how to survive your summer interns

It’s summer internship season, and your office may be getting overrun by summer interns. If you’re being aggravated by these fresh-faced young people who don’t quite know how the work world works yet – or if you’d just like to ensure your interns have a reasonably good experience in your organization – here’s some advice for helping you all survive the summer with your sanity intact.

1. Assume you’ll have to tell interns even things that might seem obvious to you. Don’t be surprised if your interns don’t know office basics like “take notes when I’m giving you detailed directions” or “don’t text us at 9:05 a.m. to say you decided not to come in that day.” The whole point of an internship is to learn about how the work world works. No one is born knowing how to operate in an office environment, and your interns are the process of learning it. You and they both will be much happier if you spell out expectations and don’t assume they know what you want.

Some areas to be sure to address up-front: how much, if at all, interns can be on their cell phones and/or social media during the day, starting and ending times for the workday, dress code, and broader cultural norms in your office. And speaking of dress code…

2. They may not know what business wear really is. It’s not uncommon for people new to the work world to be confused about what “business formal” or “business casual” means. Do them the favor of spelling it out, as clearly as you can. For example, don’t just say “that skirt is too short for the office”; instead say “skirts shouldn’t be more than a couple of inches above your knees” or whatever is true for your office. And if you can offer advice on how to dress professionally on a budget, your interns will probably appreciate it.

3. It’s okay to be highly directive when you need to be.Again, interns don’t yet know office norms – and you, lucky colleague of interns, may be the one to teach them. Prepare to get comfortable being much more directive than you would do with a regular colleague. You shouldn’t hesitate to, for example, ask a noisy group of interns to quiet down because they’re disturbing others (rather than stewing silently), or to tell an intern that she can’t leave early because you’re waiting for her to finish her part of a project before the day ends.

4. Find out what your interns are hoping to get out of the experience, and do what you can to provide that. Interns are generally working for little (or even no) pay in order to get experience or exposure in a field, and while that usually means getting stuck with a lot of grunt work, it’s kind to see if there’s something specific they’re hoping to do. For example, if an intern is particularly interested in marketing, you might arrange for her to sit in on some marketing team meetings so that she can watch more senior professionals in action. Or if another intern wants to write, see if you give him some low-risk projects so he ends the summer with some writing samples. Of course, this won’t always be practical. If an intern wants to get experience representing a company on TV, you’re probably not going to let her be your new spokesperson. But within reason, try to accommodate people.

5. Make sure interns have enough to do. Complaints abound from interns who were given enough work to keep busy for a few weeks and then were left with nearly nothing to do for the rest of the summer. Keeping interns busy takes work and planning, but if your company is bringing interns in, it should provide a full summer of work so they don’t feel their time is being wasted.

6. Give regular feedback. Too often, people neglect to give truly useful feedback to interns. Sometimes that’s because they aren’t clear on what’s reasonable to expect from interns and thus don’t want to push to hard for higher-quality work. But an internship will be significantly less useful if it doesn’t come with real feedback about the intern’s work. Do your interns the considerable favor of helping them see where they’re doing well and where future employers will want them operating differently.

{ 148 comments… read them below }

  1. BadPlanning*

    A couple years ago, I was in our work cafeteria and saw a bunch of young faces. I thought to myself, “Oh, is it take your kid to work today?” Then I realized they weren’t children, they were new interns.

    I felt quite old. And glad I used my inside voice instead of thinking out loud.

  2. Delta Delta*

    I used to work somewhere that had a very strong culture of interns. We usually had 2 every semester and 2 every summer. Some were good. Some were memorably terrible (and sometimes hilariously so). I can’t agree more, though, that interns need to have enough to do. And it needs to be clear that interns should speak up if they finish a project and need to move on to another. It’s easy to get into a weird cycle of them not having anything to do, and then them not asking for more work. So then they’re not doing anything and they seem lazy so no one gives them work. Not productive or helpful for anyone.

    1. Taylor Swift*

      And make yourself available to them to ask for more work! I had more than one internship experience where my supervisor was hardly ever accessible and didn’t assign enough work. They were pretty miserable experiences for me, and I doubt I left a very good impression either.

    2. JD*

      So, we always get a “summer student” for our department. The first year this happened I was overjoyed because I was so swamped with work and needed help. After the first few weeks she declared that she wasn’t interested in doing work for me (the type of work) and I was told she would be doing things she found more interesting. The next year she came back again and again, I was told she would be working for the other groups in our department, except mine. We have a very casual office with no official dress code, and even so, she made some very … interesting … clothing choices. This year we have a new summer student. My group again was told very specifically that the summer student was not to be asked to do work for us. She’ll be “pursuing things that interest her”.

      Of note, our summer students are always well-connected. I sort of feel sorry for them. I don’t think they’re actually learning much about how the work world really works.

      1. the gold digger*

        our summer students are always well-connected. …I don’t think they’re actually learning much about how the work world really works

        They are learning how the work world works for people who have connections.

        (NB Our intern came to us via the senior VP of my group. Fortunately, this VP has a lot of integrity and would not recommend someone who couldn’t do the work. The intern is fabulous – she listens, asks really good questions, tries to figure things out for herself, does good work, and is in general a very nice person to have around. I would love to have her full time when she graduates, but her long-term interests lie elsewhere, unfortunately.)

      2. all aboard the anon train*

        Of note, our summer students are always well-connected.

        At one of the publishing houses I used to work at, one of our well-connected interns assumed her name and her school meant she would be editing manuscripts from our big authors. I was pretty low level at the time so I didn’t have much interaction with her or with the fallout that came from her demanding to handle manuscripts instead of doing the projects that were assigned to her. At that company, you had to be pretty senior to even look at the manuscripts from big name authors.

        1. Your Weird Uncle*

          That reminds me of the library I used to work at; it was a big academic library with lots of priceless manuscripts that you had to be an expert in your field and get references just to look at on-site under strict supervision. We had a first-year grad student email the curator of a specific collection to ask what she needed to do to be able to ‘get the Jane Austen manuscript’ and whether she could ‘just take it home for the weekend, or what’.

          We were all floored, but not nearly as floored as when she pushed back when he kindly told her no, saying it was for one her assignments and her professor told them to consult the manuscript of their choice. That particular manuscript happened to be the manuscript of her choice. :)

      3. Taylor Swift*

        Are they paid? If not, I don’t think it’s unreasonable that they work on the things that interest them. If your department needs help, maybe hire somebody.

        1. Jadelyn*

          It’s not about the department needing help so much as the purpose of an internship, which I’ve never understood to be “exploratory time to experiment on what you find most interesting to work on”, so much as “a chance to get experience of the working world in a structured fashion and with extra guidance that you wouldn’t normally get from a job setting”. Since most regular jobs don’t just let people choose to work on the things that interest them, I feel like it’s doing the intern a disservice to let them choose their own projects as it may set them up to expect to do that in the future, which risks them coming off as entitled or pushy at a future job.

          Just imagine being a manager and having your most junior employee, who you’ve just hired straight out of school, saying “No thanks, I don’t think I’ll do [boring but routine junior-level work that you’ve assigned them], I’ll work on [interesting project that you’ve assigned to one of your senior employees] instead.” That would come off pretty badly, don’t you think? Better they learn that sometimes work means just putting your head down and taking care of the boring stuff when they’re still interns shielded from most major repercussions of their mistakes, than having to have that “come to jesus” moment with their manager at their first professional job.

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I think JD’s point is valid, though, which is that most people do not get to work exclusively on things that interest them. So insofar as the internship is job training that exposes you to what it’s like to have a real full-time job, it’s not providing a comprehensive experience if it limits your work to “things that interest you.”

          That said, our internship program almost always tries to match people up with the projects/work that interests them. Unfortunately, we’ve had enough interns who do crap work on topics that “disinterest” them that it was not worth the frustration to staff and the cost of their time to fix all the things that disinterested interns screwed up.

  3. Bend & Snap*

    As a former intern, thank you for this! My junior year internship–all the feedback went to my advisor at review time and a lot of it was bad.

    My manager never gave me guidance, corrected mistakes or gave me any type of feedback (never explicitly said “please sign my name to these letters” and I thought forging a signature was wrong, so they went out with just her name typed, and when I had to talk to her after my advisor gave me my review she said “HOW COULD YOU NOT KNOW THAT?” Um I’m an intern and you didn’t tell me at any point…).

    I worked 40 hours a week at an unpaid internship that ended up tanking my GPA because I got a C-. My advisor didn’t take into consideration the fact that my entire review was a surprise.

    Still bitter!

    1. Taylor Swift*

      I’d be bitter too! There are a lot of things that seem totally obvious to you once you’ve been in the working world for even a few years but nobody was born knowing those things!

    2. Really*

      This is ridiculous. Makes me glad my daughter is an athletic training intern working for the guy who had been her high school trainer. And that he has taught college students before that. And her college professor for the internship has been very clear about what she needs to do.

    3. Midge*

      Ugh how frustrating. I had a surprise final grade in one of my classes when I studied abroad. I think it was a C- as well. There were only 2 graded assignments, and you didn’t get them back until the semester was over. Based on her verbal feedback, I thought I was doing well. Apparently not! I had to work so hard to bring my GPA back up after that. All these years later what pisses me off most is that she robbed me of the opportunity to actually learn the subject by not giving me actionable feedback when I had the chance to improve.

      1. Sled Dog Mama*

        I had a professor like this not for an internship but still, she gave almost zero feedback, the “big” assignment of the semester could not be completed correctly without seeing her during office hours (which was never mentioned anywhere) and I failed the class by 1 point (she gave a number grade for everything so it made it easy to calculate using the percentages from her syllabus), the part that made me super made was that if my participation grade had been even one point higher I would have passed.

    4. k.k*

      Oh that’s awful! My school required internships in order graduate, but they were just graded as complete/incomplete, no letter grade. One of mine was a total bust (poorly run company, no guidance, etc), and I would have been devastated if that had impacted my GPA.

    5. Bend & Snap*

      Probably not shockingly, this was the New England Aquarium, which is a nonprofit.

    6. NoMoreMrFixit*

      Sorry to hear that. Feedback should be immediate rather than waiting until you’re done. I tried to be proactive with my interns over the years with documentation and introducing them to the key people they’d interact with. Fortunately most of the interns ended up being amazing and several became coworkers either on contract or even full time.

    7. Ramona Flowers*

      I’m 36 and I don’t understand what she wanted you to do. Sign her name? Sign your name?!

      1. Bend & Snap*

        Sign her name! She gave me a big stack of unsigned letters and told me to label and mail them (this was circa 1998 or so). So I did.

        The signoff was like:

        Grade Torpedoing Manager
        New England Aquarium

        And I was supposed to sign her name in the space, but she never told me that, and she always acted like I was bothering her when I asked questions.

        My advisor made me go back the following semester but I was so scarred from that review that I didn’t apply for an open position for fear of failure/rejection, and didn’t use them for a reference, even though I did do work I was praised for.

        1. aebhel*

          That’s nuts! Unless there was a signature stamp or something, it would be really bizarre to expect you to sign HER name. (Also, what is with people who take on interns and then get annoyed when they ask questions? What on earth do they think interns are there for?)

            1. JessaB*

              The not answering thing is awful. How are they supposed to learn? Telepathy? But as for signing someone else’s name, not a big deal. Heck even before women had their own bank accounts legally, it was pretty normal for them to write a cheque on the husband’s account and just sign “Mrs. Joe Smith, Sr.” and the banks would take them. That doesn’t happen any more because if there are two people on the account they get their own debit cards and can sign their own names.

          1. JessaB*

            Not necessarily. In nearly every Secretarial position or Admin job I ever had, you signed the boss’ name and either did or did not do /your initials after it to show it wasn’t them who signed it. Unless it was some kind of legal thing or taxes or a government report, it was normal business for the clerical staff to sign letters going out. The only time we didn’t was where the boss was certifying something in the letter. But generic letter? General information we signed.

    8. Justin*

      Yeah. I had an internship between high school and college. And I admit I was bored, so I wasn’t as great as I could have been. I wasn’t late or disruptive, but I quickly grew tired of it.

      And then I got an assessment on my last day (like, walked out the door with it) and my manager had given me a scathing review about things I didn’t seem to understand (and there was a whole lot more about my character than I would have expected).

      On top of that, they then (although I only found this out years later) blackballed me at a giant company so that I would never be allowed there in the future. Not that I really wanted to go back.

      Anyway, I could have done better, but I was 17. Don’t hire me, or even get rid of me (and the zero I was being paid), but maybe, just maybe, invest in guiding me and I’d do better.

      Maybe my character was truly putrid at 17, though I don’t think it was.

      1. Justin*

        Man, I sound way more bitter than I intended to. It was 14 years ago. But just reading that letter without receiving any warning or guidance – I knew they weren’t huge fans of me, but still – really did crush my professional confidence before I’d had a chance to build any.

        1. motherofdragons*

          The blackballing thing sounds especially harsh. I’m surprised they felt confident enough to assess your abilities and attitude for the rest of your life *at 17*. I mean, unless you were doing something morally dubious of course, but I feel like that would’ve come out, right? Even if in the worst case, you just had a crappy attitude, hello! 17!

  4. MissDisplaced*

    The university we partner with actually has 6 month internships. I like this much better as they become more of a worker and have time to get involved on longer projects. The one I have is working out quite well, though I did have to tell him to stop looking at his phone (he was playing music) because someone in our nosy office complained to me they didn’t look busy. But otherwise, yeah, typical intern stuff to be expected.

    I find the problem to be more with the regular staff. They act like an intern will just automatically “know” what/how to do things that 10-year plus veterans know how to do. It’s frustrating! You can’t expect an intern to replace an experienced, regular worker just because you want to be a cheap skate and not hire to fill positions.

  5. Xarcady*

    When I was supervising interns, I always tried to find a large, on-going project that they could work on when there was no other work. For a couple of summers, it was scanning all the paper archives in the basement, so that we could have PDF files of them.

    It seemed like make-work to some of our interns, until I explained that even with a good database, finding the right archived job was tricky, and usually involved several trips to the basement before finding the right job. PDFs meant people could sit at their desks and find the right job.

    The interns were instructed that when they finished up an assignment, they should ask for another, and then start the scanning if a new project wasn’t immediately available. It was interesting to see how some interns kept busy with work almost all day long, and others delayed notifying me of finished projects and delayed scanning in the hopes I’d have a new project for them so they wouldn’t have to scan. Even with reminders and prodding, there were interns who scanned for 100 hours over the summer and interns who scanned for 6 hours.

    It was a huge shock to the procrastinators when this behavior was brought up in their reviews at the end of the summer. But really, if you have to hide your computer screen when your supervisor walks by, because you’ve been told not to go on Facebook, then maybe you shouldn’t, you know, actually be on Facebook when you are supposed to be scanning.

  6. C in the Hood*

    Re: business vs business casual…It’s always good to really spell it out, because business casual when I first started working vs now is very, very different! (And I’m sure it varies among companies/offices as well.)

    1. Lily Rowan*

      My old officemate had an intern one summer who really had a panic when she came in on a Friday and we were both in skirts — she was really afraid she had botched Casual Friday in her totally appropriate jeans and shirt! We both said no, we were just most comfortable in what we were wearing (not fancy skirts by any means!). Poor thing.

    2. CMart*

      Yes, dress code is so hard when you don’t already have a cultivated office wardrobe that you can play around with. I’m a new to the professional workforce, and both my internship this past summer as well as my current full time job are both “business casual” and the execution of that concept is completely different at each company.

      At my internship it meant slacks and blouses (never sleeveless unless covered by a cardigan or blazer), dressy shoes. At my current job it means dark wash jeans and whatever one dressiness step above a t-shirt is. Very confusing. And in both cases I showed up to the first week in slacks and button down shirts, erring on the side of too-businessy, until I could get a feel for the office and go out and buy appropriate items.

    3. aebhel*

      I’m 31 and I still don’t have any idea what ‘business casual’ is supposed to mean! It runs the gamut between ‘dark jeans and a nice top’ and ‘one step down from suit-and-tie’, and the worst part is that everyone seems to think that their version of business casual is the most obvious and correct one.

      1. Anxa*

        Yes. This is not an intern thing.

        Also, fashion is going through a bit of a crisis it seems in the US.

        I work in a not business casuaul environment for one of my jobs. Try finding a plain fitted tshirt that’s nice enough to look professional, but also appropriate for a job that’s 90% outdoor near water, parks, etc. and can involve crawling around places.

        I spent two Saturday afternoons on it then gave up and am just wearing old shirts I plan to rag after this job is over.

        The basics are hard to find at a decent price point for decent quality for women’s clothing. Especially if you don’t tolerate synthetics well.

    4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Yes, and it varies so much by region, industry, and office. Things that I wore as “business casual” on the east coast were “business” for nonprofits on the west coast (but not in law, where they were somehow just a step below “business” but a step above “business casual”). Similarly, the first time I showed up in Bay Area “business casual” on the east coast, I almost had to go home to change my clothes.

  7. The Other Dawn*

    “take notes when I’m giving you detailed directions”

    Yes, please teach your interns this. And anyone else who doesn’t know, really.

    One would think that someone who has been in the workforce for 20+ years would know to bring a pen and notepad when meeting with someone, orwould know to bring a pen at the very least to a group meeting (we give handouts so no need for a pad). One would be wrong. Had to tell several people that over the years.

    1. Midge*

      Yeah this is a good one. When I had high school interns I gave them documentation for each project, but it would have been great practice for them to take notes.

    2. Allison*

      I’m in my late 20’s and just started a new job, and while I’d taken notes sometimes at old jobs, I was glad that my current boss heavily stressed the importance of taking notes at this current company. Even if I’m sure I’ll remember something, I make a point of writing it down, because it looks better and it’s easier to refer to my notes than reference my memory if there’s confusion later on.

    3. Delta Delta*

      This is definitely a good one. I once had an intern turn up at a court hearing as an observer. I realized it would be helpful for both of us if she could take notes on a few important points. During the hearing I quietly left counsel table to approach her and ask her to take notes. She didn’t have a pad and pen. I had to – while actively participating in a hearing – go back to my table and rifle around in my briefcase to find her some supplies.

      I complained to our Big Boss who gave me a dressing-down for expecting the intern to a) take notes and be helpful and b) to show up with pen and a pad of paper. I then showed Big Boss the “notes” she took, and not a single thing in any of what she wrote down was relevant or helpful. It was very Twilight Zone.

      1. Whippers.*

        I’m kind of wondering what the point was in complaining to your boss about this though? It seems a bit petty to complain over such a minor thing.
        Plus, you say you realised it would be helpful for the intern to take notes whilst you were at the hearing. Therefore, you didn’t even realise beforehand that notes would be helpful so why would you expect the intern to?

        1. Delta Delta*

          She showed up unexpectedly. I thought as long as she was there she could be helpful and take some notes. Intern had other issues, so I raised with Big Boss that she was going to court, ostensibly for “learning experiences” but was unprepared to actually do anything. She was present for a couple hours and said she planned to stay the whole time. It looked like she was avoiding work responsibilities by “watching a hearing” but not really actually doing anything while she was there. Hopefully that helps to add some context.

    4. Why No, I'm Not Venting*

      I had to wonder at an intern who was a senior in college with an outstanding GPA. She just would not take notes when being given detailed directions–and then had “no idea” what happened when she messed something up. How had she gotten through all of her classes?

      I used all the “What can we do to make sure this doesn’t happen again?” language, provided different types of materials (legal pads, smaller pads, diagrams), went over training again…perhaps the workplace was far more structured than her college, I don’t know, but I do know it created more work for me.

      She determined that using Post-it notes stuck on her monitor was the way to go. Except when the notes would become unstuck and fall off, she’d forget once again what she had to do, despite it invariably being a daily task.

    5. Punkwich*

      I have such a hard time with this because I feel rude not *looking* at my boss when he’s talking especially in one-on-one meetings but I do want to take notes but I feel like I look like I’m not paying attention somehow when I’m taking notes instead of looking at him!

      Also my writing is so messy especially when I try and write fast and I’m always worried people think I’m a messy person in general

      *is currently an intern*

      1. Another Lauren*

        Nobody (sane) will think you’re being rude by taking notes! In fact, I’m always impressed by the fact that our intern can reference notes from previous meetings, as sometimes I forget the specifics of what we’d discussed. Also, my handwriting is impeccable and I’m an incorrigible slob, so I don’t think others think the two correlate.

      2. Bagpuss*

        One key thing is to learn to take efficient notes – you don’t (in most situations) need full sentences or to write down every thing. Bullet pointed lists, abbreviations etc are fine. Normally this means you don’t have to write fast, but I don’t think that as a general rule, people are going to assume you are messy if your notes for your self are a bit untidy. As long as you can read and understand them, and as long as you make sure anything you are asked to pass on to others is legible.

        If you remember to look back at your boss regularly, so you a glancing at her, then at the page, then they can see you are paying attention to them and not being rude.

        One thing which surprised me when I got to university was how many people had no idea how to take notes. My lectures were full of people trying to take down everything the lecturer said, and failing, because of course they were not speaking at dictation speed.
        It does take a bit of practice to be able to asses on the hoof which things are key and need to be noted down, but it is a skill worth developing. Also, the notes are an aide memoire – you can expand them in your own time.

        (when I used to have to attend court and take notes I used to write on every 3rd line of the pad. That way, in any pauses I could go back and fill in anything I’d missed, or expand anything I’d abbreviated. Also, the extra space did mean that if my handwriting got untidier than usual it was still readable due to the space around it!)

        I don’t know whether it is true for everyone but I have found that if I am compressing and note-taking I remember the information better, as you have to think about it in order to pick out the key points and note them down.

      3. SarahKay*

        I don’t think most people would assume messy writing = messy person. At any rate, as the owner of messy handwriting myself, I certainly hope not! As far as I’m concerned, for notes for my own reference, so long as I can read it that’s all that matters.

  8. Elizabeth*

    My workplace is Exceedingly Casual as far as dress codes go, but one summer a few years ago when sheer blouses were all the rage, I definitely had to explain to a few of our younger folks that if you were going to wear a shirt like that, you needed to wear a tank top underneath because seeing your bra was not work appropriate no matter how casual we were.

    1. Anonish*

      We had a co-op start today on our team who’s dressed appropriately in a tank top, cardigan, and pants (we are super casual, especially in the summer), except that the shape of her tank top is totally different than the shape of her bra so I can see literally the entire top and sides of it, as well as the straps in the back. It’s like, the idea of your outfit is fine, but if the majority of your bra is visible, the execution is a little off.

    2. healthnerd*

      My last internship I had before I finished grad school, there was another intern who did not understand that sheer blouses should not be worn with sheer bras! We were luckily confined to a room for training all day but made the other interns really uncomfortable. The crazy part is that we were working at a social service agency that had sex offenders on site. Needless to say, this intern did not last the entire summer (and this wasn’t the worst of her transgressions).

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Was she channeling Rihanna? I think the visible bra + sheer blouse is off, but I understand why people think it’s ok (there are some workplaces where it would make a lot of sense or be par for the course). But sheer + sheer? That just sounds like a lack of common sense.

    3. KarenT*

      I had to send an intern home because she was wearing leather mini shorts (like right under the butt) and she actually argued with me that it was an appropriate look.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Leather mini shorts would provide greater coverage than what our Nightmare Intern often wore to work.

        I so wish I could find my post about her. Probably her least offensive problem was inappropriate attire. She had to be counseled, repeatedly, on her clothing, and from what I can tell did not ever actually conform to the dress code. The last time I saw her was at an outward facing event with major donors, in which she wore a thong and a very short/floofy skirt (obviously the skirt did not provide adequate coverage if I know what her underwear style was, but apparently we were supposed to be glad that she wore underwear at all).

        1. Naruto*

          Why did she continue to remain employed there (even as an unpaid intern)?

          “Hey, your clothing isn’t professional.”
          (No change.)
          “Your clothing still isn’t professional.”
          (Still no change.)
          “We’re telling you that you’re doing something that isn’t consistent with our standards, and you’re continuing to do it. That is a serious work problem that is jeopardizing your employment.”

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Because our Executive Director was conflict averse to a fault, and because neither I nor the other attorneys had the authority to fire her (I also came in at the tail end of her internship, when she only had 2 weeks left). [She was actually banned from attending the major donor event, but how she ended up there is a whole other story.]

            Frankly, the intern should have never been hired, but when the first bad things happened, they should have gotten rid of her ASAP. The problems weren’t limited to insubordination and poor judgment—they were so severe that we’re really lucky we didn’t get sued or that she didn’t kill someone. The ED didn’t want to fire her because she was a student and “it was a learning experience.” The intern did other egregious things, but the ED kept making excuses, like “oh, her internship is already halfway over” or “there’s only 3 weeks left.” It was really bad for our office—most of the staff developed something similar to PTSD and wanted to ban hiring interns because of the experience.

  9. Paddy Wagon*

    We have our first intern this year. She’s wonderful, but keeps showing up in crop tops, shorts, and sneakers. And our boss is allowing it because she’s otherwise excellent at her work. Then where’s the jeans exception for us, huh?

    1. Meeeeeeeee*

      Your boss is not doing her any favors. It’s much better to learn about work attire during an internship than later!

    2. KarenT*

      Wow! Your boss is not setting her up to succeed in her next role. It doesn’t take very much effort to say this is the dress code, you need to follow it.

    3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Your boss is really setting her up to fail. How strict is your dress code, and how long has she worked for you? If she hasn’t picked up on the fact that no one is attired the way she is, then it could be helpful for folks to gently advise her.

    4. no more interns*

      We have an intern this year who is the daughter of one of our biggest clients (I KNOW) and she frequently looks like she forgot to put on a pair of pants, like she’s wearing a tunic with no pants instead of a dress. I realize I am her mother’s age and thus probably don’t get youth fashion BUT COME ON.

  10. Allison*

    I look back and cringe at some of the stuff I wore when I interned at the State House right around the time I graduated college. I really wish someone had the guts to take me aside and tell me my skirt was too short, or that some of what I wore was much too tight to be appropriate for work.

    I think people are hesitant to correct what interns wear, either because they should already know better, or because of the concern that they can’t afford to get anything new. But you should always speak up! If they really can’t afford newer, better fitting clothes, even from H&M or some other inexpensive clothing store, they’ll say so, but at least they’ll know it’s a purchase they should try to make soon.

    1. JD*

      I really want to tell our summer student that she’s too old for “pigtail braids”. But I’m afraid I’ll get in trouble!

      1. Morning Glory*

        Yeah, definitely don’t do that. If you need to say something, I’d phrase it as being not appropriate for your office, but don’t comment on whether she’s too old for them in general. That’s going beyond giving professional advice to criticizing her personal fashion taste.

        1. Jadelyn*

          The one exception to that is, for an intern/student specifically, if you’re just trying to make her aware that a very youthful hairstyle like that may affect how people perceive her and thus treat her. If she’s a student, I assume she’s fairly young, and it might serve her better to wear her hair in more sober styles (not necessarily a bun every day or anything, but just a single ponytail or worn down or whatever) to encourage people to take her seriously, rather than treating her more like a child. Is it right or fair that people will see “young woman with pigtails” and think “child, feel free to dismiss and not take her seriously”? No. But it’s a thing that will happen regardless, so it might be a kindness to bring that to the student’s attention so she can consider it. If she wants to keep wearing pigtails after that, it’s up to her, but at least she can make a more informed fashion choice.

          1. Anon16*

            There’s something that feels really off about bringing this up. That seems more like a conversation for a boss or a close mentor or something. There’s something about only being someone’s temporary intern supervisor that feels weird about bringing something up that feels so close to personal style/appearance, even if it was well-intentioned.

            I don’t know.

            1. Jadelyn*

              I get that, but if I were the intern in question, I’d rather someone tell me things like this earlier than have to learn about it later, or worse, find myself struggling to be taken seriously as a professional because I’m signaling youthfulness/playfulness rather than professionalism, without even realizing that’s what I’m doing. I mean, isn’t an intern’s supervisor their boss, basically? I’m not sure what the distinction is that you’re drawing there.

            2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              I hear you, but I would push back and say it’s your job to let your intern know if their appearance/style is off. The fact that you’re a temporary supervisor doesn’t change your relationship to your intern—part of your role is to help guide her professional development. I think it would be very helpful to borrow Morning Glory/Jadelyn’s framework to let her know that her hairstyle is off.

              If you’re worried that the conversation is intrusive or overly familiar, you can always fall back on framing it as “here’s something I wish I had known when I was new to the workplace.” Obviously that works better if you’re the same gender, but it’s not required if you can find an appropriately similar anecdote/analogy (or can make one up!).

            3. JamieS*

              Honestly I don’t really understand your stance. To me part of the responsibility of supervising an intern is guiding her and helping her understand professional norms which may include guidance on appropriate hair styles. Given that I think the intern’s direct supervisor is the most appropriate person to have the “no pigtails” discussion.

          2. Mike C.*

            It feels like your perpetuating an arbitrary standard. I don’t think you’re unreasonable in doing this but I think you need to be really, really careful to ensure that this is a thing you’ve directly observed on a wide basis rather than just something someone told you once and so on.

              1. Mike C.*

                The fact that something has been well established doesn’t have anything to do with how arbitrary it is. I mean look, how long were women told past a certain age that you shouldn’t even have long hair lest you look “unprofessional” or whatever. A hundred years ago pink was a masculine color and blue was feminine. Before that, dudes were wearing a lot more satin, silk and ruffles/lace than they do now. Outside of issues related to cost or weather, those styles are fairly arbitrary.

                I get that the deeper implication is your desire to help people as things are right now and I’m not trying to start something massive here. I just think given all the other unofficial rules around women’s hair and professionalism and whatnot that maybe it’s time for the rest of us to quit being so judgemental about things that don’t really affect the business/working environment.

                And sure, if I see a woman above a certain age wearing pig tails will it stand out? Yeah. Will I think it’s strange? Sure. But those are my own thoughts and thoughts I should rightly keep to myself because it doesn’t really matter at the end of the day. That’s what makes it arbitrary.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  This really isn’t any different than telling someone her shirts are too low-cut for the environment or that his footwear is going to make colleagues take him less seriously. These are things you do in an environment that has expectations around professional appearance.

                  Whether professional appearance should even be a thing is a separate issue.

                2. This Daydreamer*

                  Name one thing in your company’s dress code that isn’t arbitrary. Is there any part of your job that you couldn’t do while wearing neon pink wedge sandals, fishnet stockings, a tutu, a trench coat, and a rainbow clown wig? Probably not, but you’d be asked to change into an ensemble that is shaped by the arbitrary rules that society has agreed define professional dress.

                3. JessaB*

                  I would be careful of the hair discussion if the person involved is of another ethnicity where such hairstyles are the norm. Certain hair rules do come up very discriminatory. Schools sending down males of Native Nation descent for long hair, pony tails etc. There was even an issue on a well known TV show, they used to make the lead actress wear wigs, because her short twists, or micro dreads (whatever she was wearing that season,) were considered inappropriate.

                  Ah heck, it was Law and Order, and it was S. Epatha Merkerson. She talked about the fact that a lot of Black Women’s hair styles were considered unprofessional.

                4. Undine*

                  neon pink wedge sandals, fishnet stockings, a tutu, a trench coat, and a rainbow clown wig?

                  I am sooo tempted.

                5. Mike C.*

                  @ThisDreamer – Requirements for arms and legs to be covered, no open toe shoes, minimum surface area of the heel and the like are dress code requirements made for safety here, so those certainly count as not being arbitrary. In several places nylons of any kind would be a terrible safety hazard – nothing like melting or burning plastic being stuck to your legs. High visibility garments are also really common.

                  I count five, four of those apply where a I work now and four of those applied at the last place I worked at.

                6. This Daydreamer*

                  @Mike C – Ah, sorry, I was making the assumption that you were working in an office where such safety concerns weren’t important. A bad assumption for me to make.

                  I still hold that the unspoken rule against pigtails in an office is both arbitrary and valid.

                  @Undine – I had fun coming up with the outfit and would love to see it in real life. Just, not if you’re an intern, please. Then again that would be great for the next collection of intern nightmares…

            1. Jadelyn*

              I already addressed the “arbitrary standard” issue – I specifically noted that it may not be right or fair that people judge based on something like a youthful hairstyle, but it’s a thing that’s very likely to happen, so it’s a courtesy to let someone know that who may not already be aware of it.

              And it’s not even about the pigtails specifically – more just that, especially when you’re a young employee and new to the working world, you often need to manage impressions pretty carefully in order to be taken seriously. How many times have we heard from people who are not being taken seriously because they “look young”? That’s all this is about.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Yes — and it’s worth noting that declining to give this kind of guidance/coaching to people can really hurt people from less advantaged backgrounds who may not have had the “grooming” for professional work that people from more privileged backgrounds have benefitted from.

              2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                Yeah, this is right on. Also, I just think it’s better to let people know that there is a standard in play. It may be arbitrary, but when you are just new and starting out, ignoring a standard because you think it’s arbitrary does not change how the outside world perceives you.

                Certain styles are more/less appropriate for particular workplaces, and it’s fair game to share that with interns. I also think that there are so many additional hurdles for women in the workplace that it’s helpful to let folks know whether they’re creating additional hurdles for themselves based on decisions that impact how they’re perceived. They may decide those hurdles are worth it, but I’d rather know they exist than run into them because no one told me they were there.

        2. Allison*


          “Amanda, you look so cute with your hair like that, but it’s not a good look for the office. People may see you as a little girl, and they won’t take you seriously. You want people to think you’re mature, smart, and competent, even if you are young, and part of that means looking the part.”

          I think that when girls are growing up, pigtail braids make them look smart and studious, but after a certain age, they make you look like a smart and studious little girl, not a college student or recent grad ready to take their chosen industry by storm.

          1. DecorativeCacti*

            I think that’s a good way of saying that.

            The field the intern is in makes a huge difference, too. I probably wouldn’t think twice about a florist or preschool teacher with pigtails but would definitely side eye a doctor with pigtails.

            I know people have their own personal style, but I work with someone well into her 60s who wears pigtails and I can not take her seriously.

          2. Anon16*

            I don’t really like this wording and it comes across patronizing. If it’s necessary to bring up, there may be a better way to phrase it, but i’m leaning towards it being too iffy and delicate to bring up anyway.

          3. Mike C.*

            Maybe those other people need to stop treating their coworkers as children simply because they’re wearing pigtails. That’s rude and unprofessional behavior anywhere you go, is it not?

            1. Jadelyn*

              In an ideal world, sure, nobody would ever judge on appearances. I wouldn’t have to take my tongue ring out when I go to job interviews, my colleague wouldn’t have to cover up her sleeve tattoo, etc.

              But sadly, this is not that ideal world, actual studies have shown actual quantifiable differences in how people are treated professionally based on their appearances, and I’m not sure why you seem set on ignoring that in favor of an idealized “it shouldn’t matter” attitude?

            2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              I don’t think pigtails run the risk of being treated as a child. I think they run the risk of not being taken seriously.

              We can argue about whether that’s appropriate, but to a certain extent, we have to work within the reality we’re given. We can push back and actively work to change those norms and expectations, but if we start from the idea that professional standards of dress/grooming are presumptively wrong, it’s going to sound pretty out-of-step to most of the people you’re trying to win over. And I’m not sure that, over time, it’s going to actually bring them over to your perspective.

              1. Mike C.*

                I’m not starting from the idea that professional standards of dress/grooming are wrong, so we don’t need to worry about that. I also (repeatedly!) have recognized that there’s a difference between what is and what aught to be. I just think in this space here we can all recognize that it’s kind of silly to look at a grown woman with pig tails and immediately discount her as a person just because of how her hair looks. That’s terrible behavior.

                1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  Ohhh, I clearly misunderstood you, then. I thought you meant out in the world in general—not among the commentariat.

        3. Bellatrix*

          Exactly. The idea of being too old for something is quite sexist in itself – pigtail braids just aren’t appropriate (and wouldn’t be even in a hypothetical child labour scenario :D ).

          I wear pigtail braids for hiking, it’s great at keeping your hair from flying all over and is more hat-friendly than ponytails.

      2. all aboard the anon train*

        I’m usually hesitant to berate people on their hairstyles for a variety of reasons, but there’s a middle aged woman in a different department than mine who wears pigtails or pigtail braids every single day. It’s bizarre enough that even clients have complained.

        I remember the first time i saw her in the bathroom, I had to do a double take since pigtails are something I associate with young kids.

        1. the gold digger*

          There was a woman close to retirement age at my last job who wore a plaid, no-waist jumper over a turtleneck shirt to work every day. It was such a bizarre look for a woman her age.

        2. Mike C.*

          Customers have complained? How do the pigtails prevent them from getting what they need?

        3. Eden*

          When you say pigtail braids, do you mean double french braids, or pigtails that are braided, or does it apply to both?

          I ask because I very occasionally wear double french braids and am almost 50. I think actual pigtails are totally work-inappropriate and would never wear them, nor would I braid them, but somehow I feel differently about french braids. I work in academia in a very laid back area and no one has ever mentioned anything, but now I wonder.

          1. Anxa*

            I would also like to know!

            I have worn double braids before because I cannot (CANNOT) wear hair products without my hair looking like a greasy or waxy mess. It’s dirty blond and thing. I have worn two side braids several times as it ban be more secure (hence neater) to work, especially as it allows me to wear a hat more easily. A braided pigtail to me is much different than lowset side braids or French/Dutch brainds.

      3. JD*

        Good points. I should clarify, I personally feel pigtails are for children. I do acknowledge that they’re pretty practical, especially on the trail. More appropriately, I feel that she will not be taken seriously in an office environment, particularly in my field, wearing pigtail braids.

        It’s not my place to be making any such comments to her, for a variety of reasons, so I won’t be. I just don’t think it’s serving her well.

    2. Kiki*

      My manager at my first job out of college pulled me aside at the end of my first week to let me know that my clothes were too worn for work. In the moment I was embarrassed, but now I’m eternally grateful that she did that. I would have continued showing up in shoes with holes in them and pants with frayed hems if she hadn’t said anything. Thankfully a $30 trip to Goodwill was enough to correct it.

      1. Malibu Stacey*

        I had the same thing happen for wearing mini skirts at my first professional job – I never wore longer skirts/dresses before that because I thought they made me look dowdy.

    3. Malibu Stacey*

      If possible, I would go through the dress code at an orientation/interview so 1) you can head it off at the pass & 2) you don’t have them going out and buying internship clothes at PacSun or the Wet Seal only to find out the first day that everything is too casual.

    4. Morning Glory*

      I know exactly what you mean. when I was 18 and in my first student-aide office job, I bought a black dress specifically to wear to my new white collar job. It was high necked and not too form-fitting and I thought it was the perfect combination of cute and professional. My older sister told me never to wear it to the office – I disagreed, but she planted a seed of doubt and I never did.

      Years later, looking at photos, it was definitely a dress for going clubbing. The hem was basically at my pantyline and it was backless, which I had somehow blocked out of my memory. I am thankful to this day that I had someone in my life a few years older than me, who could give me that kind of honesty.

    5. My name is Inigo Montoya*

      It’s not always an option to go out and shop for a new wardrobe.

      I’ll never forgot the kind EA at my first office job. Instead of making it awkward when I was dressed for picnic instead of the office, she set up a clothing swap where ladies could exchange old suit jackets, etc. I didn’t have anything that people wanted to swap with me (and looking back I see why) but she still gave me one of my first real work appropriate outfits. And it was done in the nicest, kindest, tactful way that I’ll never forget that. It wasn’t a message of “you look horrible and unprofessional and need to grow up” but rather a message of, “we love working with you and want our clients to respect you too, so try wearing this jacket to your next client meeting.”

      I’ve brought the clothing swap with me to a few other jobs, and always makes sure to give away a nice piece or two to someone that needs a nudge – no matter whether or not they have anything to swap in return.

      1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

        I LOVE the clothing swap idea, at the beginning of a summer internship season. You could be more direct about it, too — the main purpose of the swap is for interns to get new, work-appropriate clothes; employees should bring in stuff that they don’t want anymore (and that’s work appropriate) and shouldn’t shop the swap until all the interns have had a chance to do so.

      2. Not a Morning Person*

        I love this phrasing about “wanting clients to respect you as a professional” and offering a clothing option that would help you get that respect.

      3. HR Hopeful*

        At my first job as an assistant on campus, I only made minimum wage but I needed a suit for a leadership conference that we were going to. My boss was amazing and brought in a whole bag of old professional clothes for me to choose from and I will always be grateful to her for that. She was a awesome mentor too and really helped me learn professional norms and also taught me to be more confident in myself and my ideas as well.

      4. Mallory Janis Ian*

        I love the clothing swap idea. The career center at the business college where I work has a “Career Closet” for students, and they take donations of gently used professional clothing from faculty and staff. Students who are starting internships, preparing for a career fair, etc. are welcome to select an outfit for free. At the end of the year, they have a sale for faculty/staff to come and pick over what is left before the new year starts. I’ve gotten a couple pair of nice slacks for $3 a pair.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I love programs like these (and donate to them), but I’ve also found that there’s a lot to be found at Goodwill and other consignment stores if you’re willing to spend some time sifting through. Obviously this is still sometimes too expensive for folks or won’t have what they need, but I think it’s an underutilized resource for folks who are just starting out with building (or replacing) a professional wardrobe.

        2. JessaB*

          Our unemployment assistance office has this also. Some that don’t have room to store stuff give out vouchers to Goodwill or St. Vincent dePaul.

      5. Eden*

        My first day in court at my first job out of college in a law firm, I wore a long floral print dress, a silk shell, and a dressy but short-sleeved jacket. I thought I looked pretty professional (this was 1990). After we adjourned, my boss asked, “Do you own a suit?” I said no. She said “Get one.” I borrowed one from my friend the next day. I’m so glad she bothered to clue me in rather than let me wear whatever.

  11. Hey Karma, Over here.*

    My internship.
    One interview, heard nothing.
    Two weeks later followed up with the internship coordinator. “You didn’t get the job. It went to Karma.” I’m Karma. Oh, you start Monday. Go here.
    Show up to the office. One big main room. One smaller side office. The person I’d interviewed with showed me the layout, where the mailroom was and how to answer the phone. She gave me a key.
    Last time I saw anyone for a month.
    Get a phone call. “The printer is waiting for the newsletter, did you write the articles and lay it out yet?” No, no I didn’t. “There’s a template board behind the conference table. Write up the articles, lay it out and paste up the document. Use the clipart from the clip art book.”
    Um, ok. Did that. Someone actually came in to take the piece to the printer.
    Two weeks later I received a mock up in printed in blue. Weird.
    Called my contact, “hey, there’s a newsletter here in blue.”
    “That’s the blueline. Did you look at it?”
    “Yes. (WTF? Of course I LOOKED AT IT! That’s how I knew it was blue.)
    “Then send it back.”
    Maybe if I’d had an internship where I’d worked with someone doing layout, I’d know that between LOOKING at the blueline and RETURNING the blueline, I was supposed to PROOF the blueline. It was the 90s, so it was a mixture of Wordperfect and old school layout, so there were only a couple of typos, but still. And no, I didn’t get a copy. “Oh gee. Haha, didn’t you add your name and address to the mailing list?”
    That I never saw. No, no I did not.

  12. Doug Judy*

    Oh interns. The worst one we had was the CFO’s son. He basically texted all day, called his mom to bring his lunch, and once the summer was over we found every document he was supposed to file in a locked drawer in at his desk.

    I think my boss would have been open to giving him some guidance but this kid was in no way interested in learning, and finance was’t even his major, he was a phys ed major. He was only there because his dad needed a place for him to go during the day. We were essentially glorified babysitters for a 20 year old. After that year my boss did insist that all interns for our department needed to be accounting or finance majors. We got some amazing interns after that so in a “big picture” way, having a crappy intern helped in the long run.

    1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      Haha. Dad and mom found a way to keep him out of the house for a summer. I wonder if it was more mom’s idea, since pops put the degree requirement in…to keep son from reappearing the next year.

    2. The Other Dawn*

      “…once the summer was over we found every document he was supposed to file in a locked drawer in at his desk.”

      This happened to me. I was on the verge of firing a young woman when she decided to give her notice. One of her issues was being really disorganized. After she was gone, a VP needed to open the shred bin (one of those big ones) to find a document. When we opened it I found all the reports I asked her to file before leaving, as well as lots of original documents (we were a bank), live checks, new stationary, stamps, etc. She basically dumped her whole desk in the shred bin rather than just handing me a pile of stuff. Or, you know, filing them.

      1. Jadelyn*

        …suddenly the two-inch-thick stack of papers we found in our temp admin’s desk after he left – which he was supposed to have filed – doesn’t seem so bad!

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Holy crap.

        That absolutely trumps my intern who decided to “reorganize” our files by changing the entire filing system to “alphabetical by first name.” Our cases were organized by type (criminal / civil / habeas) and by docket number. My extremely unflappable boss almost had a meltdown (he put on his “dad voice”—always a sign of bad news to come), and it took 3 of us working all weekend to fix it. But at least she didn’t try to shred original filings or bank documents?

        1. Jadelyn*

          Oh, no.

          I mean, I sympathize in that I know it sucks to be looking for someone you know their first name but not last, or the list you have is ordered by first name, so you’ve got to hop all over the filing cabinets to find things (if you go down your existing list) or skip around on the list you’re going down (if you want to proceed from file drawer to file drawer in an orderly fashion). It’s no fun. But it’s not grounds to change an entire filing system!

          You just kind of want to shake them and demand to know what the hell they were thinking.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Yes! So far, anytime I’ve had something like this happen, it’s due to an excess of gumption :(

            (But also, if you’re struggling to understand the system, ask! We explain it in the intern manual, but I’d much rather show a person how it works and how to search the electronic database so they can speed up their hardcopy file-pulling-process than have them wallowing in frustration.)

  13. LizzE*

    I have interned four times and I currently train interns at my job (not their manager, but I oversee this task), so I am very opinionated on this matter. From my experience, some managers drop the ball during the acclimation/onboarding period for the interns. I have run into this scenario a few times where the manager is out of the office the first few days or even the first week the intern starts, leaving them to figure things out on their own. Or, even if the manager is around, they do a lunch or coffee “getting to know you” meeting, but then expect the intern to hit the ground running when they start delegating tasks.

    While I do not have a specific solution, I do believe their is a nuance to understanding an intern’s needs, giving them time to get acclimated and helping them better understand the work. When an intern manager, no matter how well-meaning, forgets this, I find that an intern is less likely to share opinions/ideas/feedback, speak up when there is an issue and overall, does not feel part of the team/organizational culture.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      At my prior job, we did a few things to help onboard our interns that I think are helpful:

      1. Every supervising attorney drafts a memo with their intern assignment, and the template we provide for them is pretty exhaustive. It makes them determine the scope of the project, explains the overall case, number of hours estimated to complete the assignment, deadline, steps to be taken and necessary meetings/hearings, and where to find necessary information, as well as which staff to contact for follow-up questions. These are due 3 weeks before interns start work, and the Intern Coordinator reviews the memos ahead of time and returns them if they’re inappropriate for an intern or the amount of time required is underestimated. If they don’t turn it in on time, they don’t get an intern/intern support. Interns read these write-ups on their first day.

      2. After they’ve read the memos, we have interns fill out a questionnaire that includes what skills they want to learn/practice, which cases/assignments interest them (ranked by preference), and what they least enjoy doing. It doesn’t mean they won’t have to do something they don’t like, but it helps us provide better support when they take on something they don’t enjoy.

      3. We have an overall intern supervisor whose docket is lightened in summer specifically so that they have sufficient time to oversee intern logistics. That person also acts as a backstop. So if your supervising attorney for a task is ignoring you or not getting back to you, you can go to the Intern Coordinator, who will intervene on your behalf if appropriate. This is a relatively senior attorney, because we found in the past that people “up the chain” would ignore junior attorneys the same way they ignored interns.

      4. Interns get to give feedback on their experiences with their managers in a sort of exit interview, but they share their feedback with the Intern Coordinator in a confidential setting. She also checks in with them mid-internship so she can try to intervene if things are already going badly. If she gets verifiable information that a manager sucks, she pulls in the legal director and ED to counsel the attorney. Attorneys who had instances of bad feedback from 2 or more interns were not allowed to have an intern the following term (or if there was one instance of very bad behavior, their “intern privileges” were immediately suspended). Those folks underwent coaching on appropriate intern supervision. After coaching, they were allowed interns on a limited, probation basis (basically you had to “earn back” the opportunity to have regular intern support).

  14. LQ*

    We have high school interns here and so far they’ve been great but that you have to tell them everything might include that yes, you can just go to the bathroom, you don’t have to ask. And your office’s break taking etiquette (which maybe should be told to everyone).

    The one thing I really wish I could get better at is pulling out of the interns what they enjoy doing so we can guide what we give them as work. Sometimes they genuinely don’t know, sometimes they seem nervous of saying the wrong thing. But when we finally got out of an intern that they were starting to think about law enforcement and being a detective? Despite the fact that we are SUPER not a cop/law enforcement place I was able to shift the kind of work and give her stuff that was sort of. We think there might be something here, it’s tedious but does require some investigation of the information, following up on each of the leads and seeing if it goes anywhere or if it was just noise. Which was sort of (hopefully) along the right track. And she really loved doing it (despite the tedium of it).

    1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      That’s really cool of you to make that kind of effort. I’m glad it’s working out so well and you and the intern are getting something out of it.

  15. Ask a Manager* Post author

    While we’re discussing questionable clothing choices, I want to mention that I’m going to be on Marketplace discussing appropriate summer wear for the office, and we want to answer people’s questions and hear those horror stories. If you’d like to submit a question or a horror story, please email them to and I may respond on the air!

  16. Malibu Stacey*

    Regarding the dress code, if you ban piercings/visible tattoos/unusual hair colors you are probably going to have to spell that out as well.

  17. kb*

    I just want to throw this out there for anyone planning an internship program: if you are paying your intern less than what it costs to live in that city or not paying them at all, please give them a schedule that could accommodate a second job. And if you can’t do that, be upfront during the application process. I had a few friends end up in bad financial situations after taking internships they were told could accomodate a second job, only to find out after they started that in actuality they were expected to have completely open availability. For example, a friend took an internship that was set to be 20 hours a week, but it turned out the hours varied wildly week to week and weren’t announced until the Sunday immediately before the work week.

    1. AMPG*

      This is huge. My old job in an expensive city paid all its interns minimum wage and expected a commitment of 32 hours/week, but it would definitely have been possible to take a night/weekend server job on top of that. I’m generally opposed to unpaid internships because of the way they promote inequality.

    2. Kerr*

      Also, don’t charge them for parking and refuse to give them a temporary pass.


  18. CG*

    It took me awhile to learn that attendance mattered, even though I wasn’t receiving credit or being paid. If I wanted to study or work on a paper or go out of town, I just called in. I looked at the internship as something I could do if I felt like it, instead of a commitment I needed to honor. Then I was mortally offended when they didn’t interview me for a position that came up. Haha.

    1. cncx*

      my first internship twenty years ago, i was five minutes late on the first day. my boss chewed me OUT.

      I am so glad i learned that lesson at an internship and not at my first job.

  19. Ramona Flowers*

    My favourite intern story is the one from last week’s open thread who pasted a picture of a turtle into every document he scanned…

  20. KT*

    This article mentions nothing about cots (and pillow shams). Alison, what is your position on bedding for interns?

    (Couldn’t help myself)

  21. Stephanie*

    Oh, this is timely. I’m halfway through my internship right now. (I haven’t been reading at work a ton, so I haven’t been commenting too much.) I’m interning at one of the Big 3 automakers in an engineering role.

    -My boss has really pushed me seeing how cars are made, so if I ask to go to an assembly plant or supplier, he makes it happen.
    -My department pushes talking with others to learn how the company works and learn about different roles.

    -Not enough feedback on my performance. I’ve worked before, so I have an idea of how the professional world works, but it’s still difficult gauging what their idea of “good” is.
    -Not enough context–I’ll go to a meeting and have no idea the “why” to the meeting. I’ve asked after the fact the big picture behind a meeting or initiative (even something as broad as “We just started this team and we’re trying to solidify how what we do differs from the Vanilla Teapot division” is very helpful.)

    1. the gold digger*

      I’ll go to a meeting and have no idea the “why” to the meeting

      I have been bringing our intern (she will be a college junior and is an engineering major) to conference calls with me. We will sit in an empty room and listen to the meeting together while I do simultaneous interpretation. I have told her I want her to come to these meetings to get a better understanding of what my group (R&D) does. It’s not actionable information for her, but it is giving her big-picture context.

      She is super sharp. After just two planning meetings, she said, “There sure is a lot of polite disagreement* about which projects are going to get worked on. It looks like the biggest problem you guys have to solve is to figure out whose project gets money!”

      Yes. That is pretty much it!

      * The team consists of upper Midwesterners and Canadians.

  22. Bibliovore*

    Just had this on Friday and I was so taken aback. Leggings as pants. Yes I will have the appropriate for the work attire.

    1. The New Wanderer*

      That’s not exclusive to interns by any means, or even newer or younger employees. At my previous job (big engineering company), there is a fairly casual dress code. I’m not even sure there is a list of approved/disapproved attire; if there is, it was not clearly enforced. And yet the number of women showing up in leggings-as-pants and not wearing shirts that are long enough to make the outfit work appropriate was disheartening. Work =/= yoga class.

    2. paul*

      We had to discuss that with a non-intern employee two or so years ago. leggings with blouse/dress, fine.

      Leggings with a normal shirt, where you (no joke) tell someone’s not wearing underwear? Not so much

  23. Imaginary Number*

    Can you do a column for the interns themselves? I’ve noticed a lot of questions from interns on the open thread Fridays, especially in regards to interns who haven’t been given enough work to do.

  24. Mabel*

    And if you do “…arrange for her to sit in on some marketing team meetings so that she can watch more senior professionals in action,” please tell her she should say nothing during those meetings (unless specifically asked to). I had some unpleasant experiences with people new to training (not interns, but new to the field and new to the work world) who thought they could interrupt me during class to tell me a “better” way to do something. That’s when I learned that if my class was being observed by someone who was there to learn the material and learn how to teach, I needed to spell out how they should behave. (I’m not assuming that no one could know something I didn’t, but if they did know a better way, they should tell me at a break, rather than interrupting the class and undermining my authority/presumption of expertise with the students.)

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