    3. Graciosa*

      They do need to be told, but I think it’s also helpful to coach them on how to observe.

      “You may have noticed that Operations Executive checked his phone frequently during the meeting today, and assumed it was okay to check yours as well. That really wasn’t the case here. Operations Executive was dealing with the impact of a fire in our Offshore Factory, and the other VPs in the meeting knew that. Still, the other VPs not directly involved in that crisis felt the meeting was important enough to set their phones aside and give the topic their full attention.

      In the future, that should be your default assumption unless you see that a majority of the more senior participants in the meeting and those at your equivalent level have both concluded that some level of checking your phone is within the normal expectations of the group.”

      Stating the norms is helpful – but teaching an individual how to discover the norms can help them in their next position when the expectations are not stated as clearly.

      1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

        “Stating the norms is helpful – but teaching an individual how to discover the norms can help them in their next position when the expectations are not stated as clearly.”

        Yes! This is so important. We often get a lot of push back that “those millennials” sure do “ask a lot of questions.” Being able to answer the why and give them context helps interns (and really any of us) move forward.

    4. Tau*

      Honestly, if you’re inexperienced it can even be hard to interpret explicit dress codes? I’ve just started my first ever office job and even with the dress code I’m struggling to figure out what short-sleeved tops are appropriate to wear. A little “this shirt is too casual for the office, this one is on the formal side, that one is perfect” (Goldilocks, the internship…) can go a long way.

      1. Allison*

        Seriously, not to mention there’s sometimes a big difference between what’s stated in the dress code (or rulebook in general) and the actual norms of the office. It takes time to figure out which rules are actively enforced, which rules are ignored, and which rules are only trotted out when an employee is way out of line.

        1. BananaPants*

          Yes. My office dress code doesn’t forbid a sleeveless top or dress, for example (just spaghetti-strap or halter styles) but it doesn’t stop the self-appointed Dress Code Police from reporting to HR any woman who dares to wear a sleeveless top or dress.

          Let’s not get started on the Great Peep Toe Shoe Debate of 2011.

          1. Allison*

            My first job had a dress code that said “no tank tops,” but I wasn’t sure if that just meant no “tank tops” or if sleeveless tops in general were forbidden. I know now that sleeves are pretty much always better than no sleeves.

            And gyahh, the comment “that’s a cute dress, Allison” would have me spending the rest of the day wondering what they really meant. Did they just mean they liked my dress? Or were they trying to communicate that they noticed what I was wearing, in case I thought I could fly under the radar and get away with it. And was cute good, or did “cute” mean “not professional”?? The tone was always super weird and not genuine at all.

            1. Tau*

              Mine says “no non-collared T-shirts”, and I’m wondering if my definition of T-shirt (“anything short-sleeved that does not have buttons down the front”, basically) is in fact their definition of T-shirt because I’ve seen some tops I’d call a T-shirt that I’d call at least as formal as a polo shirt.

              Or maybe I’m just searching for loopholes because I really truly hate having to wear shirts-with-buttons, it’s almost impossible to find ones that fit and I spend half the day paranoid something is gaping and people can see my bra if they look at me from the side. :/

              1. ineloquent*

                I wear tank tops under my botton ups – it really helps with the visible bra issue.

              2. Intrepid Intern*

                FWIW, I sew my button-up shirts closed except for the top 3-ish buttons, then treat them as pull over shirts. But stealth pull-overs that look dressy! I’ve found it works better with flowy-er, blouse-ier button-ups, though.

              3. GOG11*

                I don’t wear button-down shirts as they either always fit in the waist and gape really horribly in the bust or I’m swimming in them at the waist but the bust area is OK. I was recently told that double-sided fashion tape at the area prone to gaping would fix that. I still don’t have a dress shirt (it was at Saks that I learned this, and the shirt in question was like $200) but if I get one I’m going to get some of that tape along with it.

            2. Connie-Lynne*

              It doesn’t help that these dress codes are often written by people who have no concept as to what, exactly, women’s clothing is called.

              For example, I wore silk shells underneath blazers at one position and was called out for a violation of the “no T-shirts” dress code. “This isn’t a T-shirt! It’s silk!” “It is T-shirt shaped and looks unprofessional.” That place was so weird. My very professional women’s suits were out due to the T-shirt shape of most of my tops with them, but my slouchy lounge-around-the-house stretch pants were fine (if paired with an acceptable top) because nothing called out “knit pants” as verboten.

          2. Sara*

            My youngish supervisor for one internship got so annoyed with me for asking about peep toe shoes. The answer ended up being “Yes, they are acceptable,” but she also added “Sara, please use your judgement appropriately.” The handbook said no open-toed shoes though, so I don’t think it was a totally ridiculous question to ask!

        2. rr*

          Oh man, my internship in grad school. I took the dress code seriously, wore basically the same 5 outfits on repeat (they were not paying me enough for me to get a new warddrobe) and then was DRIVEN ABSOLUTELY NUTS by what everyone else was wearing. I’d e-mail my older sister being like “so I’m wearing a nice blouse and dockers, and that guy over there is wearing a Hawaiian shirt and shorts, help panic help what’s going on”. There were times I was dressed the nicest in the office. Because I was following the dress code and *no one else was*.
          …someone probably should have taken me to the side and said “it’s okay, we aren’t forward-facing, it’s okay to wear jeans”.

          1. the_scientist*

            This happened to me, too, at a co-op position. the company was used to getting lots of students and they prepared very comprehensive material that we got before starting that clearly detailed a business casual dress code, with examples of what was and wasn’t okay. That part was actually great! So I spent a fair bit of money on new clothing (I had zero pairs of non-jean pants) and then when I started, discovered that a lot of my coworkers wore sweatpants. The disconnect was that the orientation material was given to ALL students, in all functions at the company, and I was working in a laboratory, with zero external interaction, so nobody really cared what we wore. I was often the best-dressed in the lab, and it was awkward.

          2. Honeybee*

            This happened to me too. I had an internship in graduate school and I was consistently one of the nicest-dressed people in the office. One of the people in my unit actually mentioned that I didn’t have to dress so nicely every day. (But it wasn’t a jeans office, either – it occupied this weird middle business not-quite-casual space. That’s why I just safely defaulted to skirts, slacks, and button-front shirts.)

    5. J3*

      Shoot, I’ve been working at my current job for a year and I wish I had an explicit dress code! On a typical day in the office I don’t see any other male coworkers, so it’s incredibly difficult to get a sense of whether I’m under-/over-dressing.

      1. pony tailed wonder*

        We have a dress code but no one told the full timers that it had been relaxed for our student assistants for the summer. Awkward conversations all around.

  3. KC*

    I had an intern who would complain to me and to our boss that he was bored. This was after we just have him work to do. I had to tell him multiple times that this was not ok. I also have to let him know that falling asleep at his desk was another no-no. His response was “I guess I should get more sleep.” He never did get that extra sleep. And the biggest thing that drove me nuts, he had a terrible memory and I was always telling him to take notes so I didn’t have to repeat myself. He took notes about 50% of the time. So frustrating!

    1. rr*

      Did we have the same intern? Ask for work but not want to do anything involving his major. Falling asleep at his desk and at all meetings. Actually, we’ve had a lot of interns fall asleep, even in 1:1 meetings.

  4. Anony for this*

    We have an intern now…..he’s driving me and others insane! He’s very pompous and mentions his masters program at least once every lunch hour. I’m 3 years older than him, and he seems to be irritated that I am an actual employee or something. He’s very vocal about his political and religious views. We were going to a church festival for lunch one day, and when we invited him he acted as though we asked him to sacrifice a chicken. He’s only there a few more weeks, and I don’t really know his manager. He’s already reacted with hostility towards me in casual conversation, so I don’t think he’d appreciate any advice.

    1. Bend & Snap*

      This sounds a little like the OP who didn’t think his managers were qualified because they didn’ have degrees in finance.

      I don’t know that I’d appreciate being invited to a church function at work, though.

      1. Anony for this*

        It wasn’t a church function, it was like…hm…a cultural festival with food that happened to be located outside on church grounds. There was indoor seating inside the church reception hall, but it was more like a greek/italian/polish/hungarian type of cultural festival (trying to be vague here!)

        1. Elizabeth West*

          I was going to say, maybe it was something like that.

          I used to buy baklava from these ladies at a Greek Orthodox church across from the library in Santa Cruz. This made me think of that and now I’m craving baklava.

          1. Prismatic Professional*

            Oh yes, me too! :-/ There is this great place right down the street…*looks at clock* two more hours…

        2. Kara*

          I was going to ask if it was something like that.

          Our local Greek Orthodox community puts on a HUGE Greek festival every year with food, dancing, music, art, cultural talks, etc. It’s held in the parking lot of the biggest Greek Orthodox church in town, but it’s not a church event, per se. Although they do give tours of the main part of the church and talk about the religion for those who are interested – it’s not required and you can show up and eat good food and hang out either way.

          1. KJones*

            We have the same thing where I live — it’s definitely not a church event per se, more like “Lamb burgers and baklava for everyone!” type event. With AMAZING dancing.

            1. the gold digger*

              My atheist husband has no problems at all attending church festivals. Around here, they are all about music, food, and beer. Nobody is checking your Catholic Card at the door and there is no priest telling you to drop and give him 20 Hail Marys.

              1. Chinook*

                “Nobody is checking your Catholic Card at the door and there is no priest telling you to drop and give him 20 Hail Marys.”

                Of course we turn off the “not a Catholic” alarm system off for any event where we invite people in to eat. It would disturb the diners if it went off every few minutes

                Seriously, though, I have never been to a parish who cared if your were catholic (unless it is Communion, but the minister only stops you if you don’t give the correct, standard reply, but there are very good reasons for it). Heck, Christmas Eve we are still trying to figure out a polite way to keep non-parishoners (who are visiting a festival of lights next door) out of our parking lot so we can get to mass. And if we won’t “card” you to make room for parking, then we never will.

        3. anonanonanon*

          That still might make some people uncomfortable. One of the extracurricular groups I was in growing up sometimes had meetings/events in a church and it always made me uncomfortable. The group wasn’t religiously affiliated, but the church either provided the space free or charge for a small fee, but I was still anxious about being there.

          There are polite ways to for him to have said no instead of acting like you asked him to do something ridiculous, but did you clarify what the event was? I’d probably be a bit taken aback if someone asked me to go to a church festival, but I wouldn’t if they said it was a cultural festival.

          1. some1*

            The LW specifically said they were going for lunch – she might have thought it was implied that there was no worship or fellowship involved

            1. anonanonanon*

              You never know, though. I’m not religious so I have no idea if some church festival lunches would include worship or fellowship.

              1. SevenSixOne*

                Definitely. If someone invited me to something like this, I’d assume it would include those things and bow out.

              2. Blue Anne*

                Yeah. There’s a Unitarian church near my office that has a quiet room on Tuesdays for people to come and eat lunch in a sort of…. reflective, meditative silence. (Might sound weird but it’s pretty great for me when I get a chance to do it.) There are these things, even in workdays. Who knows.

          2. Anony for this*

            Yes, we just sent out a meeting invite to all in the lunch group. He asked what it was and someone said “Oh we go to XX Church and they host a big cultural festival with food outside. We go every year and sit outside to listen to the music. They have a drive thru too if you want to bring bakery back.”

            And he replied “Yeah. I’d burst into flames if I took one step in a place like that.” It was hurtful to one of the women as she was very involved in the festival as that’s her culture.

            I didn’t think it was too pushed on anyone either, being sent out as an outlook invite for the group of 15 people or so. It was really framed as a “instead of going to mexican place down the street, let’s do this on Friday!”

            1. Lady Bug*

              He might have been trying to be self depricating and failed. I’m definitely guilty of using the burst into flames line among friends, as a dig against me not their religion. But part of being professional is knowing your audience and avoiding comments that could be offensive.

              1. Anony for this*

                He wasn’t…he said some other stuff that I’m not going to type here because it’ll be a bit too identifying if someone from work stumbled upon it…But believe me, it was not an attempt to be humorous.

                1. Student*

                  His comment was inappropriate for the situation.

                  However, some churches are extremely hostile to certain groups of people. I don’t know the particulars of this situation, but I’m throwing it out there as a potential mitigating factor. I know if I was asked in good faith to go to a non-religious event at a church that’s expressed views that I’m sub-human trash that should be shunned or even killed by the righteous (not even kidding), there’s a decent chance I’d say something unpleasant. For some of us, asking us to go to certain churches for events is like asking a black buddy to go to a kkk cook-out.

                2. Anony for this*

                  Uh….wow. I don’t even know what to say here. I’m sorry that you have had bad experiences.

              2. Preaction*

                I like to err on the side of “failed joke” a lot, but it still needs to be pointed out, lest they keep doing it because nobody told them not to.

            2. Preaction*

              I think the better lesson here is one of respect and tolerance for culture and religion. They knew what they were saying could be interpreter poorly, that’s why they said that exact thing, to be *heh* inflammatory, which is not acceptable at work.

            3. Moss*

              “Burst into flames…”
              Ha, ha, obviously he’s never been to a ______________ church festival. The ones in my childhood town included lots of dancing, drinking, and fist fights. Surprisingly, no one ever spontaneously combusted although they probably had wicked hangovers.

              So I’m wondering if he said that because he sincerely dislikes religious functions due to personal experiences/views or if he feels that religion is un-intellectual and therefore, it would be beneath him to attend a festival held at a church?

              1. Ad Astra*

                I assume, fairly or unfairly, this guy thinks all religion is anti-intellectual and beneath him.

              2. Anony for this*

                No, he’s very religious. The funny part is, his religion doesn’t believe in hell. I was telling my friend (who shares the same religion as the intern) this story and she burst out laughing because she couldn’t believe someone so religious as he would say that.

                1. requiredname*

                  so he’s Jewish. eh, I’m Jewish and gay. I’d say the same thing. And have. And I couldnt eat the food anyway, its not kosher. (And yes i’ve had to argue with people that nothing at their church event will be kosher, except maybe the potato chips.)

                  Christians (and atheists from a Christian background) can often underestimate how uncomfortable non-Christians, especially Jews, can be in a church. Even in secular professional settings, I’ve had to sit through “nondenominational” invocations, prayers, and even songs all praising Jesus. I work for the government. It’s kinda horrible.

                2. katamia*

                  Seconding what requiredname said. I’m not from a Christian background, and even when churches try to be welcoming, it can be really uncomfortable, at least in parts of the US, to go. I don’t know if I would have used the “burst into flames” line, but depending on the denomination (especially since as someone else said down below, these festivals often serve as fundraisers–there are some churches I’d be seriously uncomfortable supporting financially), I would probably be appalled that people would ask (especially if they knew I wasn’t a member of that particular religion or denomination) and would definitely turn down the invitation.

                3. Moss*

                  Ok, his comment makes a lot more sense now. I didn’t even think about possible dietary restrictions.

                4. Biff*

                  I’m also a religious non-Christian, and I have to admit, friendly offers to attend events on church property don’t feel comfortable. They often feel invasive and pokey. They are too often dressed up attempts at ‘setting me straight.’ I don’t think people realize how pushy it can sound.

                  I know that now, I can sort of over-react to these types of invitations and I wonder if he did.

                5. LizB*

                  This guy sounds like a jerk, but I have to agree with requiredname et al. that being invited to nominally secular but church-hosted events can be kind of uncomfortable when you’re Jewish. You never know exactly how religious it’s going to get, and there’s a real risk that someone will start asking questions “out of curiosity” that turn into “But whyyyy can’t you just accept Jesus, do you *want* do to go Hell?!?!” Plus the food thing, if he keeps kosher. His comment wasn’t professional, but I can completely understand him having a strong “NOPE” reaction to the suggestion. His mistake was choosing to express it in a totally inappropriate way.

                6. Brock*

                  Er, if he’s an observant Orthodox Jew, he isn’t even allowed to go into a church. I have a friend who is Orthodox, and she says she can’teven benefit in any way from a church, to the point where if giving directions for how to get to her house, she won’t even say ‘turn right at the church’.

                7. Brock*

                  “he acted as though we asked him to sacrifice a chicken”

                  And if you’re right that he’s a seriously observant Orthodox Jew, the funny thing is that he quite possibly does sacrifice a chicken every year. (Google kapores or kaparot). :)

                8. Anony for this*

                  Everyone, I didn’t want to say what his religion is because I didn’t want people derailing on that….but…he’s not jewish.

            4. Marcela*

              Well, being a former Catholic, I would have understood that it was a strong religious component in the festival and would have refused to go. Probably using another phrase, but I would not have think it was at all similar to “instead of going to the mexican place, let’s go to this festival”.

        4. puddin*

          We have local church festivals that are coined “Drinking for Jesus.” They are really outdoor food and drink festivals (lots of beer) with carnival rides and live rock – cover band music. So, there really is not a lot of church type stuff going on. They are basically fund raisers. The ethnicity of the local church heavily influences the flavor of the festival literally in the food served and the atmosphere as well. Italian ones differ from Polish ones etc.

          Depending on your work dynamic, I could see going to one for lunch as an optional thing. They have great grilled chicken and corn on the cob!

          Now, all that being said, I live and work in the City of Festivals and they are very much a part of the local culture. Might not be the norm in other places. I liken it to visiting New Orleans during Mardi Gras when you may not be Catholic or even Christian.

          1. Stranger than fiction*

            Wow I love your church the one I grew up in did not approve of any drinking whatsoever, or dancing for that matter, all that church did was make me someone who is very curious and open to other religions

            1. Connie-Lynne*

              The Roman Catholic Church has its problems (to put it mildly) but they do know how to throw a good party, and tend to be very in favor of both drinking and dancing as part of celebrations.

    2. Allison*

      I’m not religious, and I wouldn’t like being roped into going to a religious event, but I also know that church festivals tend to be pretty nondenominational on the surface – it’s just the church trying to do something fun for the community and hopefully raise a little money and/or grow the congregation. Not all church-sponsored events are super religious and evangelical. So if someone invited me to something like that, I’d probably go, but if for some reason I didn’t feel comfortable going, I’d politely (and vaguely) decline the invite.

      I’ve also been to plenty of events at places of worship that had absolutely nothing to do with religion, the reception hall was merely rented out as a venue.

      1. Anx*

        On my personal time, I do go to churches for community events (or specific holidays with religious family).

        I would feel anxious about doing this with coworkers, though. When I go to a church event, I get anxious that I wouldn’t really be welcome if they knew how I really felt about their religious beliefs. I worry that their hospitality is conditional or their acceptance of me is based on them not really knowing me. I’m afraid that I’m Christian passing or Judeo-Christian passing sometimes for lack of a better way to explain it.

    3. Stranger than fiction*

      Oh my goodness we should add no religion or politics to the list of office norms…uh unless you’re working for a political campaign or church

      1. Allison*

        I worked in a senator’s office, but I still tried to quell my opinions on political issues.

    4. Jeanne*

      Don’t you have a master’s degree? Are you sure you’re allowed to even walk around in polite society? That would be annoying to hear comstantly.

    5. YaH*

      Someone below pointed out that these festivals are often fundraisers for the church. If that were the case in this situation, which I think is extremely likely, I would be adamant about not going as well. It’s rather offensive to ask someone of a faith to essentially donate money to a religious organization that is contradictory to their beliefs.

      I think you’ve reached the Bitch Eating Crackers point though, so everything this guy does is going to irritate you.

      1. Shannon*

        It doesn’t sound like they tried to force him into going.

        Even though I’m not religious, I have enough of a religious education to know which churches I will and won’t support. If I were the intern and they didn’t ask me, I’d feel left out. If they did ask me, I could politely decline. I’d rather be given the choice and included.

  5. Ad Astra*

    In my first job out of college, we had daily meetings led by the editor-in-chief, who was constantly looking at her phone. After a while, I began bringing my phone to these meetings so I could keep up with breaking news on social media (honest to god, it was not uncommon to walk out of that meeting and discover we had to re-do all the plans we just made because of something that happened during the meeting).

    Months went by without a comment from anyone, and then one day the whole staff was in trouble because of some big mistake that nobody caught. My direct manager stopped me on the way to the meeting and said “Please, for the love of God, don’t bring your phone to this meeting.”

    Turns out, using the phone during meetings was only ok when the editor-in-chief did it. Oops.

    (This is a long way to say that you should be modeling correct behaviors to your interns if possible, and pointing out things that colleagues or bosses do that are not ok for interns to do.)

    1. GOG11*

      I do this for my student workers a lot. For instance, if somebody calls toward the end of their shift (like, less than 3 minutes left) I instruct them to let it go to voice mail and I’ll take care of it. I explain to them that, at most other jobs, you shouldn’t “ignore” a call so you can, say, start lunch on time, but here it’s okay because academic commitments take precedent over work study commitments. Anytime there’s some weird cultural thing at play, I try to explain why and how/why that differs from some other workplaces. Academia is a weird world…

    2. Kelly O*

      “Do as I say, not as I do” is challenging when you’re new to an office environment. Especially if you’re not sure who to ask, and even after you’ve been in the workforce for years.

      That one’s bitten many a “seasoned” worker.

    3. Kate M*

      Yeah, sometimes it’s hard to know what to do when there are others in the office who don’t follow the norms the interns are expected to. I work for a very top-heavy firm, which means that most at the top don’t find it a big deal to come in late and leave early, or are out of the office at different meetings during the day. Which makes interns think that the office is really lax about hours (and it is to some extent, if you’ve put in 25 years of work and get to that point). But our interns are paid hourly, so it’s different for them – we rely on them to be at their desks when needed. And I really try to be lax when possible – I trust them to take their hour lunch break whenever they want, if they need to leave for something like a doctor’s appointment, they can just clear it with me (and we still pay them for the time they’re out). But I’ve had a couple of interns before who just didn’t get that coming in on time and not leaving early was a big deal, even after I discussed it with them. 5-10 minutes, sure, that’s fine. Coming in consistently at 9:45 when your press clips were already supposed to be out, no.

      1. Fuzzyfuzz*

        Our summer intern (who mercifully is gone), would come in 45-50 minutes late daily even after we had several conversations with him about why he needed to come in on time (we’re not sticklers for 9:00AM, especially if you make up the time at the end of the day, but he always left right on the button at 5:ooPM or even a few minutes early). Eventually, he started coming in only 20 minutes late and asked for praise because he had made ‘vast improvement’ in his punctuality. I guess egregious to pretty bad is an improvement…

        Reason he was hired–nepotism…

  6. Retired Teacher*

    I had a student teacher once who cried every single time I said anything the tiniest bit critical. I was trying to give constructive feedback. Usually I would use the “compliment sandwich” = “say something positive, give constructive criticism, end with something positive.” No matter how nice I tried to be, she would burst into tears. My hs students were better at taking critique than she was. However, she was much better than the pompous intern whom all the kids couldn’t stand.

    1. Kelly L.*

      Obviously the crying can be an issue, but in general, the compliment sandwich doesn’t always work as intended. IME, it either leads to the person completely missing the criticism in the middle, or to the person dreading any compliment and wondering if a criticism shoe is about to drop.

      1. some1*

        For me, I don’t believe the compliments, because I feel like I am only being given them because they had to think of two nice things to throw in there to say what they *really* want to say.

        1. Iris*

          +1000. My teachers in high school used that tactic, as did a lot of my professors/professional supervisors in college. I am now conditioned to believe the only reason I’m being complimented is because they want to criticize me. I’ve become very good at not crying (usually … there are a few parties who can still make it happen just because disappointing them is THE WORST, UGH), but my knees are definitely shaking under the table every time.

    2. Allison*

      Unfortunately a lot of young people are under a ton of pressure to succeed, and they’re taught to perceive any tiny imperfection as a total failure. They need to understand that they’re in an internship to learn by doing, and as part of that process they will get some criticism. It doesn’t mean they’re “a failure,” it’s not the end of the world, it’s how they get better so they’re prepared for the working world.

      1. Honeybee*

        Honestly, that’s the reason I used a modified version of the compliment sandwich with my resident assistants and internship students, even though I don’t like the practice for reasons others stated above. These were kids raised to be hyper competent perfectionists and the tiniest imperfections were failures to them. But I wouldn’t give them a specific compliment, more like “you’re doing a great job overall. But there is a challenge area for you I’d like you to address”…and we’d go into a discussion of what it was. And I’d explain to them that I was bringing up the criticism in part to make them better, so that when they went into the work world they were equipped with skills. I actually had several students thank me for the criticism when it was framed that way.

      2. fposte*

        Yes, this is reaping the fruits of the helicoptering, if you’ll pardon the mixed metaphor. People who haven’t had a chance to fail and recover from it before 22 are often pretty tightly wound about the prospect.

      3. Sara*

        I don’t think this is something I fully grasped until I was done with school. I honestly thought that every time my internship supervisors came to me with criticism it was because I was the only one doing anything wrong (because obviously they weren’t correcting other interns in front of me) and that the conversation was going to end with my being dismissed from the program without a recommendation. Intellectually, I knew that interns were expected to make mistakes, but I had convinced myself that I was the only one doing it, and I really, really beat myself up over even the tiniest mistakes.

    3. Muriel Heslop*

      I had a student teacher who got drunk at lunch and threw up in a trash can after school! Ah, memories.

      And she wasn’t the worst intern I’ve ever had.

      1. Cordelia Naismith*

        When I did my student teaching, the school went over expected standards of professional behavior with us beforehand and gave us a handout with a list of dos and don’ts. All of the don’ts were things previous student teachers had actually done at some point in the past. Some of them were pretty egregious. The one I remember most vividly was, “It is never okay to duct tape a student’s mouth shut.” I goggled at that one.

        1. Meg Murry*

          I lived in an area where the minimum requirement for a substitute teacher’s license was 2 years of college. There had to be a whole separate section added to the sub training on “appropriate dress for subbing” and there was a long, very specific list of things people had worn that got them sent home or put on the “don’t call this sub again list”. Some of the most memorable items on the list included: a mesh muscle shirt, a skirt that was completely sheer (not just, oh a little bit sheer in the sun but absolutely sheer on purpose) with patterned bikini bottoms under it, pajama bottoms with cartoon characters on them, a leather miniskirt paired with a tube top, the list goes on and on.

          1. Muriel Heslop*

            That is horrifying! I am sure my program went over student teaching standards but I had already worked in a corporate job for two years (and learned to ditch my Melrose Place miniskirts) so maybe I skimmed it. The student teacher who vomited in the trash can was actually pretty good and just going through a really rough time. I think she was relieved when she got “released” from the program.

          2. Jeanne*

            I think the pajama bottoms with cartoon characters sound great! I wish I could wear those at work.

        2. chump with a degree*

          No, but no one complained when I used scotch tape. TO be fair, the student requested it to help him remember not to talk out of turn. High School.

  7. Hermione*

    I would note that, unless the dress-code offense is so egregious that they need to go home and change immediately, it would be kind to wait to hold that conversation until the end of their shift, so that they don’t sit there all day uncomfortable and self-conscious.

  8. Intern Blues*

    We have one of those right now – we’re really at our wits end with him. We use our summer program to find regular full-time employees, but I don’t think we can possibly give this person an offer. I feel bad because he’s eager, he’s trying, he takes feedback well, but after all that – he still cannot communicate with anyone in the office without coming off as lecturing, condescending, and inappropriate. And moreover, his work has been sloppy, mostly because he is talking and trying to show off his value instead of listening, I think. So instead of listening to the assignment as given, he’ll jump to some conclusion about how he can blow the whole thing wide open and really prove he’s a strategic genius and come back with an answer that is missing the fundamentals we told him to start at.

    We’re trying to do direct feedback, but it’s just not getting better.

    1. S*

      I think that’s a problem stemming from all the “intern advice” articles out there that tell you to network! Put yourself out there! Prove your value! Internships are like a sales pitch! But without the caveat that you also need to be quiet and listen sometimes (and I say this as someone not too long past her intern years and read plenty of those articles myself).

    2. Cordelia Naismith*

      For the communication skills things, you could recommend he take an interpersonal communication class at this college or university while he’s still a student (assuming his school offers one). Maybe that might help?

      1. NacSacJack*

        +1 OMG, my interpersonal communication skills class was so awesome it scored me my first internship. Sadly it didnt cover enough to help in my first job. :(

      2. Intern Blues*

        That’s a good idea, thanks. I didn’t know schools were offering those and it’s great they are. He’s in a grad program but it’s likely they have some access to undergraduate classes/programs – that’s typical in our field.

        1. Iris*

          There are also several in that vein usually being offered at no cost (if you don’t want a verified certificate — if you do I think it’s $50? You get a completion certificate either way) through sites like Coursera and edX if they don’t offer it or won’t place a graduate student in them if they do.

        2. Rana*

          Knowing that he’s in a graduate program makes that behavior a bit more understandable. A lot of academic culture rewards being aggressive in putting ideas out there in a somewhat pedantic way, and the originality of ideas is valued often more than solid, basic work. This can have some good results – people who can chase an original thought and explain it to others – but it also can all too easily produce people who end up ‘splaining a lot and being a bit of an ass.

          A good program will squash the latter; one that’s more interested in prestige and competition than fostering scholarly relationships will probably encourage it.

    3. Sigrid*

      Oh gods, that sounds exactly like the engineering intern my husband had last summer. He ended up being fired — the company had never fired an intern before — because he did his “jumping in with his own thoughts before listening to what the person he was talking to was saying in order to make sure everyone knew he was smart” thing at the wrong time, ended up not paying attention to safety instructions, and did something against the rules on site. You do NOT do things counter to the safety rules on a construction site. He was fired immediately.

      That tendency of his had been noticed and he had been counselled about it by several different people, and finally paired with one of the field engineers who is widely regarded as the best mentor in the company. He still couldn’t break the habit.

    4. Biff*

      Have you said what you just said here:

      “We like X, Y, and Z about you. And if that’s what we were basing our offer decision on, we’d extend one to you. However, you seem to think you need to push M, N, O and P, and you’ve been having loud conversations about it which are off-putting. You have two weeks to refocus yourself on X, Y, and Z and learn how to talk to people without sounding like a turd.”

  9. Lily in NYC*

    We have a good group this year except for two guys. One is still in HS (we never have HS interns) but his daddy is rich and famous and we were forced to bring him on for the summer. This kid is such a brat – you should see the sneer he gets on his face when someone deigns to ask him to do something. He is snotty to everyone and struts around like he is just the hottest thing ever. He told us he wouldn’t stay later than 2pm on Fridays because he wants to get out to the Hamptons. The other one is not really offensive; just a “bro” who talks way too much about how much he parties and how he never goes to class. Dude, know your audience! He said it in front of our SVP, who was not impressed and let him know it. But the HS one takes the cake. Total brat.
    The rest of them are fantastic!

    1. Cordelia Naismith*

      He told us he wouldn’t stay later than 2pm on Fridays because he wants to get out to the Hamptons.

      Good grief. I hope you were able to give him a taste of cold, hard reality.

      1. Lily in NYC*

        I just sit near him, but luckily I don’t have to work with him that much. I simply get to hear the entitled crap that comes out of his mouth. Last time I walked by he was looking at photos of himself from that get posted to the “socialite” sites after weekends out in the Hamptons. It’s just so amusing to watch people who think they are something special simply because of who gave birth to them.

      2. the gold digger*

        See? The Hamptons! That is not a poor people place for summer homes!

        My husband and I went on a home tour on Saturday and then the lecture following about the summer homes on this island (where we are renting a tiny cottage for our vacation). The author was clearly unfamiliar with the idea that not everyone owns a summer home. She was tossing out architect names and saying that we try to relax at our summer homes but don’t always do that.

        She was super interesting, but I think she does not have a lot of diversity in her life.

      3. Steve G*

        Gag me. Well let him leave at the same time as everyone else and feel important complaining about how long it took him to get there. I hate Hamptons snobbery. I go to right before the Hamptons most weekends, and leave late at night and don’t take the same roads as everyone else from the city. The Hamptons are nice but they are not so great that people need to be snobby about going there. Actually, the nicest time to go is fall, during the week, when there are much less city folks around but the weather is still good, and then you can enjoy hiking, vineyards, fine dining, small, quaint downtowns, some historic sites, the lighthouse…all without tons of traffic + feeling like you are doing it to be chic.

        Just as Manhattan isn’t all nice, the Hamptons are not all great. It’s not like there is a magic border you pass and all of a sudden everything is gilded with gold.

        1. Lily in NYC*

          I grew up on the east end so I find Hamptons snobbery hilariously entertaining. Everyone in my tiny town used to celebrate the end of the summer season (because the summer people were leaving) on Labor Day weekend.

    2. Ad Astra*

      How do rich and famous people not know it’s inappropriate to use your wealth and fame to get your kids jobs and internships that they’re not qualified for?

      1. Lily in NYC*

        To be fair, his father has been extremely helpful to my company and we have a relationship with him. But still, this is one of the most nepotistic places I have ever worked. And if you come from a well-known family, we will hire you even if you aren’t qualified and then complain that you aren’t qualified. Sigh.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          That’s crap. Your management isn’t doing itself any favors.

          No amount of wealth and fame would make me want to put up with that shit. I’d so want to have a come-to-Jesus talk with that kid post-haste. If he complained to Daddy, I’d want to have the same talk with him. I hate that kind of pretentious crap. Arrgh!

          1. Stranger than fiction*

            Is there such thing as a come to Jesus beating? I’d like to skip the talk and go straight to that

            1. Chinook*

              “Is there such thing as a come to Jesus beating? I’d like to skip the talk and go straight to that”

              Yup – it involves flipping tables and brandishing a whip! Sadly, most HR policies do not allow for this.

      2. Artemesia*

        These people coined the word entitled. They truly believe that being born on third base means they hit a triple. I have worked with many and I am continually astounded at this. A favorite anecdote from a peer. A freshman student in his intro class during a discussion of student loan policy said ‘why don’t they just earn their college like the rest of us; why should people get welfare to go to college.’ My colleague said ‘Wow, What kind of summer job did you get to be able to afford to be here at (expensive prestigious private college).’ And he leaned back and said ‘Oh, my trust.’

        And we wondered when Romney advised that people should ‘just borrow 50K from their parents and start their own business’ or when W suggests that the way to finance a campaign is to get ahold of their father’s roladex and ‘just ask.’

    3. Allison*

      In Massachusetts, if you want to go to Cape Cod on Friday you have three options: leave work early and get down there ahead of traffic; leave work at your usual time and get stuck in terrible traffic; or leave super late and get there after the traffic has died down, but then go straight to bed because it’s midnight and you just drove for 2 hours. I’m assuming it’s the same for the Hamptons, so I can’t blame the kid for *wanting* to beat traffic, but there’s a difference between saying (once or twice, tops) “I’m going to the Hamptons with my family this weekend, is it okay if I leave a little early to beat traffic?” (and accepting “no” for an answer) and outright refusing to work past 2 on Fridays because normal work hours interfere with your vacation every single week.

      1. Long Time Reader First Time Poster*

        Actually I would say that if you work in Boston, leaving at 2 on a summer Friday still means sitting in traffic!

        1. Honeybee*

          You joke, but there are actually a couple of helicopter companies in New York offering weekend flights to the Hamptons for wealthy families now. In fact, there was a minor outrage in April this year because some of the Hamptons villages were banning helicopter traffic late at night because of all the noise the helicopters were making.

      2. Prismatic Professional*

        And that is what the ferry is for (Provincetown is my spiritual home <3)! Plus, in the summer there can be free whale watching as you cross the bay… *sigh* I live so far away now…

      3. Honeybee*

        Yeah, it’s the same in New York, although you’d have to leave super early on Friday to beat the traffic – rush hour starts between 2 and 3 there. Which is probably why he wanted to leave at 2 pm.

      4. Connie-Lynne*

        In San Francisco, yeah, you have to be out of The City — and probably the East Bay, and definitely north of Petaluma — by about noon on Friday if you want to miss the huge traffic jam. This is true year round.

        And yet, unlike the intern, we all manage to just cope, and only occasionally leave early.

    4. James M.*

      Whoa! It’s been a while since I’ve seen a bona-fide rich brat sneer. He won’t be an intern for very long… daddy will put him on the management fast track now that he has “experience”. The nepotism express to dysfunctionville is a well-oiled machine.

      1. Steve G*

        I wonder how this works out, especially for the Trump children. I was always surprised/distracted when I watched Apprentice and Ivanka (as much as I like her) sitting there….we’re the same age and I remember having entry level type jobs and I was thinking, how the heck does someone my age have something to contribute to a board discussion. Does she really know business yet? Maybe. Or does she contribute in a limited fashion? Maybe. But I hope to heck that her business education wasn’t too tainted by doing what daddy said, reading the books he recommended, and not disagreeing with him

        1. PoorDecisions101*

          I just checked her age and there are plenty of people that age who can reasonably contribute.

          I come from a lower middle class immigrant background and was negotiating over large sums of money with CEOs of smaller companies in my early twenties, though at the time I questioned (in my head only) my company’s policy to use young untested employees in these sort of situations, but the company was big enough that if they lost a few million dollars here and there, they probably didn’t care at the time. I reckon I held my own pretty good.

  10. Mallory Archer*

    I’m an MBA summer intern, so I’ve been in the workforce previously and understand professional norms. But I’m definitely breaking one of these rules right now.

    Over July 4th weekend I tore my ACL and am currently wearing a huge robo brace (and was on crutches for a while), and it is basically impossible for me to wear real pants with it. It’s also extremely uncomfortable if I wear it over bare skin for a prolonged period of time, so I’ve been wearing athletic spandex pants every day since my injury. Fortunately, my internship company is very understanding and laid back about it, I had the following conversation with my boss:

    Me: “I can’t really wear real pants for a while.”
    Boss: “That has its pros and cons.”
    Me: “But now I’m the intern who doesn’t wear real pants to work.”
    Boss laughed and made a joke about our start up vibe.

    1. KathyGeiss*

      Wait… Was your boss insinuating that one of the pros is that you’ll be wearing tight pants and that’s attractive?

      I may be reading this all sorts of wrong but if that was even an underlying tone that is super creepy and inappropriate and I’m sorry that happened to you.

      I really hope I’m misunderstanding.

      1. Mallory Archer*

        Nah, he’s just a slightly awkward person. We were talking comfort wise – he had literally just before been saying that he was more comfortable in shorts because he’d gotten badly scraped up after falling off his bike.

        (I’ve been sexually harassed by a boss before, and while my current environment is very casual there’s definitely nothing making me uncomfortable :)

        1. KathyGeiss*

          That’s so nice to hear.

          I work in a very conservative, male dominated industry and was maybe projecting a bit in my interpretation. I’m glad I was wrong.

          Also, hope your ACL healing is going well!

      2. Dutch Thunder*

        I didn’t read it this way at all, more in a “well, on the upside, you’ll be the only one of us that’s comfortable…”

    2. Fuzzyfuzz*

      I read this as the boss saying that it wasn’t all bad from a comfort perspective. We joke about stretchy pants in our office all the time. But I could totally be wrong.

      1. Windchime*

        We call stretchy pants “eatin’ pants” in our office. Example: If there is a potluck, one person will say to the other, “Good thing I wore my eaten’ pants!”.

    3. Meg Murry*

      Can’t you wear a skirt over the athletic pants? It wouldn’t necessarily be a very formal look, but it would be better than just spandex pants. I often wear capri or ankle length leggings under skirts on weekends – usually the thicker athletic leggings that technically can be worn just as pants but that I’m not comfortable in on their own.

      I agree that an injure gets you a pass on most of the dress code, but I still would not be comfortable wearing tight spandex pants to the office.

      1. Shannon*

        I couldn’t wear tight spandex to the office for the sole reason that I wouldn’t be able to resist the idea of dressing up like a superhero.

        1. Malory Archer*

          Actually I do, but it’s been consistently about 90 degrees in my area so I’m avoiding extra layers – plus the “leggings + dresses” combo makes me look like I’m in middle school since I’m already young :(

          (That would have been my solution if anyone had objected, but since no one has…comfort wins!)

    4. Blue Anne*

      A friend of mine is a manager at an office which is business casual dress-wise and very… lads/boy’s oversharing social-wise. (To the point where it became a huge problem recently and he cursed himself letting it get to that point.)

      A while ago one of his middle-aged employees turned up to work wearing shorts. Friend asked the guy asked why the **** he was wearing shorts. Guy proceeded to loudly share how he’d been circumcised over the weekend due to complications from a zipper accident. Foreskin jokes abounded in the office for weeks.

      So, I guess, you know. Sounds like you’ve got a happy medium with your work atmosphere, could be crazier….

  11. LBK*

    I think one of the most important things to teach interns is that performance gets you flexibility. Coming from the school world where all class rules are generally blanket ones and it’s rare to get special treatment for being a good student. As a result, it can be jarring to come to the office and see some people who can work whatever schedules they want or use their cell phones while you’re held to a different standard as the new/lower level person. Reorienting perceptions about earning the right to less oversight and more freedom will save interns from lodging a lot of the petty “If it doesn’t impact your work, MYOB” complaints we hear about here.

    1. fposte*

      I think this is a really good point. It also ties into the larger point that this is more like learning a new language than learning the Ten Office Commandments–the expectations are all situational rather than being carved in stone.

    2. Elizabeth West*

      Excellent point. Also, that certain jobs don’t allow the same flexibility as others–for example, a consultant can come and go as she pleases, but Barry has to be on the front desk at nine sharp.

    3. katamia*

      I think that’s a really great point. If I’m ever in a position to hire/oversee interns, I’ll keep it in mind.

  12. Jennifer M.*

    I had a friend that had a doozy of an intern. At the time I was living overseas. He was a political officer at a (non-US) consulate. He got stuck with an intern. The guy was in his early 30s as was trying to change careers from finance to the foreign service. He wrote letters to his country’s embassies and consulates all over the world seeking an internship and someone back home decided this was an awesome idea and sent him to the country that we were living in (well the guy had to pay his own way). He was basically filling a role that would normally be filled by a local – logistics and advance work as well as some clerical stuff. Anyway, he was getting all up in policy discussions, sending out emails to the ambassador in the capital city and all sorts of stuff so far above his paygrade it wasn’t even funny. He wouldn’t even tell people he was an intern. And this wasn’t even my friend exaggerating. I had met this intern separately in a social setting several times and he was very much about the humblebrag about how he was expanding on his original role. My friend sat him down and told him to back off and only do what he was told. He wanted to get rid of him, but wasn’t allowed. Finally the guy’s 12 week contract was up and they didn’t renew.

    1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

      I hate having to tell people to only do what they are told because work just cannot get done without initiative – but I had one recently who had ZERO – I mean ZERO – ability to use good judgement. Every time he didn’t something that he hadn’t been specifically told to to it was a huge, huge disaster, totally inappropriate, and involved issuing lots of apologies to important people.

      1. Anx*

        Hands down, the most frustrating part of my internship is just the nature of being an intern in my current environment, because I’m constantly torn between showing initiative/good judgment/and independence and not wanting to screw anything up. Some of the littlest things make a big difference where I am.

        Today, for instance, I did quite a bit of work independently (although I did shy away from using one piece of equipment I still didn’t quite feel confident with–it’s extremely expensive and potentially very dangerous). I tried to trust myself, but I used the wrong version of a piece of equipment. There was no reason I would have known to use that particular one, but I’m sure it will contribute to my second guessing myself too often.

    2. Steve G*

      This sounds scary! I wonder what the receivers of the letters thought. Were they open letters about social or environmental issues, or letters directly to an ambassador asking for a specific thing or a meeting?

      My internship in college was at a NY senator, and “I” wrote simple, non-policy letters (thank you for the invite, happy 100th birthday, please apply for 9/11 hazmat funding for your FD) and they eventually got signed by the senator.

      1. S*

        I interned in politics too (but not at a member’s office)– anything I wrote got revised at least twice before it went external. Even the tweets I drafted were double-checked before someone else scheduled them to post!

  13. LovingTheSouth*

    I think a lot of intern problems could be nipped in the bud if organizations actually had a plan for what they wanted the intern to do. Why are they there? What should be accomplished by the end of their tenure? What do you expect from them and what do they expect from you? Too often, companies use interns as low-paid or unpaid file clerks and gofers. No thought is given to what the intern is learning. Particularly if a firm uses unpaid interns (this should be illegal but that’s for another thread) I think they have an obligation to make sure the intern learns more than everyone’s coffee preferences.

    1. Cordelia Naismith*

      +1. This is so important. Goals and expectations need to be established up front for an intern to be successful.

    2. HM in Atlanta*

      This is exactly why I no longer have to even look for interns – they hunt me down. When you’re an intern with me, you come in knowing what project you’ll be working on. When you leave, you’ll have a cold, hard, quantifiable, and real-world work experience to put on your resume. Going this route, I have never had any issue with someone being “above” or “bored” by the work they were doing. (Plus, I have never subscribed to the unpaid intern, which is almost always illegal; but that’s a different rant.)

    3. BabyAttorney*

      Actually, IIRC it is illegal top have unpaid interns unless all they’re doing is shadowing. If they do work that had cognizant benefit to a company, they have to be paid for it.

      I say this not as a lawyer but as a relatively recent former intern….lol up the cases on Viacom, Conde Naste, etc. Those started to hit the news when I was interning. It’s especially tough in law school because of the credit-based internship programs….eeeeverybody wants you to do it for credit but it isnt always feasible.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Actually, a recent federal ruling permits employers to use unpaid interns where the “tangible and intangible benefits provided to the intern are greater than the intern’s contribution to the employer’s operation.” This was from the appeal of the Fox Searchlight Pictures case — the court rejected the Department of Labor’s six-part test for determining whether an internship can be unpaid.

        1. bridget*

          But, like all federal rulings that aren’t made by the U.S. Supreme Court, it is only binding precedent in specific areas of the country. Glatt v. Fox Searchlight Pictures was in the Second Circuit (applying to CT, NY, and VT). Courts in other parts of the country will probably view it as persuasive, but they aren’t required to follow it and federal law as a whole is very deferential to the legal interpretations of administrative agencies such as the Department of Labor. Until the Department of Labor decides to change its practices nation-wide based on the case, it’s certainly no guarantee that Fox Searchlight is now the Law of the Land.

            1. BabyAttorney*

              Valid! Definitely on both points, but also why folks should be careful with unpaid interns anyway and should probably check with an employment attorney before having one. It’s too unclear IMO.


    4. rr*

      This is so important. At one place I worked, we had no plan for the interns and I felt so bad. We got 10+ interns and they were hunting around for projects and things to do. I felt like we were wasting their time (we were paying them, but they could have spent that summer doing something useful and gained actual experience). In their close-out presentation, they spun it pretty well, but their take-away was still “only come intern here if you are prepared to do everything yourself”.

      And yet this place still recruits for so many summer interns they have no idea what to do with. (But we never had them get coffee or file anything. We had them plan an event once, though. I felt terrible.)

    5. Sara*

      100%. My very worst internship ever was working for a guy who didn’t ask for an intern. He had zero idea what to do with me (especially since I was part-time). I learned nothing, he didn’t get much useful work out of me, and it was basically a horrible experience for everyone. I never even put it on my resume.

  14. T*

    Our last tech support THREE interns had to be told they can’t watch videos on their phone while working. I thought that was just amazing. I can sort of understand the texting thing because we all do that more than we should but watching videos in full view of anyone walking by blew my mind. We work hard to break that kind of stereotype about tech support so we’re not going to tolerate an intern reinforcing it.

    Not an intern but a contract-to-hire tech in his first week repeatedly complained about the level of work he was assigned. We had a major issue that week that required some crap work to resolve so it was all hands on deck. Keep in mind, I am a senior sysadmin and I was doing the exact same work right beside him. So, he basically complained to me that he was too important to do the work I was doing. That was a mistake on his part because I talked to his supervisor and he wasn’t hired. The other guy that started the same week and enthusiastically did the work was hired. As a matter of fact, this was for a new product we were rolling out so I suggested we make that guy the primary contact since he already knew it so he started his first job already in charge of something.

    1. Ad Astra*

      I’ve never worked in IT, but I would have assumed it was ok to watch videos on your phone if you didn’t have anything else to do but couldn’t leave because a request might come through. It’s perfectly reasonable to say “Uh, no, that’s not even a little bit ok,” and it’s a good idea to explain that you’re fighting a stereotype. But maybe this norm isn’t as obvious as you think? Or maybe I’m just very far off base about how IT functions.

      1. NacSacJack*

        Ummm no, just no. No. If IT is watching a video, it better be an online training course or some kind of recertification.

        1. afiendishthingy*

          …so it’s not like the IT Crowd? Because other than the slovenly office they make IT look like a pretty cushy gig ;)

        2. VintageLydia USA*

          Kinda giggling because nearly all my friends are in IT and nearly all of them watch significant amount of Netflix during downtime. Not even on their phones. Most people are using their companies’ networks and it’s totally sanctioned and OK. This is everyone from help desk employees waiting for tickets to come in to my husband who is an IT consultant waiting for clients to do whatever they need to do before he can resume work. This is in the DC area (generally conservative even in IT) both in Federal and private industry shops.

          At one gov’t agency, my husband (who hates Facebook) got caught up in Farmville with all his other coworkers. That finally got shut down not because it was gaming while on the clock, but some were ignoring other work to do so. If they had better time management it wouldn’t have been a problem.

        1. Menacia*

          Yes, we have plenty to do, and no I’ve never watched videos on my cell phone during my down time (which is non-existent anyway). We did have a smart guy here for a while who set up two PCs for himself, one on the network, the other on the DSL, guess which one he used the most (which could not be tracked)? Thankfully he got canned, I held the door open for him. ;)

    2. Dynamic Beige*

      I had someone I was training — it was kind of like a paid internship — tell me she wouldn’t do X because it was “man’s work” What the actual hell? She had come up on me doing the work and when I asked her why she hadn’t started it, that was her response. After I raised my voice and told her I wasn’t asking her to do anything I wasn’t willing to do myself, she sat there and pouted for the rest of the job. I went to get a snack to take a break and cool down, ponder whether or not I was being too harsh. But in the end, I decided I should say something to the manager because I had spent the most time with this person and if she was going to say something like that, well, someone who had the authority to not keep her should know. I used my cell and the first words manager said was “what has she done now?” Turned out she had done similar stuff to other people. She was walked to the door one day, after all the paperwork was completed.

    3. Meadowsweet*

      I’ve a friend I love dearly, but who brought a wee dvd player to work for when it was quiet…

  15. Amber Rose*

    I’ve only dealt with one. He was hired to help me with the scanning. Within three days he was whining that none of the other men had to and it was “ladies work”. And when I asked him to go through and make sure to tape up huge rips and remove all the staples so they didn’t wreck the scanner, he complained that it was too slow to do it that way.

    I don’t care about coaching people on correct dress/courtesy/whatever. But I shouldn’t have to tell people to do their jobs correctly rather than quickly. And I really don’t want to hear about what the other kids get to do unless you’re under the age of 10, or can word it as a legit request, ie, “I have an interest in the new teapot research being done by X team, is there any way I can spend some time learning from them?”

    1. Artemesia*

      I once had a doctoral level GA who whined to the director of the program that she was ‘forced to re=copy’ material for a meeting that she had copied so that is was illegible. I mean only two thirds of an inch or so of the right side of the pages of the articles were missing, so it was obviously unreasonable to ask her to re-do this menial task. Up until that point it had not occurred to me I needed to closely supervise photo copying. I also had one who would copy a two sided article so that the copies were missing every other page. The mind boggles.

      1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

        I had an intern several years ago run out of the office and call her professor to tell him I was emotionally abusive to her because I asked her to re-print 10 copies of a document. She had used very dark red paper and you couldn’t see the words on the paper. Here’s what I said: “Oh, I think this may be hard to read since there’s not much contrast. Would you please print this again on a light color”?

    2. Vex*

      Ladies’ work! Woof. The vindictive side of me would be tempted to load that guy up with every s0-called “lady” task I could think of.

      1. Amber Rose*

        My boss ended up sending the kid into the field with the crews. Probably because the office staff (of whom 3 were dudes as well, for the record) were sick of his incessant whining and boss was sick of hearing about it.

          1. Amber Rose*

            Of course he did. He hated the long hours, he hated the heavy lifting, and since you need fairly extensive education and training to do what the crews were doing, he hated that he got grunt work like flagging nails or cleaning the truck.

            We were all grateful when he left for school.

  16. Applesauced*

    There is a company that leases a few desks in a corner of our office and their intern is the WORST. I don’t work with her, so I can’t speak to her work skills, but just the way she presents herself is terrible – she comes in dressed like she’s ready to go clubbing (strapless maxi dress, satin short shorts, giant heels….) is always chewing on a straw from her venti-mocca-chocalata-yaya-whatever, leaves her cellphone on all day and takes loud obnoxious personal phone calls. And the kicker is – THIS IS HER SECOND SUMMER! Her work much be flawless, otherwise I can’t see why they would bring her back.

    1. Artemesia*

      She is almost certainly the spawn of an important client, a relative of a C-suiter or has other similar connections.

    2. Shannon*

      They bring her back because they get the benefit of her work without her obnoxiousness.

  17. BananaPants*

    This summer’s intern seems really immature and clueless. The other interns I’ve encountered this summer seem good, but this guy? He’s really into social media and posts his grievances with his internship publicly on Twitter, he frequently spends all day on the Internet rather than doing work and then complains that he has nothing to do, and what he thinks is a witty sense of humor is actually coming across as pretty tone-deaf.

    When he gets bored or thinks work is beneath his skills (!) he complains to our boss or boss’ boss rather than going to his assigned mentor or another engineer in the group. This results in our boss going around trying to find ANYONE who can find him something to do, so that the intern will leave him alone. BTW, our interns have clearly defined, relevant projects – they’re not collating or filing or getting coffee.

    Two more weeks and he’s outta here. I want to hire the intern who sits across from me – he seems like a solid performer, eager to learn, and has a better understanding of our workplace norms.

    1. aliascelli*

      Do HR/his internship coordinator know he’s bashing the company on Twitter? Because WOW.

    2. Honeybee*

      When I was in college I had to take a 6-week public speaking class as part of my graduation requirements. I feel like today’s students should have to take a mini-class in social media awareness, which would include gems like “don’t criticize your company publicly on Twitter, particularly if your name is attached to it.”

  18. Artemesia*

    I was once managing an academic program when a student came in in tears that she had been unfairly thrown out of a class by one of our adjuncts. She said, ‘I was just sitting in the back and not doing anything.’ I said ‘Were you surfing?’ She said ‘Well there was noting in the syllabus that says you can’t do that in class.’ to which I said “if you were in a meeting with the CEO at your first job and he noticed by your computer reflected in the window behind you that you were playing games or surfing during his meeting, you’d be fired on the spot.’

    Internships have as one of their primary functions teaching workplace norms. It would be nice if the programs that placed students taught those things. I know we did sessions on appropriate dress for example so I am pretty sure our interns were not going out in club or beach war — flip flops, maybe. But if the program hasn’t prepared them then the site manager needs to do so. Alison’s advice is excellent. And while it is important for interns to make contributions and that is often grunt work, it is also important to facilitate their learning and that means discussing the ways in which the grunt work fits into the larger organization.

  19. BabyAttorney*

    Sometimes I wonder if these people have ever had any type of job. I feel like learning workplace norms, dress code, and appropriate behavior comes in spades at your summer part time job at McRetail Service.

    1. S*

      Your first office internship is going to have much different standards and cultural norms (not to mention dress codes!) than a part-time job at the mall…

      1. catsAreCool*

        A part time job at the mall is likely to at least teach employees to come to work on time, call in sick when necessary, and treat supervisors and customers politely.

    2. OriginalEmma*

      It’s likely they may not have. Between over-scheduled adolescent extracurricular activities in an attempt to stand out to college admissions to retail jobs eaten up by adult breadwinners, plenty of teens nowadays don’t have any part-time work experience prior to college.

    3. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

      Having expectations of interns that are too high can also have a disproportionate impact on racial minorities and people from low-income backgrounds. My parents both had professional jobs and master’s degrees, and so I just picked a lot of stuff up from them over dinner, breakfast, general conversation. If you’re not around that your whole life and don’t somehow have someone explicitly teach you these types of norms, it’s pretty hard to get your foot in the door in the first place – you just won’t come across as being as polished and “normal” as other candidates who have grown up around this kind of stuff. We try to give a little extra wiggle room to all intern applicants and we stopped ruling people out over less-than-professional resumes, slightly odd e-mail communication, etc. Instead, we’re paying more attention to eagerness, alignment of their goals with what they would be doing during the internship, and some history of accomplishment – even if it’s a bit unconventional. We have had a much more diverse – and equally talented – group this year.

      1. S*


        Neither of my parents have office jobs, but we were financially stable enough that I didn’t have to work part-time in high school, and I received several generous scholarships that meant no work-study in college. I didn’t even buy my first black blazer until junior year. It’s so easy to forget that not everyone has a “white-collar” family background and that things like email etiquette, office-appropriate behavior, and dress codes are often internalized through our families. And when a student doesn’t have that sort of upbringing, then yes, it is up to the intern manager to lay out those expectations clearly in the beginning.

      2. Meadowsweet*

        I was pretty office-feral when I started – everything previous was school or blue-collar. I had a clue, but really wish someone had just said “dress similar to this, emails should look like this, and don’t doodle”.

        1. Karowen*

          Marginally off-topic: My ex’s father died when he was young and his mother was a school teacher with passing acquaintance with a computer. I tried to have the “this is what an email should look like” conversation, but he insisted on doing the indents and alignments you would see in a hand-written letter. Nothing I could say could convince him that his email conventions were off, even though I use(d) email all the time in my job and internship. Some people just don’t want to get it.

      3. Honeybee*

        +100. I grew up working-class and I’m African American, and all of the things I knew about work came from blue-collar jobs. I wasn’t even aware that some people didn’t get paid hourly and were exempt from overtime until probably late college/early graduate school. And instead of my parents helping me polish my resume, I grew up helping them polish theirs. They still taught me some important professional norms, but a lot of things either had to be adjusted or changed completely because of the different context I was entering.

        The time when I felt most fish-out-of-water was my first wine and cheese party in graduate school. I always thought wine and cheese was a euphemism; I was shocked and amused to find out that people actually ate those things together at fancy parties, lol!

      4. Steve G*

        I think its also a suburban (or country) vs. city thing. I can’t speak for everyone, but IME where I grew up, EVERYONE had had multiple jobs by the time they were 18, and it seems like for most people I’ve been meeting who grew up in NYC, that is sooooo NOT the case.

    4. AMT*

      I’ve wondered that, too. In grad school, I was a student representative on a committee that basically decided whether to expel students who had committed repeated misconduct, usually at their internships. The students who were brought before the committee were grad students ages 25+ with bachelor’s degrees and years of work experience. Yet they’d done things at their internships that an 18-year-old Dairy Queen employee would know not to do. One guy in his forties didn’t show up for a week because some random person family member died. I think there’s just something about internships that makes people not take them seriously.

  20. Student*

    The worst intern problem I had was a summer intern, Larry, who did lousy work, but also had an extremely muddled chain-of-command. He came to work for Bob for ~2 months. However, Bob had no intention of working with Larry from the very beginning. Bob was on planned business travel for nearly the full duration of the internship. Bob immediately pawned intern Larry off on Bob’s full-time underling, George. George worked with intern Larry for about a month. Then George’s wife had twins, and George proceeded to take the next month off mixed with work from home. So intern Larry got handed off to me, though Bob wasn’t aware of this.

    Larry proceeded to give me a lot of flack, do a lousy job on his assignments, and bounce between things I had asked him to do and things George had asked him to do as soon as something was difficult to accomplish – never fully completing any specific task. I talked to George about the issues, and neither of us were sure what to do. I wanted to sit the student down for a talk promptly. George wanted to give him until the end of the internship, and wanted absent boss Bob to do the talking. I couldn’t decide whether my immediate, albeit temporary and unofficial authority over the intern trumped George and Bob’s authority over “their” intern. Eventually I deferred to George’s wishes. I heard that the talk between Larry and Bob at the very end of the internship did not go smoothly (to no one’s surprise). I really regret not just correcting intern Larry earlier in the process without consulting George.

  21. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

    This probably doesn’t apply in all workplaces, but I sometimes think that interns feel especially short on clothes because they think they have to wear something different every day for weeks. I will see that someone clearly has 5 nice outfits, but they end up wearing inappropriate/too casual clothes two-third of the time anyway – I guess so they aren’t repeating outfits?

    At least in my office, you do not have to worry about repeating outfits – everyone does it. Get a couple of scarves and 4 bottoms and 6-8 tops will take you through two weeks, easily. Consciousness about wearing the same outfit two weeks in a row is (a) super American and (b) something that decreases after college. I frequently see people wearing the same outfit two weeks in a row. Personally, I’d rather look nice all the time than rotate through my crappy clothes just to switch it up.

    1. the gold digger*

      I am thrifty and I work with almost all male engineers. I have not bought new work clothes in a year and I wear pretty much the same things every week. Nobody notices, or, if they do, they have never said anything. I don’t care if they mind. I hate shopping and I would rather spend my money on things besides clothes.

    2. Amber Rose*

      Is that a thing? I have one pair of pants and 5 or 6 shirts. I wash them every few days. I figure that people should expect to see the same clothes, since it’s not realistic to always have new clothes.

    3. Judy*

      A female engineer who was right out of school made a bet with an older male engineer. The male engineer said he could wear the same things (defined as a red polo type shirt and black dockers type pants) for two weeks without anyone saying anything. He won the bet.

      1. AnotherFed*

        We have one engineer who has worn the same outfit every day for at least 5 years at this point. We did actually notice and comment, but by now all we do is tease anyone who accidentally wears the same thing as him for stealing his outfit.

      2. Stranger than fiction*

        Didn’t some news anchors do a similar experiment? Everyone noticed when the female wore the same dress but not when the male wore the same shirt and tie

        1. Anx*

          I still feel self conscious about repeating dresses. I tend to buy them used and then consign them.

        2. Brisvegan*

          It was a male Aussie morning show host, who was sick of seeing harsh criticism of his female co-host for wearing the same thing more than once or for her choice of clothes. He wore the same suit for a year and no-one commented.

    4. Blurgle*

      I was once given official feedback that I didn’t own enough changes of clothes and therefore was inappropriately dressed. I’ve heard since that both men and women tend to negatively judge women who don’t have a lot of different changes of clothes, even if she’s always clean and tidy.

    5. catsAreCool*

      I was born and brought up in the USA, and I’ve never worried about wearing the same outfit two weeks in a row. Then again, when I was a kid, a lot of my clothes were hand-me-down or from a resale store. Maybe the whole “repeat” thing is a class thing. I think my family was lower middle class.

    6. Shannon*

      I fall into the uniform train of thought when it comes to clothes. When I find clothes I like, I buy them in as many colors as possible, but, sometimes it means having three blue shirts, three white shirts and three red shirts. I would rather wear clothes that make me feel confident.

  22. Menacia*

    Unfortunately, it’s not just interns. We had a new hire on the Helpdesk who has been less than stellar. When I start a new job, I don’t just sit there waiting to be asked to do something, I ask what can I do! He’s had a lot of training, and while we’re a small company (and small Helpdesk), we actually have a lot of work/projects going on. We cannot constantly engage someone to become involved in the daily workload. I have given him his first training assignment, and his response was to hem and haw about it. It is the same training he received when he started, and is *very* basic new hire training. I just feel that men sometimes really don’t want to do training, but I’ll be damned if I get stuck doing it all (I’m the only woman on a 5 person team). He still has not set up the training, so when he’s back tomorrow, I’m going to ask him about it… I have no qualms about calling people out when they aren’t doing what they should…

  23. Ask a Manager* Post author

    There are some great intern horror stories here, which makes me think I should do a round-up post of them. I may do a whole separate post soliciting stories, but if anyone would object to me potentially using theirs (anonyomized, of course), please let me know so I don’t inadvertently use it!

    1. AMT*

      Please do! I have a contribution of my own, actually.

      When I was in grad school for social work, I served as a student representative on a committee that decided whether master’s students should be suspended or expelled, usually based on some kind of misconduct during their required internships. We had a hearing for a woman in her late twenties who had bounced around at different internships and had been fired from more than one because she couldn’t get along with her supervisors.

      She had been brought before the committee because she’d filed a false police report at her last internship. According to her story, she had walked out of the building to get lunch and had seen a black man with an assault rifle standing in the stairwell. She then proceeded to get lunch (!), come back to the building (!), and tell the receptionist what had happened. The receptionist obviously called the police, who came and searched the building, traumatizing the clients, who were all domestic violence victims. The police reviewed the security tapes and found that there had been no assault rifle guy in the stairwell or anywhere around the building. She was seen on the tapes walking out and back into the building without seeming to see anyone.

      What we *think* happened was that she was annoyed at having to work in such a “bad” (read: black) neighborhood, which she made very clear during her hearing. It’s possible that she was venting to the receptionist and made the mistake of telling a lie that had to be reported to the police. Even after she was caught, she continued to stick to her story and insist that she’d seen a guy with an assault rifle. She even drew an incredibly improbable diagram of a guy with an assault rifle concealed in his sweatpants (!) and basically claimed that the cameras themselves were lying. We ended up giving her a year of suspension and allowing her to reapply, though I’m not sure if she was readmitted.

      1. bridget*

        If there ever was a person who should not be allowed to become a social worker, I think you found her. Good grief.

      2. Honeybee*

        Oh my Lord!

        I mean, she was training to be a social worker – didn’t she realize she was MOSTLY going to be working in low-income, probably predominantly ethnic minority neighborhoods?

      3. I'm a Little Teapot*



        I’m not sure if the diagram of Mr. Gun-in-Pants is the best part, or that she claimed she reacted to a heavily armed stranger in the stairwell by calmly walking out of the building, gettinf lunch, and *going back in.*

    2. Hellanon*

      It would be great to hear from interns, too – not all of them are clueless, obviously, and some of them probably have some management horror stories to tell.

      1. AnotherFed*

        That would be really interesting – interns and others new to the workplace are probably more likely to miss red flags or have the skills to shut down crazy/unprofessional behavior early. I can see that leading to some truly bizarre internship stories!

  24. Honeybee*

    That stock photo is giving me life for so many reasons, lol.

    Also, I suspect the interns who text through meetings and interrupt colleagues are the same ones who text through class and interrupt their professors and classmates during discussions. It’s partially a function of inexperience, but also a function of general rudeness.

  25. AnotherFed*

    We’ve got only good interns and new hires this summer, but in previous years, we’ve had some terrible ones. One intern a few years ago never got assigned a project (there was a mix-up over who would be tasking him) and actively hid this fact so he didn’t have to do any real work. He still had a mentor and regular weekly check ins, and apparently made up complete fabrications for what he’d been doing and learning that week. This was discovered in his big end-of-summer presentation, when had nothing real to present and the whole team was there to catch him lying about what he’d supposedly done for them.

    1. CoffeeLover*

      Wow, that’s elaborate. It probably would have been easier for him to actually do the work.

  26. Intern*

    I like everything Alison said but when it comes to #1 I do want to point out that not all interns are completely without job experience. For example, most MBA interns have at least 3 years of experience and many have 5-10 (choosing to return to school after they’ve gotten a bit of leadership experience in their current roles.)

    I’m an MBA intern but because I’m an “intern” a lot of people at my current job assume I have no experience at all. While I’ll gladly pitch in and do more than my share of the grunt work (especially considering I’m an intern), spending an entire summer filing papers or doing data entry is really a waste for both me and the employer when I have previous experience managing an $80,000 annual budget, managing volunteers, and driving large projects with many deliverable.

    I’m finding that giving gentle, tactful reminders that I’m capable of a lot is a bit more effective than working through small tasks as quickly as I can to “show” that I’m capable of more (although I certainly have been tackling every last thing handed to me with a zeal – even the filing!) Just wanted to throw this reminder out there as I’m running into a lot of people thinking “intern” = no experience :)

    1. Honeybee*

      This is true. I took an internship during my PhD program. It was an internship program that normally hired undergraduate interns, but I already had an MA and some years’ experience doing statistical consulting and data analysis. Luckily, I had an excellent manager and team and they very quickly realized that having me do filing and such would be a waste of my skills, so they had me analyzing consumer data, producing reports, writing a monthly newsletter for clients and I even handled some clients when one of their permanent people was out on vacation. It was a really fantastic internship, and I learned a lot!

  27. Tara*

    My internship has very… lax standards. I keep fighting the urge to try to explain to the 15 year old that this isn’t what a real office is like! (Although I did join everyone else, including the boss, in the leggings and t-shirt wearing after doing business casual for a few days and looking totally out of sync. It’s comfy!)

  28. Question Mark*

    I asked our summer intern to make some copies. Nothing fancy – 100 copies, single sided, b&w. I pointed out the copier and assumed that was enough direction. I entered the copy room :15 minutes later to discover the poor guy didn’t know he could simply punch in 100 and hit enter….he was making them one at a time and counting as he went along. I guess sometimes we just forget that not everyone knows the basic stuff like this.

    1. Sparkly Librarian*

      Oh dear! I laughed at that, but I probably looked similarly ignorant when I showed up at my first office job (a temp placement) and was confronted with a stack of envelopes and a typewriter. (This was 2005, and I had grown up on computers for word processing.)

      1. GOG11*

        I’m an admin at a university and usually say something to this effect when adjuncts make self-deprecating remarks about not being able to work the same sorts of magic on the copier as I do (quite a few of our adjuncts are former high-level professionals who had support staff before). Knowing how to work one copier means you know how to work one copier lol.

    2. Sara*

      I did something like this during my graduate internship – I had never worked someplace with a fully functioning copy machine, and so when my supervisor asked me to photocopy 30 packets that needed to have a staple, I did what I assumed I’d have to do – copied 30 of the first page, second page, third page…and then collated and stapled them by hand. She was all, “Why did that take you forever?” and then I learned that there are buttons you can push that do those things for you.

  29. AcademiaNut*

    I am sympathetic towards interns who are dressed neatly and appropriately covered, but lack a proper professional wardrobe appropriate for that particular workplace, particularly if they’re being expected to purchase a new work wardrobe but aren’t actually getting paid for their work.

    I’m a fan of thrift-shop and deep discount sales, but they aren’t a particularly quick solution to acquiring a new wardrobe, particularly for someone who isn’t an average size and shape, unless you’re willing to buy anything that vaguely fits, no matter how unflattering.

    Part of the problem in going from school to an internship or entry level job is that university professors actually have very little ability to do anything about unprofessional behaviour like texting in class, showing up late or skipping classes, or being an entitled snot in general, no matter how much they dislike it. They can’t fire students, they can’t mark them down for being unprofessional, and in many cases penalizing for poor attendance is not allowed. Calling students out during class is an option, but it takes away from the already limited instructional time, penalizing the other students.

    1. CoffeeLover*

      I don’t think I’m sympathetic to the wardrobe issue (as someone who was recently in this boat). If you’re going to school for a certain career, you should know at some point very soon you’ll require a professional wardrobe. When I started interning, I already had enough cloths to comfortably make it through a week in professional clothing. That’s because I spent a few years buying dress pants instead of jeans. And really the only thing you need to dress business casual is dress pants and a decent shirt. I almost equate it to showing up to uni without a pen and paper.

  30. CoffeeLover*

    I worked at a place that decided they were going to hire everyone’s niece, nephew, child, friend of a friend, etc. They expressly gave preference to family members of current employees (seriously, it was written in their hiring guide). This was a mid-size organization (on its way to being a large org.) that was still developing it’s internship program. They ended up with way too many interns in places they didn’t belong. There was nursing students in IT, high school students in procurement, political science students in accounting etc. The office turned into a high school cafeteria. One guy regularly slept at his desk and once fell asleep in a meeting. One girl pawned work off on others and basically didn’t work; at the end of her internship, she didn’t hand in the project she was assigned and just left having done 0 work. One guy went out drinking with the other interns, crawled back to the office, and slept it off under his desk. One girl (the daughter of an exec), came to work in terrible, terrible outfits. I’m talking neon, miniskirt dresses with 6″ pumps. She drove to work with her dad in the morning and I have no idea why he let her come to his job like that (reflected poorly on him). She also sent an unsolicited topless photo to one of the other interns that made it’s round through the interns (the guy is the one at fault, but what was she thinking!?). There was a lot of other stuff that I just don’t remember. Their solution for the following summer (instead of cutting back on interns, requiring interns to have a related degree, etc.), was to hire all the same people and an addition intern who’s job was basically to babysit the rest of the interns. They also came up with some completely useless community outreach project for them all (because there wasn’t enough work to go around). Babysitter Intern was completely ineffective and Topless Intern continued to dress inappropriately.

    I’ll add that the motivation behind this madness was employee retention. The thought process going that if they hired so-and-so’s kid, that person would be more likely to stay. They probably lost more people in the zoo they created than they managed to retain as a result. I lost a lot of respect for them too.

    1. CoffeeLover*

      I just remembered something else! Each intern had to present on a topic at the end of the internship. The topics were assigned, but were the type of things you would assign a kid over summer break. They presented in front of their supervisors, which included some pretty high level people (all the way up to EVPs). It. Was. So. Painful. Presentations were sloppy, people were unprepared and nervous, inappropriate things were said. The whole thing was extremely cringe-worthy.

  31. tired of interns*

    Highlights from this crop of interns:

    * Fell asleep at their desk
    * Fell asleep in a client meeting
    * Instagramming in a client meeting
    * Intern whose parent was a friend of the owner had to be picked up *and* dropped off
    * Snapchatting, SO MUCH SNAPCHATTING
    * Tried to order prime rib at a chain restaurant for lunch
    * Fell asleep in the lobby on one of the couches
    * Answered the office phone by saying, “What?”

    I am literally counting the days until they are out of here.

    1. Paige Turner*

      * Answered the office phone by saying, “What?”

      Until recently, I worked in a large retail store that got a lot of phone calls, and the store did no training on phone protocol/etiquette for new employees. I’d cringe when I overheard coworkers who had never learned professional phone norms (they were generally nice enough, but they’d do things like put their hand over the receiver instead of putting someone on hold, or would just use very informal language like “hang on” instead of “just a moment, please”).
      If you have an intern who’s really green, making sure that they get an intro to professional phone use would be an important learning experience for the intern and would save the company from potential embarrassment from a well-meaning but uninformed intern.
      Now, if the intern answers the phone with something obviously rude like “What?” because they know but just don’t care, that’s another story.

      1. tired of interns*

        I would totally give a pass on poor phone etiquette had they not shadowed the receptionist and reviewed “how to answer the phone” in detail.

  32. BananaPants*

    I had a horrible intern several years ago. We lost our carefully-selected intern candidate in early April and I was handed a stack of resumes collected from a professional organization’s career fair. I had to do phone interviews only and recommend one for an immediate offer. As you can imagine, by mid- and late April the pool of decent candidates who had not already committed to other internships was very slim. I found one who seemed like the least-bad option from a poor candidate pool and we extended an offer. Then the problems began!

    He was displeased that we didn’t provide housing and that he would be expected to find a rental AND pay for it. Note: along with the offer we provided him with contact information for corporate summer intern housing in our area (at a local university – ranging from suite-style dorms to fully-furnished townhouses). They only had dorm housing available by then and he didn’t want to live in a dorm, so he was at an extended-stay hotel for his first 2 weeks and complained mightily about the cost. He finally found a summer sublet in an off-campus apartment at a different university in the area.

    It became apparent very quickly that he wasn’t interested in doing any real work in this engineering internship. When I assigned him tasks and gave very clear milestones he blew them off. He flat-out couldn’t be found around half of the time; his stuff was at his desk and he claimed he was in the building but couldn’t explain exactly WHAT he was doing. He frequently invited himself into the offices of senior managers and executives to discuss “business” with them and to schmooze about a charitable foundation he wanted to start. One guy seemed flattered by the attention and invited him to weekend barbecues and cocktail parties at his house. He expected to be able to leave right after lunch on Fridays to avoid rush hour traffic through New York City on his way home (our manager allowed it as long as he clocked out). Then he’d show up shortly before noon on Monday, hung over or claiming exhaustion from the drive back from his family’s home in another state. When we sat down to discuss expectations and workplace norms, he claimed that we were creating a hostile work environment and were discriminating on the basis of race and class. My manager was worried about looking bad and didn’t go to HR until it was far too late to address our concerns in a substantive way.

    He pulled together a horrible presentation full of B.S. for his required end-of-internship presentation to senior management (my group kept it as a cautionary example for our interns since). Trying to salvage something from the situation, my manager and I had clearly outlined what we expected from him before he left; documentation and CAD files so that I could finish the project after he left. On his last day he bailed at 11 AM without telling anyone he was leaving. He just dropped his ID at the HR assistant’s desk , left me a CD of incomplete and poorly-done CAD files that our machine shop couldn’t make sense of, and left a note saying he wanted to get back to campus early.

    He still contacted me asking me to be a reference during his job hunt! I said that I did not feel I could offer him a reference and was accused of being racist; the email chain was forwarded to HR to cover my own tail. Several months later he emailed me again to say that a well-known consulting firm was close to giving him an offer and he really needed a reference from me. When the reference checker contacted me I sent them straight to my HR manager, who only confirmed dates of employment and stated that he was not eligible for re-hire. He has not found a full time job in our field and is working as a freelance artist.

    His LinkedIn summary of the internship is VERY creatively-written and 4 out of the 5 bullet points represent single-day tasks that our manager successfully forced him to participate in. One bullet point is for his actual project, which he claims on LinkedIn and on his resume that he single-handedly spearheaded and that saves us hundreds of hours of work per year (we never actually built his “design” even after spending several thousand dollars on hardware – it was that bad).

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