update: I have an awful summer intern, and I can’t fire him

Remember the letter-writer in June who had a terrible summer intern who she couldn’t fire? Here’s the update.

First of all, thank you so much for your advice. I honestly had no idea how to handle the situation because it was the first time I have ever dealt with anything like that, and I was hoping to get your advice before I approached my boss. She was on vacation when you responded to my letter, and I didn’t want to reach out to our VIP without talking to her first. Hilariously, though, when she returned and I briefed her on the situation, the first thing she asked me was whether I talked to VIP about Bad Intern’s behavior. So in the future, the first thing I will do is approach the VIP with my concerns.

A few of the comments advised me to make sure that Bad Intern wasn’t impacting Good Intern or Grad Intern, and I have to admit that I was so worried about how his behavior reflected on our program and on me personally that it didn’t even occur to me to worry about that, which was very jerky of me. I took it as an opportunity to make sure that I was helping Good Intern and Grad Intern to get all of the experience they needed. Grad Intern’s projects were vastly different from the others, but I asked her if she would feel comfortable working with Good Intern. She was able to work on her teaching skills, and he was able to learn about many different subjects. (Grad Intern is teaching a class this fall, and Good Intern is still exploring his interests.)

My firm doesn’t tend to have many interns, so the interns that we do have tend to work in multiple departments as needed and handle multiple projects. It’s an opportunity to see many sides of the business, and get lots of actual, useful experience. Another department called me to ask for help on a project, and, after a chat with Bad Intern, I assigned him to their department for the week to help out with a large-scale project that I was confident he could handle. (I also had a chat with him about meeting expectations, like bringing a notebook and pen whenever you meet with your manager, being there right on time and not extremely early or late at all, etc.)

He ended up hating the project, which admittedly had some dull parts. The woman he was working closely with is known for being no-nonsense, which is candidly part of the reason that I thought it would be good for him. He set up a meeting with me and then proceeded to come to my office and start screaming about how he should be doing the work that Good Intern was doing, how he had to help Good Intern because he “didn’t understand anything about his projects” and I wasn’t “utilizing his skills and experience properly.” (Good Intern’s work was incredibly high quality, and he always asked good follow up questions to me and to anyone else assigning him work. Not exaggerating, his writing and reasoning skills are on par with actual attorneys, and he’s only 19.) I remained calm, asked him exactly what kind of work he thought he should be doing, and reinforced that he wasn’t going to be getting out of working on that project, and I was not assigning it to Good Intern. Apparently, he thought that he would be doing “really interesting research and writing assignments”, which by and large do not exist in the work that we do. We kept going around in circles for a period of time, because he kept trying to use weird logic to trick me into agreeing that he was so smart and wonderful and I was wasting his skills. I affirmed that all of the interns have different projects, and that I handle all work assignments. He then proceeded to yell even louder, in frustration, that he didn’t expect the meeting to go this way. I responded by telling him that yelling at your boss is never a good idea, and is especially not how you get what you want in the workplace. I then reminded him that all of us have dull tasks to handle, including me, and it’s part of being an adult with a job. I asked him if he would prefer to split his time with us and the other department, and he asked if he could think about it.

Apparently, this conversation is what spurred him to change his behavior. I saw him the next work morning, and he was actually polite to me and pleasant. He asked me if he could concentrate on the other project so he could get it done faster. He only had another 2 weeks or so after that point, and I have to admit that it wasn’t awful! His writing skills were still not what I would prefer, and he still had messy hair and sloppy clothes, but he stopped being aggressively rude to me and to the support staff. We had a meeting on his last day to talk about career options, and how to get where he wanted to go, and he THANKED ME for the opportunity and apologized for his bad attitude about the dull project! He had apparently been rude because he thought that it was a full-time job after the summer (!) and he wanted to be in a different department, working as a legal clerk. To be clear, this was never offered to him by anyone, so I’m not sure where he got the idea. My friend in HR had a very uncomfortable conversation about that with him, and it’s what got him to set his end date.

I also have to admit that I chuckled over the mansplaining debate in the comments! I didn’t include all the examples in the letter, because it would have been way too long. One of the things he did was cut off Grad Intern, who is a licensed social worker who has a background in child welfare, and tell her that he knows “way more” because he took a class on the subject. I had been referred to him as “Captain Mansplainer” when complaining about him to my husband and friends, and I guess I am so used to the term that I didn’t realize that there was a debate! I am sorry for accidentally bringing that negativity to the comments section. (Note from Alison: The term describes a particular type of sexism. No apology needed.)

I really appreciate the advice and support, and I especially appreciated all the comments. This was an opportunity for me to work on my management skills. Thank you so much.

{ 135 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. JB2

    This is a great update! One thing I might’ve just missed. Did you end up reaching out to the VIP about bad intern? If so, how did that go?

    Reply
    1. LW

      The way that the timing worked out, after my boss came back from her vacation, VIP was out on his vacation … and then I only had Bad Intern for another few days. He had weirdly reformed his behavior by then, so I didn’t really have as much to discuss.

      Reply
      1. Sassy AE

        So. I don’t know if you’ve already done this, but I’d honestly bring this up as a debrief to your boss and VIP. Try to dissect what went wrong where, and what you should do in the future. I understand interns are there to learn, but you should be enabled to fire the people you need to (no matter what level).

        IMO letting this guy finish up his internship was not the best thing to do in this situation. Will he use you as a reference in the future? If he does, what will you/your company say?

        Reply
        1. AdAgencyChick

          “IMO letting this guy finish up his internship was not the best thing to do in this situation.”

          I don’t blame OP for being a little lost here — her boss was on vacay, and the intern had a connection to someone high in the pecking order. In that situation, I would want to wait to speak to my boss to make sure that firing or even *disciplining* this kid wouldn’t get me in trouble.

          (Seen it happen with too many friends or kids of clients whom management insists on treating with kid gloves.)

          Reply
      2. Mephyle

        Try to dissect what went wrong where, and what you should do in the future.
        Not only to dissect what went wrong, but also what went right. His turnaround was astoundingly positive, and while it doesn’t mean that his earlier behaviour should be ignored and forgotten, it also doesn’t mean that he shouldn’t be credited with the improvement that he was able to show.

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        1. Lance

          Definitely this. People are redeemable, and it sounds like he’s taken some steps in the right direction by the end; something like that can’t be overlooked.

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        2. lowercase holly

          or at least it is a good example that supervisors should be able to discipline bad behavior from interns no matter who they are related to.

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        3. Katie F

          I wonder if he went home and complained to someone about how awful the meeting was and had them set him straight. Some people listen to very specific people in their lives and absolutely no one else.

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      3. designbot

        I wonder if VIP is where he got his mistaken notions about the type of job it was? I could see someone in a high-level position that doesn’t actually interact with interns accidentally overselling the experience just due to the disconnect between the thousand-foot-level they tend to talk at and the tedium of entry level tasks. Making sure he knows what happened could be a chance for him to realize if this might have been the case and avoid it in the future.

        Reply
        1. LW

          That’s the weird thing. I’m honestly thinking that he thought it was another learning opportunity, like school. The letter Alison posted from the dress code intern was illuminating to me, quite frankly.

          The VIP wanted him to work in my department because my boss is known for being kind and it’s known that we have a need for, and regularly utilize, interns. VIP specifically wanted him to get experience handling the day-to-day, and VIP knows what we do pretty well, so I’m sure it wasn’t a miscommunication from him.

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          1. College Career Counselor

            Having had the “many organizations hire their interns into full-time job opportunities after graduation conversation” hundreds of times, it’s (barely) possible he heard some combination of “all organizations automatically do this” and even if they don’t, “I’m obviously awesome, so they’re going to hire ME.”

            Still doesn’t excuse his repeatedly terrible behavior. I’m glad to hear he made some efforts to reform, however.

            Reply
            1. Mirax

              You would think that believing it would become a full-time job would encourage him to behave more politely, not less! I mean, if he was working there full-time he’d have to see these people EVERY DAY.

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            2. Jenky

              The original letter made it pretty clear he approached things with an entitled attitude (necessary for a great mansplanation), so yeah seems pretty likely he heard ‘Some people get hired on’ as ‘You are obviously the most competent person here so we’ll beg you to stay on.’

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          2. Jessesgirl72

            The transformation was so immediate and complete that I am wondering if he didn’t call the VIP to report you for not giving him his due, and VIP swiftly and firmly set him straight.

            Reply
  2. Triangle Pose

    I’m sorry you had to deal with him yelling (?!) at you in the meeting. It sounds like you conducted yourself wonderfully at the meeting and I’m glad the last two weeks were not awful for you! I have to say, this letter struck a chord with me because I use to be in BigLaw and have seen this type of situation play out before. I hope (but have severe doubts) that Bad Intern learned his lesson. I’m also so glad that you took from the comments and met with Good Intern and Grad Intern, it’s lovely when the comments can raise new issues that LW can put in practice. Mainly, I’m just happy you don’t have to deal with him anymore – cheers!

    Reply
  3. ButFirstCoffee

    I applaud you for being patient and calm through out the whole process – it means he won’t be able to make excuses for his behavior later. I think we all did some things we regret in our intern days, although I could never imagine being that rude and hostile, I am hoping he looks back on those days and realizes what he did wrong.

    Reply
  4. GigglyPuff

    I’m curious, was there any feedback from the other department’s manager? I wonder if they had a more blunt conversation with him, that lead to the yelling at you, and then finally the slightly better behavior.

    Reply
    1. LW

      The feedback that I received from her was that he was polite and did everything she needed. You could have knocked me over with a feather.

      Reply
      1. Aurion

        Well, you mentioned that the head of the other department is utterly no-nonsense, so perhaps she set the boundaries hard at first meeting. Coupled with your shutdown earlier, Bad Intern might’ve decided it wasn’t worth making more waves.

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        1. Fortitude Jones

          Yup. He probably sensed he couldn’t mess with her right off the bat. No slight to you, OP, but some people are just naturally better at commanding respect than others.

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          1. the gold digger

            I was a substitute teacher for a while. I had been doing all elementary school, which was fun – the kids were great – but was then sent to a high school. An experienced teacher friend told me, “Send the very first one who acts up to the principal right away. You can always get nicer, but you can’t get meaner.”

            Reply
            1. Jenky

              ‘You can always get nicer, but you can’t get meaner.’

              Ooh I’m going to mull that over for a while. (Though it’s definitely for work – in life, you can have a reputation for being a jerk even though you are kind and fair in practice, I find people will often readjust your actions to fit your reputation, while they downplay any real nasty things done by people who come off as sweet. C’est las vie!)

              Reply
  5. The Cosmic Avenger

    He …proceeded to come to my office and start screaming about [his complaints]. I remained calm, asked him exactly what kind of work he thought he should be doing, and reinforced that he wasn’t going to be getting out of working on that project, and I was not assigning it to Good Intern.

    OP, I think overall you did really well here, but I feel the need to point out that this particular point above was a huge missed opportunity to be more assertive and tell him that that was not an acceptable way to communicate in the office, and if he couldn’t immediately speak in a more civil manner he should go take a few minutes to compose himself.

    Believe me, I know it’s often not easy to assert yourself calmly yet firmly when someone is acting that way, but that really is what needs to happen. I was bullied a lot as a child, and it took me decades to build up my confidence enough that I can respond in this manner to this type of verbal and emotional assault. You were somewhat lucky in that he had enough sense to stop using this tactic when it didn’t get him what he wanted and you implied that it was counterproductive, but if he had persisted you would have been forced to deal more directly with his hostile affect.

    Reply
    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Yeah, I’ll say that that struck me as a bit too passive too. Ideally you want to shut that down — as in “It’s not acceptable to speak to anyone here that way. I need you to immediately stop that.”

      Reply
      1. LW

        I’ll definitely take this course of action in the future … although I really hope that I don’t have to. I was more blunt with him when I heard him mistreating our IT staff and one of our secretaries, but I think you’re absolutely right here.

        Reply
      2. Student

        I had a similar problem like this with an employee, and I gotta ask – when there are lots of issues to address, like with this guy, how do you decide what to prioritize? I generally focus on performance problems over rudeness because the performance problem hurts everyone, while the rudeness only hurts me and doesn’t hurt that much in the short run.

        I have more trouble trying to address a lot of problems than one big problem, because I (1) have no faith the person I’m talking to will be able to absorb and prioritize fixing multiple issues at once and (2) I don’t have the emotional bandwidth to berate somebody for issue upon issue upon issue – at that point, I’m doing damage control on somebody who should really be fired instead of trying to actually help the other person. Am I underestimating bad performer’s capability to take criticism? Giving up too soon? Focusing on the wrong thing?

        Reply
          1. Student

            You won’t hear any argument from me, but my bosses feel differently. Unfortunately, for a lot of (legal CYA, mainly) reasons, many employers in field are putting hire/fire power in the hands of managers two levels up, so direct daily work supervisors can’t just fire people for extensive performance problems.

            This arrangement changes the hire/fire manager’s incentives to deal with firing people in a terribly unproductive way. If the bad employee does something bad enough to cause my manager discomfort, he’s got me as a scapegoat to pass the manager-blame. If the bad employee is generally unproductive, it doesn’t impact my manager directly, so there’s little reason for him to start the paperwork. He doesn’t have a lot of time to hear the case for firing, so it’s especially hard to argue for firing a guy with many moderate issues rather than one horrendous issue – the boss usually will try to focus on the first issue/example you present without trying to understand the bigger picture, and doesn’t have much time for (or interest in) following up, and doesn’t necessarily trust me to make a basic assessment of somebody else’s job fitness.

            Reply
            1. Marisol

              Personally I would address the rudeness first, because civility is the foundation of any healthy working environment. At a minimum, an employee should be polite. And if you show up as someone who expects to be treated with respect, then I imagine the employee would be more inclined to take you seriously as a manager, and take your other feedback to heart. If you only address performance issues but allow him to speak rudely to you, how will he ever take you seriously?

              Reply
              1. animaniactoo

                fwiw, I once didn’t quite yell, but got very sharp with a new manager in a stressful deadline-driven moment*. I later went to apologize for it, and she waved me off and said “we’re fine” and generally made it clear that having yelled at her wasn’t a big deal.

                I came out of that going “wow, I can yell at my boss and it’s okay, that’s COOL”. It was not cool. She was the most boundary stomping uncohesive mess who respected me and nobody else in my department and the longer she worked here the more of a mess it was.

                It works in both directions that respect thing.

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              2. Liz T

                Plus, rudeness issues should end *quickly.* Performance issues might require retraining, but “Don’t ever talk like that to me again” is potentially a quick fix.

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        1. ..Kat..

          Rudeness does affect others, including their performance. And if he treats his manager like this, how do you think he treats others?

          Reply
  6. Shelly

    I am glad his behavior improved. Hopefully, you were able to help him learn how improper his behavior was and help him develop better work habits. Having worked with several interns over the years, I know they can be super frustrating at times, but it sounds like you handled it with aplomb. Plus, we all did dumb things just starting out, I know I did.

    I’m also glad you checked in with your other Interns. Many years ago, I worked as an intern myself with a horrible fellow intern. It wasn’t until my boss met with me to check I was okay, did I fully understand how improper the other interns behavior had been. So, hopefully Grad Intern and Good Intern learned something, too.

    Reply
  7. 2 Cents

    I”m flabbergasted that based on the way he acted all summer with his interns duties that he thought he’d be hired full time at the end of it!

    I’m not painting all interns with the same brush, but the latest few we’ve had here have all been in the “I don’t want to do grunt work, I want to do the most interesting stuff possible all the time, why aren’t you giving it to me?!?” category. Our response has been the same: We outlined the kind of work we do; if you do grunt work well, we’ll give you higher-level stuff to do when it’s possible; being a working adult means doing grunt work sometimes and not being 100% interested in the task at hand (but that doesn’t mean you can do any less than your best on it, because if I have to redo it, then you’re never getting anything better!)

    Reply
    1. BRR

      Regarding the expectation of a full-time job, I can sort of get how an intern without much work experience could think that an internship will lead to a full-time offer. But at most an internship would possibly lead to a full-time job, not guarantees it.

      Reply
      1. LW

        That’s the strange thing. He came into this thinking that he had a full-time job waiting for the fall. It was seriously not ever brought up to him.

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        1. designbot

          I have no clue what the hiring process with this guy was like, but wanted to pipe up to mention that I’ve been on his side of that misunderstanding before. I interviewed for a part-time internship with a firm in the middle of the school year (they called me based on an old resume submission), and I was clear with them that I was only interested if it lead to a full-time job in the summer, because I didn’t want to switch jobs twice during one year. They were like “oh yeah, yeah, of course! That makes complete sense, of course we can make that happen.” Then summer came and I mentioned that I would be able to switch to full-time hours the following week, suddenly they didn’t remember the conversation, “we would never promise that” etc. I was completely blindsided, but here’s the thing, I could tell they felt the same way. They genuinely didn’t seem to recall this at all, but they absolutely said it. I’m still left scratchign my head at that one.

          Reply
      2. sometimeswhy

        This summer I had a part-time, summer-only, college internship position open. The posting clearly stated the anticipated hours, duties, duration, and requirement of, you know, being in college and more than half of my applicants were graduating seniors who were “excited to start [their] career at [org]!”

        Not even to the interview stage and they were already picking out desk plants.

        Reply
        1. Wildflower

          To be fair, the job market is terrible right now. I’m a recent grad looking for internships because I haven’t had any luck with full-time employment so far. So for that part, try to look at it less as “they clearly didn’t read what I’m looking for” and more as “they’re probably really desperate for some experience”, and consider allowing recent grads!

          Reply
          1. sometimeswhy

            It’s not something I have control over or could consider. A recent grad would qualify for for a temporary position if we had one but that wasn’t what was available at the time. In order to qualify for a college intern position one must be a current and continuing college student.

            The content of the vast majority of cover letters I received from graduating seniors (and sometimes graduating PhDs!) made it very clear that they were looking to get their feet in the door–many going so far as to rename the position they were applying to a full-time, permanent, regular title that wasn’t open–not gain experience. So “clearly didn’t read” feels pretty generous and helps me sleep better than some of the alternatives that come to mind.

            Reply
            1. YawningDodo

              I did a summer internship directly after grad school – but a.) I applied only to internships that were open to recent grads (it’s that crazy thing where you, y’know, read the job posting before applying) and b.) I looked at it as a stopgap/opportunity to get a little more experience on my resume if I ended up getting an internship instead of a longer term job during that particular job search.

              What you’re describing sounds like a mixture of entitlement, inexperience, and desperation. Job searching is hard, and it doesn’t surprise me as much as it probably should that there are people who will basically try to rewrite reality in order to make the position they want available to them.

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      3. 2 Cents

        I can understand thinking it *could* lead to a full-time offer, but then he should have been even more conscientious of the way he was acting!

        Reply
        1. Fortitude Jones

          Right. He thought there was a job at the end of it and decided the best way to present himself to potential coworkers was by being a massive tool?! That does not bode well. Hopefully he’ll come to realize how stupid that strategy is.

          Reply
        2. Dust Bunny

          Yeah, this is what I don’t get: If I thought an internship might lead to a job, I would be acting like I really, really, wanted that job, not slacking off and making everyone mad.

          Reply
          1. halpful

            maybe he hasn’t quite realised that it’s possible to say no to a job offer? iirc there was a letter a little while ago from someone freaking out about the possibility of getting an offer for a job they didn’t think they deserved…

            Reply
      4. Michele

        I’ve heard people tell me that internships can leave to FT jobs at the company. Wish they would stop saying that because those chances seem rare.

        Reply
        1. Stranger than fiction

          Well they can, and they do, but there’s usually one or a limited number of spots if so. Which is all the more reason for interns to mind their p’s and q’s.

          Reply
      5. Honeybee

        I will say that some companies, including my own, strongly imply directly to the interns that if they do their jobs well they will get a full-time offer at the end of the summer. At my company, we’re instructed to only take on interns if we have a full-time position to offer them, so the expectation is largely there. However, it’s also directly stated that if you do poor work or have a poor attitude you can expect to not get hired.

        Reply
    2. Joseph

      “being a working adult means doing grunt work sometimes and not being 100% interested in the task at hand.”
      Quite frankly, I blame this on the way we portray jobs – both in the media and when casually telling work stories. You typically get the most interesting 5% of the job and miss the 95% of grunt work. Lawyers are always dazzling in the courtroom rather than filing endless court motions. Doctors are always dealing with rare diseases rather than the 47th daily case of the common cold. Police officers are always going to exciting gun battles and investigating interesting crimes rather than yet another domestic dispute or traffic ticket. And so on.
      The ironic part is that the 95% of grunt work is equally or more critical to success or failure than the most interesting 5%.

      Reply
      1. Honeybee

        Sure, and I agree with you. But any grown adult should be able to separate fantasy from reality and reason that maybe they need to find out more about the workplace and what work life is like.

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      2. Dust Bunny

        Yeah, this.

        I work in archives. Even archives has been glamorized on television now. Yes, some of it is super entertaining, especially if you’re like I am and your “entertaining” threshhold is incredibly low, but mostly . . . I put stuff in boxes.

        Reply
        1. YawningDodo

          As an archivist/librarian at a small research library working on an exciting new initiative to make our collections more widely available to the public than ever before…..

          I have literally spent 95% of my work time this past month placing books in boxes and marking titles and ID #’s on a spreadsheet.

          Reply
      3. JokersandRogues

        I maintain that all jobs are made up of 3 things. The various percentages in a typical workweek are what affect your enjoyment of the job (depending on your tolerance).
        After 20 years, my tolerance of 3) has dropped to almost nothing. My personal definition of 3) includes office politics, and forwarding emails to someone for the third time while they get snarky about not getting the info.
        1) Interesting Stuff
        2) Boring but necessary Stuff
        3) Stupid nonsense

        Reply
  8. Trout 'Waver

    I wonder if the improved behavior wasn’t a result of Bad Intern venting about your perfectly reasonable behavior to the VIP and Bad Intern getting put in his place.

    Reply
  9. Biff

    I wonder if this poor fellow was getting advice from Reddit’s job board — they often push a very aggressive agenda (part of the reason I stopped hanging out there was because they were always telling me to STFU when I told people to be calmer.) A dose of reality was probably excellent for this guy.

    Reply
    1. Ostara

      I can second this. Reddit is very bro-culture as it is. I’ve had to stop visiting to keep my blood pressure down.

      Reply
      1. Biff

        I love PARTS of Reddit. Other parts… same as you, I just can’t read it unless I’m in the mood to be stirred up and pissed off.

        Reply
    2. LBK

      I’m now kind of intrigued to go over there and see how ridiculous some of the advice is, but I think I do enough self-flagellation with reading the comments on political articles these days.

      Reply
      1. Biff

        I see a lot of, for lack of better description, Pick-Up Artistry applied to job scenarios. Some claim it works, and I don’t doubt that there are industries and businesses that respond well to the schmoozy, salesy, aggressive narrative, but in general I find the advice on Reddit for work situations to be terrible.

        Reply
        1. Marisol

          Wasn’t there a post on this site asking if “negging” a company at a job interview was a trend? Like, saying something insulting about the company?

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          1. Aeth

            Something about interviewees pointing out perceived problems within the company and following up with how they’d go about fixing them, wasn’t it?

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            1. Jenky

              Oh wow, I’d love to see how that plays out. Because IME just the opposite it effective (maybe it’s my industry). The question is about tact – how you’d approach a problem with a coworker, or bad news with a client – not actually asking you to ‘fix’ the company you’re applying to, in the space of an interview. People who can be diplomatic get top points. Actually tearing into something you simply don’t care for, or because you feel you need to choose something, is quite risky. (Claiming you can’t think of a hting – like when asked your biggest weakness – is meh.)

              Reply
              1. Marisol

                Yeah, I don’t think negging actually is effective except on women with low self-esteem, in a dating context. I think the way it plays out in a job interview is exactly how you think it would–the candidate gets negged as it were.

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        2. Kira

          Yes, Alison had a post about “pain letters.” To summarize her response, “[T]he idea is to send a letter through the postal mail to a hiring manager, outlining a problem you think the employer is experiencing (the “pain”) and how you can solve it… When I’ve received them, they’re generally cringingly off-base and sound like they were written by someone who will be all flash and no substance.”

          https://www.askamanager.org/2016/01/are-pain-letters-really-worth-it.html

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    3. LW

      That would actually make sense. When he blew up in my office, he was shouting these weird, robotic phrases like “THIS IS NOT A GOOD USE OF MY SKILLS AND EXPERIENCE.”

      Reply
      1. Charlie

        One time I had a college intern tell me this. My reply was something like, “You’re 19. You might have a few native talents, but in terms of skills and experience I’d pay you for, you’ve got zip. That’s why you’re an unpaid intern, to get those things. Sorry you’re bored; I’ve been proofreading all morning, so I feel your pain.”

        Didn’t go over well. Felt great.

        Reply
  10. Princess Carolyn

    What I love about this is that it may lead to a longterm change. I am always hoping poorly behaved interns and entry-level employees are just deeply misguided (and, in a lot of situations, insecure). You hate to think someone is totally beyond help. There are definitely a few incidents from early in my career that I wish I could go back and say “I’m so sorry; I really didn’t know how inappropriate I was being.” Even if this kid truly is a jerk, at least he’s figured out that’s not how you act in the workplace.

    OP, you handled this beautifully the whole time.

    Reply
  11. Jeanne

    Interesting that you were actually able to get through to him. It’s amazing to me that anyone can take a job titled Intern and not expect boring work. Every job has boring work, even NASA astronauts I’m sure. For regular employees, you would be firm that this is the job, get back to work. Since these are interns, I wonder if you might want to look at your work description or interview process a little to be more specific about what is expected. You shouldn’t have to but 15 min up front could save you hours later.

    Reply
    1. LW

      This guy didn’t come through the regular process – he was a favor intern from a VIP. I usually actually do go through that process with my other interns (well, the ones that I hire). I’ve had so much success with it that I was honestly lost dealing with this guy.

      To put it in perspective, one of my interns covered a lot of my job functions earlier this year when I went on unexpected medical leave, and did an amazing job. It was more impressive because neither of us planned for it.

      Reply
      1. AW

        he was a favor intern from a VIP

        I think that explains why he thought he’d have a job in the Fall: he didn’t have to go through the regular process to get the internship so he assumed he wouldn’t have to do so to get a job either. Finding out that his employment was not as guaranteed as the internship was probably also helps explain the change in behavior since he’d need y’all to actually speak well of him if he has to apply for a job the normal way.

        Reply
    2. The Strand

      Actually, most astronaut work is really boring. (I married into the space industry and know people who have worked from Gemini to the ISS, and even a few private space startups. They would tell you the same thing. Also that astronauts themselves range from great to diva.)

      When it’s not your technology you’re managing/testing on the Space Station or your experiment you’re maintaining on the (now defunct) Shuttle, it can be dull as hell.

      Reply
  12. Iron Thunder

    I still think the term “mansplaining” is unneeded and divisive. That said, I’m glad there at least was some kind of resolution and an improvement in the guys behaviour.

    Reply
    1. LW

      It’s a very specific set of behaviors rooted in sexism. I’ll be so happy when it’s no longer needed, because that means that unqualified men stop seeing themselves as automatically smarter and better just because they’re men.

      Reply
      1. Jenky

        It is especially striking when the power imbalance should be skewed one way but is made up for, through its magic. See also: Female profs whose male students ‘know’ more about the topics they’ve studied for years, did their thesis on, wrote books about, etc. because they did the required reading for the first class or read a blog post about it. It’s just the required word for that perfect mix of entitlement, confidence, smugness and assumptions that rarely exists when gender isn’t a factor. (See: Female profs talking to their male colleagues about their own teaching experiences.)

        Reply
    2. Charlie

      How is it divisive or unneeded? It’s the most commonly used phrase for the phenomenon, and it’s a nearly-ubiquitous phenomenon that was at work here.

      Reply
    3. Alex

      I think “mansplaining” can be applicable and relevant in a very few unique situations. More often then not I have seen the term used to silence people on the basis of just being a man, which isn’t ok. Fortunately I have only seen the term used at people online and not in any professional context. Another element that people find frustrating about the term is that there is no woman equivalent. I.E. A woman that gives unsolicited parenting advice to a father out alone with his baby wouldn’t be “Womansplaining”. The double standards at play tends to ruffle a lot of feathers.

      Reply
      1. Pokebunny

        Another element that people find frustrating about the term is that there is no woman equivalent.

        Because women have not been oppressing men for centuries. “Mansplaining” as a term arose as a reaction, due to increased awareness of gender equality, to all the nasty things women have been enduring for centuries. You can’t bully an entire gender (or race) and then be surprised when said gender (or race) stands up for themselves. There is no “womansplaining” because women have not been in a position of power in society, or receive an automatic privilege because of their gender.

        It’s ideal and nice to say “we should all be equal”, which I think is what you’re trying to say, but the sad fact is we are NOT equal. Far from it. And the only way we can work towards equality is to call out inequality when we see it, not pretend that everything is equal. Like LW, I’d be happy if we never use the term again because men stop being condescending.

        Reply
        1. PK

          There’s an obvious parallel between a man who thinks he’s smarter because he’s a man and a woman who thinks she’s a better parent because she’s a woman. You don’t need power for that.

          Reply
            1. PK

              What’s the difference? Honest curiosity. In both situations, you have people who believe that they are better than the other sex based on their own sex. In both examples, the woman and the man are made to feel ‘less than’ because of their sex.

              It’s my understanding that mansplaining is the phenomenon where a man speaks over (or ignores) a woman on a topic (which the woman may already be well informed) because he believes his opinion is more valid because he’s a male. Is that wrong? I’d hate to put my foot in my mouth because I misunderstand a term.

              Reply
              1. Annie Moose

                The difference is that it’s both more common and more socially acceptable for a man to do this kind of thing. There are specific situations where women do a similar thing, but it’s so much more frequent for men to do it–and to do it in such a wide variety of situations–that it’s useful to have a term to describe it.

                As with many such terms (e.g. the Bechdel Test), it’s not necessarily talking about specific incidents, it’s talking about a broad societal trend (although obviously specific incidents can be part of that trend). Yes, sometimes you’re going to find counterexamples. But overall in American society there’s a trend of men talking over and ignoring women’s expertise; this trend is what “mansplaining” describes.

                Reply
                1. PK

                  Gotcha. I’m not sure I would call it a broad societal trend but I’m not on the other side of it. So, my personal experience is peripheral at best.

                  That being said, womansplaining should work much the same right?

              2. The Strand

                Mothering is treated by society as something that women are better at, and yes, the condescension some parents engage in is terrible – but it’s just as often woman on woman, not just woman on man.

                Mansplaining is, in my experience, more unconscious sexism. It’s more a man telling me how to do some aspect of my job when I’m an expert in my field and he’s a dilettante or less – this recently happened to me – or assuming that a discussion question about “how are we going to handle this” is instead the question “what is this, please explain this to me, I’ve never heard of it”.

                Reply
                1. PK

                  The fact that there is a trope about the ‘clueless dad’ sets that a bit apart than woman on woman mothering. I’m starting to see that there are some subtleties to it that I didn’t notice before though. Thanks for the info.

        2. Jenky

          If there were an obvious trend of young, female interns shouting down their superiors, or explaining with a chuckle to their university profs that they simply don’t know the topic they’ve studied their whole life, we’d definitely get on that one. Until then… mankind must simply suffer. (Hey how come no one’s as eager to shoot that one down, as a definition for all humans? )

          Reply
      2. Artemesia

        This gets call ‘mothering’ all the time in this very site. i.e. older women taking this unwanted role with subordinates.

        Reply
    4. Ask a Manager Post author

      This has been debated many times before here, including on the original post, so I’ll ask that we not derail the post with it again. (My stance, as the final arbiter here, is that it’s a term that describes a type of sexism, and it’s fine to use here.)

      Reply
  13. Pokebunny

    I do wonder why the sudden 180 in behavior on the intern though. Seems like someone who thinks it’s okay to yell at your boss would not realize they need to change their behavior.

    Reply
    1. LW

      I’m just as confused as you are. I think a lot of it was because he wasn’t taking me seriously. I look younger than I am, and it was very, very clear to me that he came in with the mindset that men are important, and women are not.

      Reply
      1. Dani X

        I want to know why he thought it was okay to be rude to people when he thought he had a job, but was nice once he realized he didn’t.

        Reply
        1. AW

          Because now he needs a good reference. He thought he wouldn’t need someone to speak well of him to get a job there and now he knows that he does.

          Reply
          1. Jenky

            Ah true. Though even then, it’s amazing that he had the presence of mind to behave enough to get that this is a thing (someone must have told him to, online…).

            Reply
        2. Cordelia Naismith

          Ding ding ding! It’s like the people who are rude to secretaries at job interviews but extremely polite to the hiring manager — they’re only polite if they think they can get something from it. Once he realized he would need a reference, he started being polite.

          Reply
          1. Marisol

            And those people aren’t just mean, they’re politically naive. It’s never happened to me, but if someone was rude to me (I am an executive assistant) while they were interviewing, I would absolutely relish telling my boss and HR about their behavior. I just don’t understand why people don’t realize that being a jerk is not a good strategy…

            Reply
            1. Lil Lamb

              I don’t know why people assume receptionists and assistants aren’t to be respected. I once was verbally abused by a guest at my office and the President actually banned that person from ever coming to the office again

              Reply
    2. Sophie Winston

      It makes me think he went to complain about his awful boss to someone he respected, and they gave him an earful.

      Reply
      1. N.J.

        I could see something like that being at play. If he was dressed down by someone he admires or respects, he might have decided to at least behave enough to possibly get a refetence out of this internship. Or maybe he was ashamed of his behavior they would be awesome!

        Reply
      2. AdAgencyChick

        Ooh, yeah, wonder if he went to the VIP who’s the family friend expecting sympathy and/or VIP to come down on OP, and got quite a surprise!

        Reply
      3. Connie-Lynne

        Yeah, this is my guess, too. “You’ll never believe what my boss did today … ” “…wait, you yelled and shouted at your boss? And you still have a job?”

        Reply
        1. Aurion

          Hahaha, an ex-friend of mine once blew up at the VP of her (large) company. “Blew up” were her words, not mine. She didn’t lose her job, but she came very close.

          No idea what happened to her after that, but I imagine her tenure wasn’t very comfortable.

          Reply
          1. Drew

            I blew up at my boss once while I was bucking for a promotion to team lead. In retrospect, I realize it was because I didn’t have a lot of respect for her as a manager, but I sure gained a lot that day from the way she handled the situation — we got through the immediate crunch and then I got taken to her office and very politely but VERY firmly dressed down.

            For my part, I apologized, said I totally understood that I was in the wrong, and explained why I was frustrated, and we ended up having a productive if tense conversation. And I did get the promotion, which at that point I did NOT expect, so she proved she was a good manager twice over by not letting one moment of unprofessional behavior color her entire opinion.

            I still don’t think she was a great project manager, but she was a fantastic people manager, and that job taught me the difference.

            Reply
  14. Stranger than fiction

    Some of these bad interns should watch Shameless and be glad they’re not having to change out pee bags so the big wig can play video games without having to stop to go to the bathroom.

    Reply
  15. Happy Cynic

    Just wanted to boost this comment buried in another thread:

    >AW – October 31, 2016 at 4:17 pm
    >Because now he needs a good reference.
    >He thought he wouldn’t need someone to speak well of him to get a job there
    > and now he knows that he does.

    This. This is the reason LW should not forgive nor forget, nor should she give him a good reference. The “turn-around” in behavior is merely a result of realizing he might be well and truly f****d once future employers looked into his performance here.

    Do not pass Go, do not collect $200, no Out Of Jail Free card.

    Reply
    1. Carpe Librarium

      I think that the change in the intern’s behaviour makes for a more useful reference by explaining that there were challenges which were eventually corrected.
      If the intern is smart he will think carefully about the experience and how to frame it for a “Tell me a time when…” interview response.

      Reply
    2. Jenky

      There is something somewhat slimy about the prodigal son thing, here. Imagine he was up against the two good interns, in a job interview. If the interviewer is choosing between them (because he can possibly maintain an air of cockiness they’ll like, or, say, be a family friend), and scans references to find similarly positive notes on all of them, he’ll likely get the role. And that’s how so many Askamanager letters asking ‘How did this incompetent jerk get this job/become my boss?’ come about.

      Reply
  16. Lasslisa

    There are a lot of people who don’t respect anyone who doesn’t do a specific type of power-claiming behavior. If someone always “lets” you talk over them, or never raises their voice, some people see that as a sign of weakness or powerlessness. The manager telling him he shouldn’t be yelling at his boss is exactly the sort of thing where he might have suddenly realized “oh, this is my manager, not my mom” or otherwise had an internal shift in the perceived dynamic of the situation.

    I suspect something along these lines, especially with how differently the intern treated the other manager.

    It’s not *not* sexism, by the way – it’s specifically a response to feminine styles, and women are often punished in other ways for having the more masculine style – but it’s sometimes a response more directly to style than to gender per se.

    Reply

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