my coworkers think I’m an intern … but I’m not

A reader writes:

I’m in my first post-college job, at a large publishing company in a major city. My position is tailored for recent college graduates, with free workshops, the chance to sit in on exec-level meetings, and opportunities to do work in multiple different departments. It’s a great gig! However, because of the unique nature of this position, and my age/junior level in the company, a lot of people think I’m an intern. I’m not! I’m just new! I am referred to as an intern at least once a week, even though our team is small (less than 30 people), we work closely together, and I collaborate with my coworkers every single day.

Adding to these frustrations, it’s mostly coworkers who are on the same level as me who exhibit this behavior, not managers or higher-level executives. Most people stop when I correct them, but then other people do it — probably four or five people have persisted despite my corrections. Or someone I’ve corrected in person will call me an intern in an email/other written material like a newsletter.

One woman I work with asked me to get her mail and do other menial tasks for her during my first several weeks here, which is a little demeaning when I’m at the same level as her in the structure, just more junior in my tenure here.

Also, I’ve received email threads forwarded to me in which my coworkers refer to me as “the intern” to outside clients, and I usually reply-all to those introducing myself to the client with the correct title and a small description of my role, to reiterate that I am not an intern.

I’ve talked to my manager about this, and she’s addressed it with individual people, but not the group as a whole, despite my mentioning that several people have done it.

How do I politely correct people when they refer to me as “the intern”? My full title is listed on my desk placard, in my email signature, and in the directory, but people aren’t catching on. I don’t want to seem nitpicky or fussy, but I also don’t want to feel infantilized. The application for the position was incredibly competitive, and jobs like this aren’t common for people at my age in this industry.

Yeah, that’s annoying — and it’s understandable that it’s making you feel talked down to or infantilized, especially when people are doing it even after being corrected.

I’d treat this as two different issues: one is that people who don’t know any better mistakenly think you’re an intern but get it once you correct them, and the other is that some people are continuing even after you set the record straight.

For anyone who’s getting it wrong the first time, the best thing to do is just matter-of-factly correct them: “Oh, I’m not an intern — I’m a llama wrangler.” It sounds like that has taken care of it with most people.

But for the people who continue to get it wrong even after you’ve corrected them, you can point that out and ask them to stop:

* “You know I’m not an intern, right?”
* “I’m not an intern — I’m a llama wrangler just like you are. Can you make sure to get that right when you’re talking clients in the future?”
* “I know I’ve told you this a few times — I’m not an intern. It’s weird to keep hearing you refer to me that way.”

Beyond that, though … well, sometimes this happens when you look young at work. I know it’s annoying, but sometimes people just make assumptions. As long as they stop when you correct them, it’s just an annoying thing you may have to deal with. (The people who persist after being corrected are being rude though.)

For what it’s worth, part of the problem may be the nature of your position too. You mentioned that it’s tailored for recent grads and gives you free workshops and the chance to sit in on higher-level meetings, and lets you work with multiple departments … and that actually does sound kind of intern-ish! So even though you’re not an intern, the particular job you’re in may just be reading very intern-ish to people.

And annoyingly, there’s actually a point where if you make too big of a deal of it, you risk looking overly invested in not being seen as junior staff, which ironically enough can end up coming across as young. You do need to correct if it’s causing perception problems with clients, but it might be something where you’re sometimes better off letting it go. (In particular, I wouldn’t keep pushing your manager to address it unless you’re seeing it cause real problems.)

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 285 comments… read them below }

  1. grace*

    If it’s a position tailored to recent grads, I’m confused why your coworkers are unaware that’s what you are? That said, though, I’m assuming that it’s like many bigger companies, which hire a group of recent-ish grads and train them, give them opportunities, etc, all at once. If it’s not such a structured experience, I suppose I could understand them making that mistake … Once. After that, ugh, it would annoy me too.

    I hope Alison’s scripts/advice help you!

    1. It's Me, the OP*

      Alison, as always, delivered advice and helped reassure me that I’m not being too sensitive. I love this blog so much.

      1. Former Prof*

        For what it’s worth, in my first job, I was a tenure-track college professor at one of the Seven Sisters colleges, and I looked so young that in my two years there (I left when I moved back to California), there probably wasn’t ONE SINGLE time that people didn’t address me as a student–not just a student but a freshman, as in “Well, little lady, how are you finding college life?”

        Absolutely the more asshole-y of my colleagues treated me as a student–especially the ones who didn’t have Ph.D.’s and didn’t like this smartypants newcomer. I remember a ridiculous wrangle over getting reimbursed for mileage after speaking at an alumna event, and two other profs deciding for some reason I shouldn’t get it, and one of them at one point even pulling me out of a class to lecture me about it! I was the PROFESSOR! Pulling me out of class STOPS THE CLASS! It was also in an era where women were still fighting to get into the professorial ranks at all, and there were extremely few of us, so there was that too.

        Anyway: it made zero difference in the long term; I still have the job as part of my resume; those other jerks never went anywhere (turns out “putting others down” doesn’t actually work as a career path); and I’m finding in my 60’s that there’s a really, really nice upside to “looking young” (as I manage to keep my screenwriting career going in a field where “over 40” is considered old).

        Try to take the long view–it really is the only one that matters! You will only have one “first job,” you sound bright and eager and will soon be promoted or move to a better job. Meanwhile, just keep doing your job and making sure that upper management and clients value your contributions. Jealous, petty coworkers are a pain, but they can’t stop your upward trajectory.

        Also: I did get reimbursed for my damn mileage.

        1. Slow Gin Lizz*

          I went to a Seven Sisters college and I remember buying something at a store in the town nearby when I was about to graduate and the cashier congratulated me and then asked where I was planning to go to college. Um. I have always looked younger than I am. Perhaps OP has that issue as well? When I first started teaching at a HS just after I graduated, I made sure to wear very professional clothing so as not to get mistaken for a student even though I was in my 20s. OP could at least try that too, maybe? (I admit, though, that when the cafeteria worker offered me the student discount I took it – I suspect she knew I wasn’t but decided to give me the benefit of the doubt.)

          1. Doc in a Box*

            This reminds me of the time I was walking past the local high school on Saturday morning, and got stopped by an irate teacher who tried to tell me off for being late to the SAT. Um, lady, I’m a 32 year old physician! (Also I was carrying two big bags of groceries; who brings that many snacks to the SAT??)

          2. Mine Own Telemachus*

            I was once walking into my alma mater about six years after I graduated (so almost 30yo) to give a copy of my first book to a professor friend. I tripped and stumbled on an uneven sidewalk, and when I righted myself, I saw two students from the college go, “Ugh, freshmen” at me. It’s the worst.

            1. Nanani*

              I live near the local uni and the undergrads in the neighbourhood often mistake me for one of them. Happened just this morning in fact!
              “I’m so nervous about the calculus exam! How about you?”
              – I graduated 10 years ago, but I’m sure you’ll be fine! Good luck

              1. Caraval*

                I’m 35 in April and I’m -still- getting people asking what classes I’m taking. How I’m doing in college. When I graduate. At least when people ask “so, when’d you graduate?” they mean college now. I was getting “from high school” until I was 30. From people who’d seen me twice a week for years and asked the same question.

                Some people are capital A-assholes, and some people are just assholes too oblivious to care and retain information about anyone not them.

                But thos people at work (especially your level) still calling you an intern after you’ve corrected them need to be set down. Seriously, it’s not just personal when they’re telling clients and avoiding doing their work by giving it to you. This is a ‘go to manager and HR’ situation, because their asshole behavior will certainly affect how the company is perceived.

        2. TardyTardis*

          When I was in the Air Force, as a newly minted butterbar (2nd Lt), I know I looked young enough to be pushing Thin Mints and Samoas. But I don’t mind looking younger now!

  2. Hey-eh*

    This has happened to me (not quite to this extent) and it’s so annoying. In Canada we have co-op programs, where you basically have paid internships throughout your 4 year program (it ends up being 5 years) and I was part of that. I was an intern for so many jobs that by the time I finally was in my permanent ‘real world’ position I was really frustrated that people assumed I was an intern. I’m also really young looking. Recently I got married and actually cut off all my hair after the wedding (I donated it!) in an effort to look older and it actually worked for me. Not that you should do something so drastic but, yeah. Solidarity.

    1. Who the eff is Hank?*

      I’m in my late 20’s and work in the administration office of a high school. For my first few months in this job I was mistaken for a student worker by some parents. I’ve taken to wearing more noticeable makeup and that seems to have done the trick.

        1. copy run start*

          I am cursed with the same acne-riddled face I had at 14. When I was really young, I had a public-facing job where it was hard enough to be taken seriously as a petite woman. Makeup and clothing helped, but what really fixed things for me was putting a crayon drawing from a child up on my cubicle, which was visible to the public. People assumed it was done by my kid. (It was actually a random child who gave it to me while leaving our office. But I suppose if you have a kid or have a friend with a kid, they could produce one too.)

          This didn’t stop some of the more boorish men from hitting on me, but I wasn’t going to put a ring on or an actual child’s picture on my desk. I have a friend who did wear a fake ring though.

      1. Star*

        When I first qualified as a teacher, I was trying to get my (12 year old) pupils lined up for a school trip, and another teacher told me off for not standing in line with them.

        I never lived it down with that class.

        1. Who the eff is Hank?*

          A few years ago my husband and I were on vacation to Washington, DC and we went to one of the Smithsonian museums. Our arrival coincided with a class trip arrival and one of the chaperones told me to get with the group and asked why I wasn’t wearing the group t-shirt. She didn’t believe I wasn’t with the group until I showed her my wedding ring.

          1. hermit crab*

            Oh nooo that’s one of my nightmares! I live just outside DC, and a lot of tour buses park in my neighborhood and let the school groups ride downtown on the metro, so at certain times of the year my walk home from work is surrounded by kids in matching tshirts, and I worry that I will get swept up and made to get on a bus…

            Back on topic, I agree with a poster downthread who says introducing someone as “the intern” is a bit weird, regardless of whether they are actually an intern. Also, I wonder if this issue will die down a bit once OP has been in the role past the end of the semester/school year (not to say she shouldn’t address it now, of course).

            1. Free Meerkats*

              Should you get swept up, you should just play along as a rebellious teen. Refuse to get on the bus, tell the teacher/chaperone, “You’re not my Mom/Dad, you can’t tell me what to do!”, just stand there with your arms crossed. The kids will get a kick out of it because they know you aren’t a student.

              Have fun! And if you can have a friend record it, you may have YouTube gold.

          2. SL #2*

            …wtf. If someone tells you that they’re not your student and they made a mistake, you believe them, you don’t demand to see proof.

          3. Typhon Worker Bee*

            My Dad was once the senior teacher in charge of a multi-school exchange with our home town’s sister town in France. Our family combined this trip with a vacation and met the school group halfway through (the person who’d been in charge for the first half then going off on her own vacation), so he hadn’t been with the group all that long and didn’t know all the kids who weren’t from his own school (everyone was staying with separate host families, not in a central location). He read the riot act before the bus drove onto the ferry, saying that any kind of bad behaviour would not be tolerated, especially drinking, even if the older students were legally old enough to drink in one of the ferry’s bars.

            He patrolled the ferry for the entire trip, and at one point spotted a student drinking beer in one of the bars. He promptly marched up to the guy, said “I *told* you this was not acceptable!” in his best teacher voice, and poured the pint down the bar sink. The guy turned around and said “who the hell are you, mate?!” – yup, not one of the students. Actually a 20-something bloke from the other end of the country. My Dad apologised profusely, bought a replacement pint, and left red-faced with the whole bar laughing at him.

          4. Typhon Worker Bee*

            Oh, and a friend of mine once got into a minor car accident on her way to school. When a friendly bystander came to her car window to see if she was OK, she was crying from the shock of the accident, and said “I’m gonna be late for schoooooooool!”. The bystander said “oh, it’ll be OK, I’m sure the teacher will understand if you’re late because of an accident!” My friend then wailed “I AM the teacher!”

            1. phyllisb*

              When I was in college, one of my instructors and I went to a shop looking for props for a play. We had called ahead so they knew a teacher and student were coming. When we got there, the person helping us kept interacting with me as if I was the teacher. My instructor finally got enough, and stamped his foot, and said, “MADAM!!! I AM THE INSTRUCTOR!!!” What was so funny was at that time (age 20) I still got carded everywhere (drinking age was 18 in those days) and at theaters they would give me a child’s ticket if I didn’t correct them. So imagine how young he must have looked at 26. :-)

          5. bonkerballs*

            Yep, I walk past a high school every day on my way into work. I have more than once been hasseled by a staff member to hurry up because the bell’s about to ring. And each time I give them an incredulous look and tell them “good thing I’m in my thirties and work next door.”

          1. Who the eff is Hank?*

            I think it was a parent who was OVER IT with the rowdy kids because her response when I said I wasn’t a student was, “Come on, don’t mess with me”. She did apologize.

        2. Airy*

          My 28 year old sister, one day when she was not wearing make-up and her hair was in two braids, was offered the children’s menu in a restaurant. I was invited to join a development network for younger staff new to the workforce (the under 25s) when I was 37. I can only say we have always taken good care of our skin.

          1. Amber T*

            Damn those two braids and lack of make up. I (also late 20’s) was out to dinner with my parents just a few weeks ago in a similar get up and ordered a beer, and the waitress looked at me like I had three heads, then at my parents like they were crazy. Super condescendingly, she said “I need to see your ID.” I mean, sure, I’m slowly getting to that point where I’m excited to get carded and have no issue showing my ID. My mom was like, “…she’s 27?” The waitress didn’t believe her until she saw my ID, then said “well, you look like you’re 12.” Thanks?

            Mom also once drove me to a medical appointment where I had to get an IV, and when I started hyperventilating and having a panic attack when they couldn’t find the vein, the nurse commended me for coming to the back all by myself but asked me if I wanted her to grab my mommy from the waiting room. Her surprised face when I told her I was 27 did stave off the panic attack for a little bit and she apologized profusely.

            1. many bells down*

              My dad was hosting a 4th of July party, manning the grill, when one of his friends said “did you know there’s teenagers drinking beer in your living room?!” So he goes inside to see and I’m the only person in there drinking beer. I was in my late 30’s.

            2. Koala*

              Oh goodness last time I visited my parents we went out to dinner together and I ordered a baked Alaska for dessert. The waitress just kind of stared at us for a bit then was like “it has alcohol in it.”

              Me: “yeah, I know?”

              Her, again: “It has alcohol in it.”

              Me: “Huh??”

              Her, to my parents: “She can’t order that, she’s under 21.”

              Me: “I’m 27.”

              1. Amber T*

                It’s true! Although I’m way more likely to cry if she’s around. To get a bit off topic… I’m really terrified of needles with notoriously difficult veins to find, and the nurses poked me four times before deciding they were going to call an anesthesiologist who (theoretically) could get the vein quicker (spoiler – he couldn’t and didn’t). They sent me back out to the waiting room while they looked for him, and I came out on the verge of bursting into tears. My mom looks up, all concerned, ready to give me a hug, and I say “don’t be nice to me,” because the second she says something nice is the second I’ll melt down in the waiting room. So she just leans back and goes, “what’s up, bitch?” Mom’s really do help <3

            3. Sally*

              When I was first dating my boyfriend (he’s nine years younger than I am), I sat in on a gaming session with him and his friends. It was a Friday night and I was drinking a beer. One of his friends asked, “Wait, are you old enough to be drinking?” And I said, “Yeah, I’m 31.” But apparently he thought I said 21, which caused some confusion when I picked up a GURPs book later to read it. He warned me it probably wouldn’t make much sense if I was new to tabletop, and I said, “No worries, I’ve been playing D&D for about thirteen years” and he was like, “Wow, you must’ve started young!” and I was like, “I was… in college??”

              1. Sally*

                That should be an uppercase S, “GURPS.” I haven’t really gotten into it, honestly, so I’m not as fluent with the name.

              2. Miso*

                I bet it doesn’t make much sense if you’re new to tabletop, considering it’s a pen&paper and everything…

                1. Not Yet Looking*

                  I always wondered about that pen & paper thing – do people really use pens? I’ve always used pencils. :P

            4. Dealtwiththis*

              This happens to both my brother and I whenever we go out to dinner with our parents. I’m in my thirties and he is in his late twenties. I guess there is something about being seen with your parents that make people assume “parents with young kids”. We both get carded and they don’t really seem to believe that our IDs are valid. Ha!

              1. My AAM is true*

                I’ve seen both ends of this. When my daughter was around 20, she was stopped a couple of times by truant officers. We were also asked by a realtor, “do you have kids?” Well, I have her….

        3. Aleta*

          I used to be a bike courier, and when delivering food to an elementary school’s office if a teacher was there they’d yell at me for not being in class. I normally look extremely young but I was clearly not dressed for school – hi-vis vest, backpack large enough to fit myself inside of, bike helmet… Maybe some kids would dress like that but definitely not the kids at this specific school. They got the message when I gave them a why-would-you-say-that look and walked into the office anyway, where all the employees knew me.

          (also, as an aside – the kids at that school nicknamed me “the Sandman” and to this day I have no idea why)

          1. Anonymoose*

            You put them to sleep? Uh…because they once heard that you’re a huge Metallica fan? You’re down with syrupy sweet 1950’s pop tunes? Hm…that’s all I got.

          2. Mookie*

            You turned on your beam and brought them a dream (in the form of food, the best of all possible dreams).

        4. Geoffrey B*

          When I was in my thirties, I went to my stepson’s school sports dinner. I think they took me for an older brother.

          “Would you like to go on the kids’ table?”

          “Actually, I was going to sit with my wife…”

          Now I have a brother who’s forty years younger than me, so we’ll probably get confusion in the other direction.

        5. Anne (with an "e")*

          My first year teaching high school when I was 26 I had another teacher tell me to sit with the my classmates at an assembly. This same teacher also asked me for a hall pass a few weeks later.

        6. Zephyr*

          I was a very tall high school student relative to my female peers and more than one parent assumed I was a teacher. To be fair our school did have a recent crop of new teachers and those ages can start to blend together a little.

          1. not so sweet*

            My very short brother grew a mustache to start his student teaching. Another teacher on that first staff also taught him how to stride down a hallway with his legs slightly apart, not making eye contact but looking slightly over the students’ heads, and he was delighted to discover that this made a sea of students automatically part for him.

      2. Kelly L.*

        I’ve told this before, but I once got mistaken both for a college student (while unusually dressed down) and for a college student’s mom (while unusually dressed up)…within the same week. I was right around 30 at the time, so they were both within about a 10-year margin of error on either side, I guess!

        1. Alli525*

          I’m in my early 30s and work at a college – I was observing an orientation program when one of the first-years leaned over and asked me if I was also a first-year. I think I literally said “Bless you, child.” (And thank my mother for this pudgy baby face!)

          1. Anon Librarian*

            I had a graduate student think I was an undergrad student…her face was priceless when I got up to do the library portion of orientation! :-) I’ve had to actually show my drivers license to students before so they’ll believe I’m not underage.

      3. whingedrinking*

        I teach English as a second language to adult international students, most of them in their early twenties. When I started out, I was 25 and could have passed for 18; on casual Friday especially, when I would usually wear jeans, I’d get asked all the time where I was from. “Uh…I’m Canadian.” The most effective solution seemed to be wearing nicer shoes.

    2. Sleepyhead*

      It’s tough when you’re really young looking in the work world. I work as a mental health counsellor and it doesn’t happen as much now (I’m 32) but for years with new clients I would have a spiel about how I’d worked here for 8+ years, I’m in my late 20’s, etc. I had a few tricks like wearing my hair a certain way or wearing my glasses that helped bit. It’s nice that I can now say I’m in my 30’s, which shuts most people down ASAP.

      1. Samata*

        I remember longing to be 30 so I could strategically drop it in professional settings. I, too, look very young. Someone last week thought I was 23. I’m 38. I mean, I appreciate the compliments socially but at work related functions it gets frustrating.

        1. Typhon Worker Bee*

          Heh, for me the longing was so I could say “Mum, you do realise I’m 30, don’t you?” when she was doing something mum-like, such as checking to see if I have my money in a safe place before I leave for the airport

          1. Min*

            My father once started a sentence with,”When you’re an adult…,” to which I replied, “I’m 25, I’m married, I own my own home. I think I qualify.”

            The look on his face was priceless.

        2. SeeReeves*

          I’ve always looked young. I started telling people I was 30 when I was 25 in the hopes that I’d be taken more seriously. When I was actually 30, I started saying 35. Now that I’m 36 though, I haven’t been telling people I’m 40.

      2. Betsy*

        I teach at a university and I always make a point of slipping in my age some time during the first class. I’m 34. A lot of people question it or don’t believe me. I also found shorter hair and/or a bit of make-up helped. But I’ve recently grown my hair shoulder length and I don’t want to change it just because of the age perception. I also don’t have a naturally authoritative seeming personality, which doesn’t help. I still get carded at bottle shops or pubs every now and then, or not let in if I’ve forgotten to bring ID.

        1. FCJ*

          My ex is a high school teacher, and when he first started (in his babyfaced late 20s) he always made sure to wear a tie to the first week or so of class to establish his authority. I’m in my mid 30s now, but I teach college-level at schools where a lot of the students are second career, and I always remember that. There’s nothing I can do about the fact that I really am younger than a lot of my students, but dressing a level up in formality for the first few sessions does a lot to establish the “teacher” vibe.

    3. Sal*

      Yes it’s so annoying. I was probably 24ish and a year or so into my career when we had someone come into a tour for our lab. I had the college intern give the tour so he could get some experience, and I was there to fill in as needed if there was something he didn’t know. The woman leading the group that came to tour I guess heard one of us was an intern, assumed it was me because I looked younger/was a woman/was not “leading the tour” (I was instructing him to lead it!), and asked how I was liking being the HIGH SCHOOL INTERN! I was pissed.

    4. Engineer Girl*

      My first task when I graduated was to cut my waist length hair. I realized that I would have problems otherwise and that was the cost of being taken seriously.
      It stinks.

    5. jtc*

      I’m in my early 30s and started at my current workplace in my mid-20s. At the time I was a salaried professional (individual contributor). I was routinely mistaken for the CEO’s secretary/assistant for the first 2-3 years I worked here. At the time, I sat in the cubicle next to the CEO. Mostly this came in the form of people walking up to my office and asking “is CEO here?” and I’d either say yes (if I happened to have seen him that day) or, no, if he had mentioned to me he’d be out of the office or I just hadn’t seen him that day. It took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out some people surely thought I was just the world’s most incompetent assistant, because when they’d ask me when he’d be back and I’d cheerfully reply, “I think Thursday? But I really am not sure,” and then get back to work. It didn’t really sink in until someone literally referred to me as “the secretary” (is it 1950?) in a meeting and I had to be like “uhhhh, actually I’m the Teapot Processing Specialist”. I’m Director level now, and been around long enough most of this has gone away (also perhaps the gray hairs this job has given me?) Recently, one of the VPs I work with told me in a reminiscent manner that he “remembered when I started work here as an intern, and I was still in Teapot Processing school” (I’ve only ever worked here post-graduate school, and never as an intern.) Shrugged it off, and got a good laugh in with my boss later that day.

    6. Gorgo*

      I work in admin at a college, in an office where we do have student assistants. Early in the semester, someone was asking for something in a confusing, convoluted way and I was trying to understand him, and he asked sympathetically “oh, are you a freshman too?”

      34, y’all.

    7. Echo*

      When I was in my early 20s, I worked in the national office of an org that ran educational programs for middle schoolers. While doing a site visit, one of the volunteers had participants go around and state their age and where they went to school, and she thought I was joking when I said I was 23 and worked for the national office. “No, really, are you 12, or 13?” I definitely wore a blazer on all my site visits after that.

  3. Roscoe*

    One thing to address… You mentioned people have had you do more menial tasks during your first few weeks. That is often very common. I’d argue it often goes past the first few weeks, and some tasks fall to the low man on the totem pole. Its not personal, but it is work that needs to be done, but more senior people, even those with the same title as you, may have earned the right to delegate.

    1. Trout 'Waver*

      I wouldn’t just assume this without clarification, though. Some people are jerks who try to foist their work on others.

      1. HRH the Emperor Kuzco*

        This is very common wherever I’ve worked. Jerk-faces will attempt to get the new person (regardless of their role) to do any of the menial work that’s their responsibility. It’s a skill that takes some nuance to develop to be able to let these people know not to do that, or to double check that something is supossed to be a shared responsibility. For example at one of my first ‘grown up’ jobs I was led to believe it was my job to bring all the cardboard boxes accumulated throughout the day to recycling. Turns out it was every person’s job in my department, and they had just taken advantage of me.

        What I learned was just casually addressing ‘oh I’ve been doing this, haha, everybody has been getting off easy since I’ve been here!’ is a great method towards finding out what’s low man on the totem pole work, and what’s co-workers being jerks work.

    2. It's Me, the OP*

      Hi Roscoe! In this case, it was menial tasks that were unnecessary for me to do, not “someone has to do it” tasks. Actually, one of my coworkers (who’d only been there a few months longer than me!) had me get her mail every day for two weeks…despite the fact that we have mail delivered twice a day to our desks! She’s also a repeat offender who never refers to me as an intern in the office, but DOES use that title with clients.

      1. Hills to Die on*

        She sounds a little passive aggressive, actually, not just forgetful. Could be nothing, but given some of the posts we have seen here, it wouldn’t surprise me if she were doing it on purpose.

        I have a friend whose coworker consistently spelled her name wrong on everything despite numerous corrections. Finally, She said, ‘My name is Carrie, not Kerry or Cary. When I have to keep reminding you, it makes me feel that you don’t value my presence here enough to even remember how to spell it.’ or something along those lines. It actually worked and never happened again.

        1. Haiku*

          Great response! If you want to be (passive) aggressive back, you could say something like, “I’m an employee, not an intern. Given that you’ve made this mistake multiple times after reminding you, I’m concerned for your memory.”

          But I would never have the guts to say that.

        2. Allison*

          Sounds like a power play. Some people love the way it feels when they can get other people to do stuff for them, it makes them feel all important and “above” the person doing the thing, especially if it’s a menial task like fetching mail, getting coffee, etc. If someone feels threatened by a younger colleague, they’ll try to gently nudge that person into an official admin/assistant type role.

          1. Betsy*

            Yes, since it’s a good position, maybe they’re actually a little jealous and whether it’s conscious or deliberate or not, are being condescending.

        3. Close Bracket*

          The wording caught my eye- the “when you … I feel” phrasing is a recommended way to bring up people’s behavior, but we just had a letter answer and comment thread advising against bringing up feelings at work. Just something I noticed, I don’t know how to resolve the contradiction.

          1. designbot*

            At work I go with “when you… it seems like.” That way the message is, you’re giving off a certain impression with your actions, is that your intention?

      2. Just a thought*

        This person sounds like a jerk that abuses what little perceived power she has. You usually don’t have to do things like that unless that person is your boss or you’re told to by your boss.

        People that like to abuse what little power they have are everywhere unfortunately. But at most (healthy) places, they don’t get promoted or more power to abuse at least

      3. Hey Karma, Over here.*

        Not to stir the pot, but just a friendly suggestion:
        Keep an eye out for other ways that person is stepping ahead by stepping over or on you.
        Your coworker started almost as recently as you. She is establishing herself as lead; she is establishing you as subordinate. You are doing tasks for her. She is telling people you are an intern and they are seeing you doing what she asks.
        These are strategic moves. You can be a leader without a follower and now she has you. Step out of line. Continue to correct her to outside clients. Explain to your boss that you don’t have time to run errands for her. Then explain to her each time she gives you a task that you cannot run errands for her, but she can discuss it with your manager.
        In these emails where she identifies you as an intern, be sure not only to correct this, but to correct where your assignments come from.
        “Hi all,
        I’ve been assigned by my manager to do X part. Please direct any questions about Y and Z directly to Coworker.”
        or the inverse if necessary.
        And look out as well, when you are working in groups, be aware of how work is assigned. Is she stepping over the team lead to assign you part of her tasks?

        Don’t look back in a year and find that you’ve been pushed aside by her power play.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Yup. She’s being shady and power playing. Don’t fall for it. And don’t do her tasks or get her mail. You’re not her gofer or admin support.

      4. Engineer Girl*

        If she uses the title in front of clients then correct her in front of clients. She’s a repeat offender so don’t worry about embarrassing her. She’s doing that to herself.
        “Actually, I’m a lama wrangler just like you.”

        1. designbot*

          I don’t think I’d correct her in writing in front of clients–this falls under the category of airing one’s dirty laundry. Verbally it’s easier to be like oh Kate always wants to think anyone who started after her is an intern, haha. In writing it’s harder to carry off a breezy tone, so I think I’d follow up on that privately. “When you continue to call me an intern to our clients, it makes it seem like you are discounting my presence or my work. Is there some particular reason that you insist on misrepresenting me like this?”

          1. Mookie*

            I don’t think I’d correct her in writing in front of clients–this falls under the category of airing one’s dirty laundry.

            Engineer Girl didn’t mention a written correction, but the OP did. And it’s not “dirty laundry” to clarify something important to the client. Clients need to know who to speak to and when; titles matter in those instances. It’s disruptive for a team member to be consistently undermined this way and definitely confusing for people outside of this department. I’d frame it exactly that way when addressing it again with the manager. I disagree with Alison that it’s not something she should push; this behavior is weird and uncongenial and a time-suck. Continuing to do it is fostering an environment that may, indeed, host future batches of especially whiffy dirty laundry.

            1. designbot*

              I just wouldn’t want it to look like you’re having a power struggle in front of the client, and I’m afraid that’s what disputes over titles tend to look like. It needs a certain tone, that I don’t think I’d be able to carry off in writing.

              1. Mike C.*

                It’s not a “power struggle” though, it’s a direct effort to give the client the best information possible.

      5. Close Bracket*

        Oh my. I hope that has stopped. If she still asks you to do menial tasks, try the wording, “Manager has me working on x llama wrangling duties, I’ll check with her on how she wants us to divide up that task.” If that’s too forward, try “I’ll check with her on whether she wants me to pick up those tasks as well.”

        1. Observer*

          No. I think it’s not forward enough. She’s NOT the OP’s supervisor, so she needs to respond as though she’s being asked a favor, not as though this is a task that CW has standing to assign.

          So, the answer is a variation of “I’m really busy. Sorry I can’t help you.”

    3. Temperance*

      She mentioned that one person had her fetching mail and doing menial tasks. It’s good that she pushed back rather than becoming Jane’s personal assistant.

    4. Flash Bristow*

      It might be common but you don’t want to set a prescedent. If you’re equals, can you say “sure, I’ll be going to the post room later – can you grab mine tomorrow?” to show you’re not at their bec and call, and if you do it then it’s a favour?

  4. It's Me, the OP*

    Hi!!! OP here! So, in the time since I emailed Alison and received a response, I found out something interesting–the person who was supposed to head my program went to a totally different part of the company mere weeks before the program rolled out, and it seems like a lot of the info she would’ve shared about the program to people like my direct coworkers just never made it to people’s inboxes. That definitely sheds some light on this.

    Also, even though this is a monumentally huge company (think top 3 publishers in North America!), this position was extremely competitive, so there are only 4 other “llama wranglers” in the same position and program as me. We’re each spread out to different teams and never interact, except in workshops or at exec meetings, so people don’t ever get to see us as a “unit” unless they’re in the c-suite.

    1. Catalin*

      As a fellow young-looking person, I have a few tips.
      1) When someone in conversation refers to you as the intern, brush if off while correcting them, a la “Oh, dangers of looking young. I’m actually the llama wrangler, I work with Mark and Mary Q on llama prods.”

      2) ensure you’re dressing the part
      3) approach the offenders as though they’ve accused you of something else (fake hair, two boyfriends, whatever). If you remove the stigma of the ‘intern’ insult for yourself, it really helps you stay professional in the interaction. (A la dropping by their desk, “Sunny, I keep hearing you call me an intern. You know I’m a llama wrangler, not an intern, right?” *eye contact*) wait for the stammer. If you’re calmer than they are, you will win this conversation every time.

      1. Casuan*

        OP, sorry this is happening. Frustrating, indeed!!
        Thanks for the mini-update :)

        Despite the miscommunication of your employment & status, your colleagues are quite rude to call you an intern after they’re been told otherwise.

        my script suggestion:
        “I’m not aware of an intern with the same name as me?”

    2. C.*

      Glad you figured out some of the why behind the issue! Do you know if that info has since been shared or have you been filling in those gaps?

      Also, your question reminded me of something that happened when I was a summer associate – a new attorney started the same day as all of the law students, and so she was mistaken for being one all the time. The HR person apologized for picking the same start date, but the new attorney pointed out that once all the summer associates were gone and she was still there, people would figure it out. So hopefully once you’ve been there for a longer-than-intern amount of time, the misconception will go away.

    3. Anony*

      You mention that you are in a program. Is your position a temporary one that has a new batch of people every year applying to the program? If so that may be why it seems like an internship to people who do not know the details of exactly how the program works.

      1. It's Me, the OP*

        This is the inaugural year of the program, so there’s no precedent for it/annual new batch. The training program is temporary but my position is not, so after a year the workshops will be over and I’ll be up for a promotion immediately (which is pretty cool!).

        1. Anony*

          I wonder if it was explained incorrectly to your coworkers initially. That could be why it was so prevalent. The ones that persist are being jerks. Maybe they are jealous because this program didn’t exist when they were starting out in the field.

        2. AnotherAlison*

          To me, with you being in the training program, “intern” would seem like a reasonable thing to call you. I wouldn’t mean it in a demeaning way. We have a lot of multi-year interns who come on full-time when they graduate. We also have an MBA student one-year program. I’m not sure if it’s for students or new grads. If they are technically interns, they would most likely be made full-time offers.

          You may have the same title, but if you’re in the program you’re not quite the same. I think people just aren’t sure what to call you.

          I also completely understand where you are coming from. I started my first job when I graduated at 21 and looked 14. I was also married with a baby, so I was easily offended when my adult status was not immediately recognized.

          1. ket*

            I know of some insurance companies, for instance, that have a fast-track program for high performers (for example PhDs coming in) that rotates them through several divisions in the first 2 years so that they’ll be better prepared for upper-level management. It gives an expedited career ladder. It seems wrong to call a person in such a program an intern.

          2. Close Bracket*

            Oh, goodness, no. Intern positions are temporary, and she is a permanent hire. Intern positions are pre-grad, and OP is post-grad. New grad training programs, including leadership programs and rotational programs, are quite common. Equating her, or anyone in such a program, to an intern is pretty condescending.

          3. Mr. Rogers*

            I also work in publishing and well, your program does sound like an internship of sorts in practice if not in title. Even the houses that call it an “associates” program or what have you, it’s still basically a paying fancy internship in most people’s eyes. I think you’re totally within your rights to correct people on your title, and hopefully it will fade away as you stay there, but I really caution you against making it a big thing or (yikes!) sending explanatory emails to clients too often. I know you’re proud of your accomplishment but you risk alienating people on your level (all entry level roles in publishing are highly competitive), seeming out of sync with the traditional, sometimes fussy attitudes of publishing, and seeming more focused on title than good work. Building relationships, a professional image, and perhaps projecting an older air will take you further than pushing the title issue.

          4. Triplestep*

            This is an unpopular opinion, but I agree with it. I think the people who persist in calling the OP an intern after being asked not to are just being jerks, but given that she’s in a program for recent grads – a newly developed program at that – I think that some people are using the term “intern” kind of liberally. They possibly think of her as a “trainee”, which is an honest to goodness real job with a training component. I don’t think people are thinking to themselves “Interns are temporary and OP is an FTE.” I think they are equating the training piece with interning, which is not the same as being intentionally belittling.

            OP, this is why Alison’s last bit of advice is so important. A big deal made about this will not come off well to those who are just using “intern” as shorthand on account of the program.

          5. Bethany*

            In my country/industry, this would be called a Graduate Programme, and it’s different to an internship.

            It’s for graduates who have just left university, and they spend time rotating around different departments for a year or two.

        3. Casca*

          In Australia, that’s called a grad position! Can still be difficult to get people to stop calling you grad when you’ve been there years

    4. Bette*

      Ha! I work in publishing and when I read your description of your job, I thought “that sounds like a publishing job”. Can’t believe I was actually right.

      1. Secret Agent*

        I am also in publishing and was sure I knew where this was until they mentioned it was a new program. If it had been the other one, there would have been an entire other layer of this (Which there still may be!)

    5. Judge Crater*

      One idea for a response, you could reply “I’m not an intern, I’m a permanent employee.”

      A company-specific title like “llama wrangler” may not convey your status clearly enough. “Intern” vs. “permanent employee” makes it clear that you’re there to stay.

    6. Junior Dev*

      In addition to all the other good advice, can you make sure your email signature, Slack profile, business cards, etc. have your full title in them?

    7. banana&tanger*

      I’m a very young looking nurse in my late 30s. When I was a hospital RN and had to wear scrubs (aka pajamas) which made me look even younger/smaller, every time I did something a patient or family member didn’t like (ie I’m sorry I can’t let you smoke in the bathroom”), I got “Are you even old enough to work here????” I have a fairly senior position in my organization now and still see people’s surprise when I introduce myself when we’ve been working together by phone/email. I work my age into conversation (“Oh, I remember that world event — I was 12!”) to try to get people to take me seriously. THEN you get condescended to in a gendered way: “You are lucky to look so young! You’re gonna be happy when you are older.”

      1. Betsy*

        I always get that ‘lucky you! You’ll be so pleased when you’re older’ thing too. Yes, I can acknowledge that there are some social advantages to looking young, but professionally there aren’t many (except for if I turned up at an interview looking young then maybe if they didn’t read the dates on my resume that carefully they would think I was super prolific and had an amazing track record for my supposed age).

      2. LJL*

        I’m now approaching 50, so I don’t get that much any more, but boy did I ever in my 20s-30s!! I think that the condescending “you’ll appreciate it when you’re older” should be punishable by a slap. Ah, fantasies….

        Don’t ever tell me how I should/should not feel, either now or in the future!

  5. Lynca*

    I think the biggest issue is the holdouts that are incorrectly referring to the OP as an intern to clients. If the OP is a staff member and meant to interact with clients as one, this is incredibly undermining. This is something I’d speak directly to my boss about. That’s going to impact the business relationship because I’m sure the clients won’t take OP as seriously if they are under the impression she is an intern.

    1. Hills to Die on*

      Very true. This needs to be called out–perhaps a bit more directly. When you do this:

      “I usually reply-all to those introducing myself to the client with the correct title and a small description of my role, to reiterate that I am not an intern.”, also say that you aren’t an intern or clients may think that you are an intern serving as a Llama Wrangler or something.

      1. AKchic*

        Yes. A quick reply-all email of “I’m sorry for the confusion/miscommunication (whichever sounds better in the moment, depending on how many times it’s needed to be said to the same person) but to clarify, I am not an intern. I am [title]. My position is responsible for [insert quick blurb of job duties here] and look forward to working with you in that capacity.”

    2. Willis*

      This. Also, it’s interesting that specific co-worker(s) are continuing to do this. Honestly, it makes them (not the OP) look sloppy and confused. If I were the client, I’d be wondering why someone didn’t even know their colleague’s correct title.

  6. Curious Cat*

    Reminds me of a conversation I had with my coworkers recently while looking at a picture of the interns who work for one of our clients:
    Coworkers: Wow, those interns look so young! They look like they’re 12!
    Me: They’re probably just a year or two younger than me
    Coworkers: We think you look 12, too.

    Made me roll my eyes since I’m 7-10 years younger than everyone else, but at least they don’t refer to me as an intern. Sorry that was happening to you, OP! I hope you can correct it once and for all.

        1. S.*

          I work with teens, and while tutoring one, their friend, a fellow high schooler, came over and asked if I also went to the same school. I was 22 at the time. Teenagers! Teenagers thought I was one of them.
          I basically haven’t aged in ten years, and if one more person tells me I’ll be thankful for it when I’m older, I’m going to… be offended but continue to politely brush them off, I guess. But seriously, people, everyone who does this: please, please stop saying that, especially if someone is complaining that looking young is hurting them professionally. It is THE WORST, and so condescending. We have other goals in life besides to look attractive when we’re older.

          1. banana&tanger*

            I was substitute teaching at a high school and was asked for a hall pass. More than once. When I was 27. And wearing a blazer.

          2. Rhoda*

            If anything, I think it’s worse when you’re older.
            At 17 “How old are you?” is still a normal part of socialisation.
            When you are 32 “How old are you?” is just weird and embarassing.

    1. NW Mossy*

      My company has a partnership with a local high school to bring on interns as part of their work study, some of whom are quite literally 14-year-old freshmen. They are really young, but it’s a nice opportunity for them to start learning about office norms when the stakes are pretty low, and I’m glad we do it.

      1. Curious Cat*

        That sounds like a great program! I would have loved to have something like that in high school. Kudos to your company.

      2. LavaLamp*

        I have been told that I look about 16-18. A cop I briefly dated actually checked my drivers license ( we were in a setting where it was appropriate to have it out) and I am routinely carded for R rated movies; M rated games and the like. I’m 25. I find it both hilarious and annoying.

    2. AnotherAlison*

      Now that my son is 20, the interns (and new grads) look extremely young to me. Of course, I now have no idea what any age is “supposed” to look like, either. In my head, my 20-year old looks the same as when he was 16, until I see a picture of him when he was 16. (It’s amazing what 50 lbs of muscle and a beard will do.) So when I say an intern looks 16, maybe I mean he looks 20. Lol. I don’t know anymore!

      1. Observer*

        (It’s amazing what 50 lbs of muscle and a beard will do.)

        LOL! So true!

        For any young guys out there, if you want to add a couple of years, add a beard. It doesn’t even have to be a big one. (Before anyone jumps down my throat, I’m not entirely serious- I know it’s not the most realistic suggestion for most men.)

        1. Sled dog mama*

          This is so true. One of my coworkers is a physician and is the same age as me but without his beard he looks about 20 years younger.
          We were at a community outreach event recently and someone argued with him that at best he could be a med student but he had to just be volunteering to improve his application to med school, it was hilarious but he grew the beard the next week.

    3. Close Bracket*

      I was mistaken for being in my early 20s when I joined a graduate program in my early 40s. I think people see what they want to see based on their expectations.

      1. Snargulfuss*

        Yes! This so true. I’m single and childless in an area where the norm for women my age is married with kids. I get the “you don’t look 30+” all the time, but I bet people wouldn’t say that if I had a ring on my finger and two kids hanging off me. People expect women my age to be moms so when they see me (not-mom) they automatically assume I’m younger.

  7. Technical_Kitty*

    Point out to your boss how it looks to the client to have people continually messing this up. You have to correct it and the person who made the mistake doesn’t look good. Especially if they do it more than once.

    And you should check with your boss about what your responsibilities are. If doing menial tasks for someone on your level isn’t something you need to be doing you should stop and having a boss for back up makes it easier.

    1. Tara2*

      I agree on the responsibilities thing. If you learn that you aren’t supposed to do them, you can tell people that and that you have other responsibilities that you need to take care of instead. And on the other hand, if you learn that you actually are supposed to be doing that stuff as part of your job, it will make it seem less demeaning that they’re choosing you for that work.

    2. It's Me, the OP*

      Thank you for this, I think my boss doesn’t realize how sloppy this looks to people outside the company.

      I stopped doing menial tasks for others–mostly because I’ve been so crazy busy! I’m happy to say I LOVE my job even though some people seem confused by my role.

      1. Observer*

        I wouldn’t push TOO hard, but yes, do bring this aspect of the issue. “I have to correct this with clients, because otherwise they are not going to have as much confidence in our service. But the mistake looks sloppy.”

        You and I know that it’s probably NOT mistake – this is not so complicated, and most people have managed to get this straight after ONE correction – but phrasing it this way is a bit face saving. And, no you shouldn’t have to worry about someone needing to save face, but it’s (almost) always a good idea to allow someone to save some face if you can.

    3. TCO*

      Also, your company benefits when its staff appear highly skilled. If I were a client and were being directed to work with an intern, or were receiving information from an intern, etc. I might wonder about the quality of service I’m receiving. Your coworkers might be hurting your company by publicly undercutting your skills, experience, and authority when they call you an intern. Your company should care about ensuring that its clients know that its staff is top-notch.

      1. Hills to Die on*

        Replying with some of this phrasing to the repeat offender that keeps calling you an intern with clients may help. Also good phrasing for if/when you have to reiterate the issue to your boss.

      2. k.k*

        That’s a huge concern. To a lot of people the work “intern” says “coffee fetcher and copy maker”, not “person who knows what they’re talking about”. I’m in a junior level position, and there have been many times when something I say to a client is questioned or rebuffed, but when the exact thing is repeated by someone with a better title, it’s accepted as gospel. Clients read a lot into job titles.

    4. Observer*

      I don’t think the OP even needs to as the boss about not doing those tasks. They are NOT a normal part of most such jobs. So, unless the manager actually tells her to take her tasks from that coworker, AND that it’s appropriate for her to assign such tasks to her, it’s fine for the OP to keep not doing them.

  8. Snarkus Aurelius*

    Get used to it OP, and I do mean that in a nice way!

    I’m a Gen Xer, and when the recession hit, the Boomers in my field did not retire when they were expected to. As the average age in my office goes up, so do the chances that my coworkers will treat me like their own child or niece/nephew or the lifetime intern. (No, not EVERY person does this, but it happens more frequently than not.) Yes, even when I outrank them.

    The irony is when I started at the job level I have now, I had more experience and I was older than these people were when they started at this level 30+ years ago.

    My point is that while it may be frustrating now, you’ll get some form of this as you get older, especially because people are living longer than they used to and they’re not retiring as soon as they once did. (I read somewhere that Boeing’s retirement age was 55. HA!) You might not be seen an intern, but you’ll be seen as a college grad or an admin or some other low level position…even when you’re so obviously not.

    AAM’s advice is good. I’m in a director position now where I can brazenly ignore requests for photocopies, social media, and copy and paste jobs. Plus the older you get, the more unprofessional and ignorant people will be seen if they refer to as an intern. That’s not a reflection on you.

    But do be careful. Don’t be so defensive about interns, admins, etc., because you may be within earshot of one of them, and that won’t come off well.

    1. Anna*

      I understand that you are telling the OP to get used to this because it is common and will probably continue to happen to her, but I don’t think that means she should just roll with it. I’m also a “millenial” (as I assume the OP is) and have had similar experiences at work of co-workers at varying levels treating me like a child or their child, and it just feels so inappropriate to me. Regardless of a person’s age or age difference, everyone should be expected to look past that and treat other people like coworkers, which is what they are. If I need to get used to coworkers treating me like their child, should they get used to me treating them like a parent or grandparent? No!

      1. Snarkus Aurelius*

        I do not disagree with anything you say. You are quite right.

        But I’m the youngest of multiple siblings, and I’ve had to deal with this condescending nonsense my whole life. Even though we age at the same rate, I “made” my siblings feel old when I got married, had a kid, bought a house, worked for federal and state elected officials, got published, hit milestone birthdays, etc.

        I’m in my 40s, and I’m still thought of as a baby even though I’ve gone through the same rites of passage that they have and even though our age gap has never changed. Yes, it’s condescending and unnecessary and a way for them to feel empty superiority. I let them have it, if that’s what they need. (Note: my mother was so hell-bent on calling me the despite my multiple requests not to, that she’d rather be estranged than comply.)

        But I pick my battles and roll with it because it never ends either around my immediate family or in the workplace. (Side note: my siblings and I don’t talk much for this driving reason.) That’s what I why advised that. It’s not worth it to deal with it when it comes up every time. I find my gestures (ignoring low level requests) send a much louder message than quibbling over my job duties.

        I also have some (not much) sympathy for the older generation too. This is one benefit of living longer! Working side by side with who is your child’s or grandchild’s age probably wasn’t as common as it is now. I imagine that’s quite nerve-wracking for some.

          1. phil*

            I have a much younger sister, now in her mid 50s, who is called Baby by everybody, not just family. Doesn’t bother her at all.

          1. Mookie*

            Yeah. That’s… not a recent invention but more just a fact of life. Unless we’re hearkening back to an era where humans’s lifespan was very short, indeed. But then children started working (and reproducing) much younger and you never strayed far from the place you were brought up and the village that helped raise you.

        1. Cheesehead*

          I can relate to that bias. I have a sister 13 years older than me. Despite the age difference, we were very close….until I challenged her on something that she should never have done without consulting me (re: our parents’ estate). She tried to make a decision that I should have been involved in and that she knew I wouldn’t like. She’d already set plans into motion to do this when she informed me it was a done deal. I said no, you knew I wouldn’t like it, and cancel it. She was upset that I was not just going to go along with it; I think she thought she could bulldoze me as the younger sibling. I was furious. She was only able to cancel part of it, and said that having to go ahead with only part of it made her look stupid. Well…..not my problem. She never should have done it without consulting me. I was in my ***40s*** when this happened; a grown woman, and I had been a grown woman for decades!! Yet she apparently couldn’t think of me like that, that I was an equal and deserved to be consulted. We were close before this, while now I might see her once a year. Nothing was ever said about “the incident”, but I’ve always gotten the vibe since then that she just doesn’t have time for me anymore. It was really a blow for several years, but now I’m just resigned that if she can get THAT pissed off at me for not deferring to her as the ‘older sibling’ and letting her do whatever she wants, then perhaps we never were as close as I thought.

          The age bias and “roles” because of birth order and age is really interesting, and sometimes really sad how it affects perception and treatment.

      2. Susana*

        Agree, Anna. And the issue here is not older workers thinking OP is young and fresh and learning – it’s that they are actually *calling* OP an intern to clients! Which is even worse than doing it to OP’s face. I would be very direct with the repeat offenders -especially the menial task person – and say, you keep calling me this, to my face and to clients. It undermines me, and it suggests to clients we are giving them sub-professional services. Is there a reason you’re having a hard time acknowledging my role here? If we need to have a sit-down – us, or with manager, whatever – then let’s do it. But I need you to stop this. I’m hoping this is not the case, but I’m starting to think this is deliberate on your part.

    2. Observer*

      If you mean “get used to it” in the sense of “This is going to happen, and find some ways to deal with it that won’t back fire” I agree. But, no the OP should NOT accept this. Allowing people to treat her as a child or as though she’s not in a position with the skill and responsibility that she’s actually in, is NOT a good idea. It’s not going to help and will most probably hold her back.

      Saying “No” to tasks that are not your responsibility is NOT “brazen”.

    3. Engineer Girl*

      I don’t want to derail this thread but I think it needs some pushback.
      Boomers like to work, and expect to work to 60-65. That’s reasonable considering the longer life span.
      Boeing retirement age of 55 is young. I suspect most of the “retirement” is due to layoff.
      People have always retired in their 60s. I think some of the younger wanted them to retire earlier so they could advance. But nobody checked with the older folks to see if that lined up with their plans.

      As a boomer, I also got the “you look like a kid” stuff when I hired in. This isn’t new. The key is to dress and act professionally. Also calmly correct someone if they get it wrong.

      My best response to “you’re the same age as my kid” is “but I’ve been hired to be your peer. So let’s get this job done!”

    4. Engineer Girl*

      BTW – 55 years old is the youngest you can draw a pension. It is also the youngest you can withdraw from your 401k without penalty.
      So the Boeing 55 retirement age has more to do with federal law than anything else.
      And 55 is a very young age to retire.

  9. BadPlanning*

    It’s so weird how this perception of age happens.

    True Confessions: I was in the cafeteria at work last summer and saw a group of young people and thought, “Oh, is it take your child to work day?” Then I realized they were probably new college hires (and have activities to eat lunch, etc, together so you’re not alone in a sea of strangers). Boy did I feel old for thinking they were so young.

    1. Jennifer Thneed*

      I used to live close enough to the local high school that we’d see kids cruising around for parking sometimes.

      And I do mean “kids”! I swear, when I was in high school I was practically an adult and (of course) extremely mature for my age. In my late 20’s, people in high school were clearly teenagers. In my 30’s I started being unsure if someone was high school aged or college aged. When I hit my 40’s, it became clear that all the laws had changed and kindergartners were allowed to drive cars.

      (Now I live near a middle school. The students are all so tiny! And I’m ooold — older than my grandmother was when I was born.)

      1. J.B.*

        Heh. I am a very small adult, so when I visited a middle school and found many of the boys taller than me, I felt absolutely tiny!

  10. KitKat*

    Agh, so much sympathy! I’m no longer right out of school, but I look younger and this happens to me at every new job. There’s some appearance stuff you can do to reduce your chances of initially being mistaken for an intern (dress more conservatively, watch your speech for fillers such as “like” etc) but the only thing that really helps is to just be really awesome at your job. It totally sucks, but I’ve found that in 6-8 months it tends to pass and the people who are calling you an intern from pure obliviousness/obnoxiousness will either knock it off, or be told by other coworkers to knock it off.

  11. clow*

    I have a problem with then calling anyone “the intern” even if they are one. Interns have names after all. These people seem disrespectful to say the least.

    1. Ruthie*

      Agreed! I introduce interns as “Pointdexter, who is working with us this summer.” Or just “Alistair on our communications team.”

      1. TCO*

        Yeah, I use phrases like “my colleague,” not, “the intern” or “our student employee.” I think it makes my team look better because then our clients/partners only see the excellent work quality my interns/students usually produce without feeling like they’re being shortchanged or passed off to the intern.

        There’s no shame at all in being an intern. None! But I prefer to let my students/interns look great by letting them stand on their merits and not their job titles.

        1. Mookie*

          Yes. It’s a compliment to the organization as a whole when a client can’t tell the difference unless it’s explicitly disclosed (which there generally is no need for in the first place).

    2. KitKat*

      I generally agree that if you’re introducing someone you should use their name, but I think it’s ok in some contexts, like “I’ll submit this paperwork and the payroll manager will follow up with you if there are any issues.”

      1. Q*

        I don’t think “intern” works here, though. The “payroll manager” is following up because that’s their expertise area. “Intern” just sounds like “unskilled warm body” here.

        1. Naptime Enthusiast*

          Depending on the role, saying “intern” can help mitigate expectations a little bit. An intern’s knowledge and expertise IS limited because they’re learning, so explaining what the task requires may take more time and patience.

            1. xkd*

              Always! Staff have far more power to make decisions, delegate, etc – so when we introduce someone as Jane, our intern, it is also a careful signifier. We don’t want them to be treated exactly as staff – which is why my colleagues often joke about preferring to the be the intern. They are the only ones without a bonkers workload!

    3. Hey-eh*

      I started at my job a month before my colleague. We’re the only two junior people on our team (of 5 people) and we are often referred to as “the girls” as in “Let’s see if the girls have time to do it” or “this is something the girls can manage” and it is infuriating. We have been calling them out on it to break the habit but it’s really become ingrained now. I wish I had spoken up earlier.

      1. Purplesaurus*

        I am one-half of “The Girls” at my workplace. This label didn’t stop (and hasn’t fully) until one day I curiously looked around the meeting room and said, “I don’t see any children here. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯”

      2. Lillian Gilbreth*

        We’re “the kids.” It would bug me, but it’s only other junior staff who use it and it’s definitely tongue in cheek. There are also only two of us, but my coworker (the other “kid”) is a guy so it doesn’t feel gendered or derogatory.

      3. Anon attorney*

        I think this would cause me to actually burst into flames.

        “Girl” is not a word that should ever be heard in any workplace that isn’t an elementary/junior high school.

        1. FaintlyMacabre*

          I worked at a high turnover place, and people did not bother to learn names. I fainted at work in my third week and then came in the next day, at which point I had “proved” myself enough to have my name be learned. (I left after six months, sorry to all the people who put in the extreme effort to learn my name!)

      4. Sally*

        Eesh. When I worked in my old customer service department, people would sometimes refer to us as “the girls in Customer Service.” I was 22 when I started there, but for a long time I was the only employee under 35, and many of the women were in their 50s and 60s, so it mostly came across as a bit sexist.

      5. boop the first*

        Oh ew. Once I called a manager at a retail workplace to inquire about typical work hours and he replied with “My girls start at 5:30am”, which sounded especially intimate to me. Like, are these your young children??

    4. topscallop*

      I have an even worse example – a (terrible) coworker several years back would regularly call the intern, who was about to graduate with her masters degree while this coworker only had a BA, “my ‘tern”. The intern was smarter, MUCH harder working, and a lot easier to get along with than this coworker that she had to report to. Coworker ended up finding a new job shortly before she would have been fired, for foisting work on her peers all the time, calling in sick for all sorts of escalating medical ailments that contradicted one another, and generally driving everyone crazy.

    5. Ennigaldi*

      At OldJob I started as a full-time temp, then went to a part-time employee. EVERYONE called me “the temp,” even my department director, in a meeting in front of half the staff. That’s the only job I ever quit without notice – and where I was never asked to complete my two weeks.

  12. Nance*

    I feel your pain… In my first job post-grad school my boss once introduced me to an entire department (like 50-ish people) as “a student who helps out.” Couldn’t exactly stand up and correct him… that took a while to live down.

    1. KR*

      Ugh, I started my last job as an intern and eventually ran one major aspect/sub-department of our department, supervised up to 10 people, handled all purchasing/admin for our department, and became my bosses backup during long vacations/sick leaves during major projects and issues. And people still referred to me as “(Boss)’s helper” “(Boss)’s little helper” or “his sort of assistant”. I’m a technician! A! Tech! Nician! Ah!

    2. DaphneD*

      Oh man, I can relate to this. My boss, who due to an organisational quirk has both the same pay grade and job title as me (although he does have many more years of experience in the job), has more than once introduced me to people as “this is DaphneD, my glamorous assistant.” Head, meet desk.

  13. Categorically Cat*

    I rarely disagree with Alison’s advice/take on things, but I disagree here. I think it’s a VERY important distinction. Whether the job sounds internish or not, she is not an intern. It’s unprofessional and disrespectful of her colleagues to refer to (LW doesn’t state a gender, but it read as female) her as such. Additionally, it does sound like it is having a negative impact on her ability to perform her job, since they are referring to her as an intern with outside clients. Also, it will undoubtably have an impact on how seriously they take her and her work.

    The nail in the coffin is that they refer to her as “the intern.” I’ve had many interns. I have never referred to them in that manner! That’s so insulting and demoralizing and comes off like someone saying, “I’ll have the pool boy do it.” I think she should approach a colleague she had a good rapport with and talk to them about it- see if they have any ideas how to get it to stop. Perhaps she is, without realizing it, acting in ways that reinforce the intern persona. It does start to feel more and more awkward for her to have to press the issue, and speaking to a few key co-workers who she has a good relationship with should hopefully help because then they can remind the others.

    1. It's Me, the OP*

      Hello! It’s me, the OP (and yes I am a woman). You know what, I didn’t even realize until now that even in my 4 college internships, I was almost NEVER referred to as “the intern.” And now, all of a sudden, I am. It IS dehumanizing, and that’s probably part of the reason it bothers me so much.

      1. Categorically Cat*

        Even if you actually WERE an intern, I’d think it was inappropriate for them to call you “The Intern” in emails with clients. Seeing as you are not an intern and you’ve told them multiple times that you are not an intern, it just makes it more insulting. I could be wrong here, but I feel like they wouldn’t do this to a male co-worker…

        Maybe there’s at least one co-worker who will help you out by simply reinforcing your point, like, “Actually Humperdink, Buttercup isn’t an intern; she’s a teapot analyst.”

      2. the apologizer*

        I’m sorry I referred to you as “the intern.” I only did this in conversations with our crew, and I intended it in an ironic way, without meaning any harm. As you know, I have been working here longer than you have been alive, literally. So acknowledging this, jokingly, was meant to address what an odd situation that was. I hope it took some of the sting out when I hired you on after the internship ended. And be assured that in the future, I will be more careful to avoid referring to the interns this way. (It didn’t help that the company gave you a photo ID badge that had the job title “intern” on it.) Yes, OP, I know that you’re not actually the intern I’m addressing here, but I will apologize to her when I see her at the office tomorrow.

    2. KitKat*

      Totally agree that it’s insulting. But having been in this position, I’ve found that pushing the issue doesn’t necessarily make things better – if not addressed carefully, it can come across as overly defensive and actually make you seem younger.

      I actually totally agree with Alison’s advice – address it when it makes sense, but otherwise sigh and move on.

  14. AnonEMoose*

    I totally feel your pain on the looking young aspect, OP – it’s one of the reasons I’m grateful to now be 40+. I still look young for my age, but now it’s more of an asset :-)! For example, I got to be very amused by the coworker who was absolutely and genuinely shocked to find out that I was, in fact, over 40.

    One of the more overt things that used to happen to me in terms of people not taking me seriously had to do with my name. I have one of those names that has a bunch of nicknames associated with it. I don’t go by any of those; I prefer the full version of my first name, and have since I was in my early teens. And every time I started a new job or temp assignment, it seemed like there was at least one person who would be introduced to me, and would say some variation of “I’m just going to call you X” (where X was one of the shortened versions).

    And they would be So. Offended that I objected to this. No matter how polite I was about the correction (“I don’t go by X, my name is Y.” “I like to be called Y, please call me that”). “But I’m just trying to be FRIENDLY.” “But that’s SO FORMAL…” “But what does your mother call you???” (Yes, I was literally asked that…and I couldn’t understand what difference it made, as this person was decidedly NOT my mother…who calls me Y, by the say.)

    Anyway, what worked for me was dressing as professionally as I could afford, and making sure I adopted a very professional demeanor. It helped…not as much as I would have liked, but it did help.

    1. Not a Morning Person*

      Said quizzically, “But it’s so UNFRIENDLY to call me something that is not my name!?”

      1. AnonEMoose*

        Love that one! It doesn’t happen nearly as often now that I’m a bit older (confirming the suspicion I had at the time that this was essentially a power play). But I’ll keep that one in mind for if I ever need it!

    2. Observer*

      “What does your mother call you?” Seriously?! I’m amazed that you didn’t respond with “But you’re not my mother.”

      1. AnonEMoose*

        Seriously, I had at least one person ask me that. And I think the “WTF???!!!” expression on my face was enough to get them to back off a bit.

    3. Close Bracket*

      “My mother calls me sweetheart. I hope you’re not going to do that.”
      Said with whatever degree of humor you are feeling.

      1. Mookie*

        “Well, she never calls me late to lunch, so I guess it’s your treat today. I’ll be having the salmon and the wine lists’s greatest hits.”

  15. Goya de la Mancha*

    Since it’s not really managers/execs who are doing this, I feel like maybe the job title/description wasn’t communicated properly to the team? As in “Heads up staff, we’ve created a new position, Llama wrangler Jr., it’s going to gear towards those just out of college, with a focus on training in the company culture.”

    1. Lil Fidget*

      Yes, to be completely honest, if I saw a program at work that was aimed at assisting new staff in their professional development by sending them to meetings at which they were expected to benefit (and not provide benefit to the meeting) – that would really confuse me even if I wasn’t being malicious. That’s just not the way professional staff are usually treated, IMO – maybe that’s my field? – it’s a very “student” dynamic. It would probably take clear communication from the higher ups before I could stop thinking of this position as a student/intern type.

      1. It's Me, the OP*

        Hmm, that’s a fair point. I mentioned this in another comment, but I don’t think most of the people at my level here are actually aware of what my program consists of, due to some staffing changes that happened right when the program was introduced–it didn’t get a widespread announcement at its debut. But on the flip side of that, the people I work with probably don’t even know that I sit in on exec meetings/some of the events that are part of my program, since they’re done in a different wing.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yeah, that’s what I was getting at in my second-to-last paragraph. It does feel like something you’d see with an intern program, and I think it could be playing a big role here. Maybe you could suggest clearer communication of the sort that would have happened if the program’s coordinator hadn’t left.

          1. Susana*

            Yes, but – OP has *already* told people, repeatedly, that she is not an intern. So it’s inexcusable. Even if they are “forgetting,” they are not making any effort to get it right. And it’s undermining.

            1. AnotherAlison*

              I kind of think her coworkers may be saying to themselves, “Okay, you’re not an INTERN intern, but you’re still an intern. Call yourself what you want.” It’s a special program. It’s not the same as the new hires who are not in the program. I assume while the OP is attending special training and high-level meetings, the others who are around her same tenure and level are doing regular llama wrangling work. I can see why you don’t want to be called an intern when you were selected for a full-time position in a competitive program, but I think the OP has to recognize that she’s not a regular llama wrangler either, and that’s contributing to the title confusion.

              1. Lil Fidget*

                Yes I wondered if there was a whiff of this. Doesn’t mean OP is wrong to insist that she not be called Intern when that’s not her title! Doesn’t change any of Alison’s suggestions. Just – as you say, is there a chance that while not being technically an intern-intern, her position is very intern-y, which she might reflect on before she decides how assertive to be about this. You can win the battle with that stuff and lose the war sometimes (nobody wants to end up making everybody kind of roll their eyes and be like “mmkay, you’re not an intern, your a Junior Associate in charge of of Learning Office Norms and Professional Development. Got it.”) But OP if that doesn’t fit your situation, feel free to disregard!

        2. biobottt*

          I think some people may need it all laid out for them very explicitly. Like they’re thinking you’re a general intern, so if you say, “Oh, I’m actually a llama wrangler!” they think, “Ah, the llama wrangling intern.” thinking you were correcting the type of internship, not the (lack of) existence of the internship.

          If you haven’t been saying, “No, I’m not an intern, I’m a permanent employee.” that might help.

  16. Student*

    When someone on your same level asks you to do something demeaning, like get their mail, tell them no. It’s very important to learn to say “no” to requests that aren’t furthering your actual job.

  17. It's Me, the OP*

    One thing I’m seeing a lot here–my dress/behavior. I don’t necessarily look young for my age. I’m very tall, have a “mom bod” figure, etc. I’ve also been working since I was 16, so I have a well-kept professional wardrobe that’s sharp and on par with what other people in my office wear. I’ve been collecting for half a decade! And, I’m not constantly in a client-facing role, but the nature of this job means I could interact with clients at any time, so I always dress in expectation of those interactions.

    Also, while I’m bright and bubbly in this comments section (because of how much I love AAM, yay!), I’m very serious and polite at work, friendly without being a gossip, etc. I’m comfortable in a professional environment, and try to model my behavior after some of the other staff here, so I wonder if there are other “intern behaviors” I could be engaging in without realizing.

    1. Blossom*

      I doubt it. I agree with Lil Fidget above that it’s much more likely to be the nature of your position, coupled with the lack of clear communication from the program co-ordinator.
      It sounds like a typical grad scheme to me, but I’m wondering if graduate schemes are less common in your country/the US? Here in the UK they are common in very large organisations.
      If I wasn’t aware of a grad scheme in my workplace and I encountered an employee on rotation who had special training and sat in on meetings to observe only, I might also assume they were an intern of some kind.

      1. Curious Cat*

        Can you expand on what a grad scheme is? I’m in US and haven’t heard of that before, but I’m intrigued.

        1. Not a Morning Person*

          At a couple of places I’ve worked (Fortune 50 and Fortune 100) it was called the “Management Intern” program. Departments were polled by HR and provided their anticipated needs for first-level supervisors openings. Participants were recruited right out of college and worked on rotation in a few different departments for about a year and were then assigned to a management role in one of the departments that had an appropriate opening. For example, someone with an engineering degree got a position in the engineering department, not marketing. But they had a short assignment in the marketing department and in all the other departments so they had some exposure to each department. They had group training and meetings and were offered access to senior management at those training sessions and meetings. Those of us who did not get into the organization that way were rather jealous.

          1. Curious Cat*

            Ah – I understand. I actually have heard of programs like these, just never knew they had a name. Thank you!

        2. Blossom*

          It’s basically what Not a Morning Person and Sarah have said below (and what the OP’s job sounds like).

          In the UK, most blue-chip companies, as well as many public sector organisations and plenty of other organisations, operate graduate schemes. These are generally limited to recent university graduates, and are highly competitive in intake. The graduates are taken on as permanent employees, and will typically spend their first two years or so on the scheme, rotating through different departments.

          At the end of that period I think they will apply for/be assigned to a permanent post within the company, often a management role (I’m really fuzzy on the details here, as I’ve never been on one of these schemes or worked for a company who did this in a major way, so my knowledge mostly comes from friends – it sounds like there are enough jobs to go round, and presumably any under-performing graduate can be let go at any time before or after this point under normal performance management/disciplinary procedures, so the company is not stuck forever with a duff grad.)

          I think (to the credit, in my opinion, of the relevant organisations) there is a trend now towards widening access to non-graduates, or developing similar schemes for non-graduates. However, this is just my impression from afar- as I say, I don’t have much experience with these schemes. I clawed my way up with sheer gumption and grunt work :-)

          1. Brock*

            Yes. I started my career in the US, and moved to the UK in my late 20s. When I first ran into ‘graduate trainees’ , my automatic assumption was that ‘graduate’ meant high school graduate equivalent, and that ‘trainee’ was lower than an intern, because I was acquainted with college-level internships but had only ever heard of workplace training schemes of the more remedial/needs-a-bit-of-help-in-life sort.

            I can’t remember exactly when I clocked that they were (mainly) recent Oxbridge grads and way, way higher up in the foodchain than I was…but that’s a good sign that the discovery probably wasn’t too awkward. :)

      2. Sarah*

        Yeah, this was my thought, too. I worked for a large European company and this kind of rotational grad program was really well-known, so it may be that because it’s less common in the US it’s harder for people to place outside of an internship context.

        Curious Cat, the one my company had was a 2 year rotation during which employees would have international rotations in sales, customer service, and operations. They had lots of mandatory training all over the world and would complete the program with Green Belt certification. Everybody knew that if you had one of these people on your team, they were only going to be there for 6-9 months and they were going to have at least a week or two where they weren’t available for day-to-day work. It was considered a prestigious thing within the company, but was really just a fairly common kind of program.

    2. Min*

      One thing that jumped out at me in this comment, was the use of “half a decade!” to signify a long time. It’s quite possibly just me, but that was the first time in the comments that you came across as really young.

      Or maybe it’s just that it made me feel really old! ;)

        1. It's Me, the OP*

          That’s fair! True, it’s not a long time to be working, but keep in mind I mention it in reference to my wardrobe. 5 years is PLENTY of time to build a nice wardrobe (most of my peers are still on the Zara/H&M outfit rotation wagon, not that there’s anything wrong with that).

    3. Sarine*

      I’m sorry, I find the term “mom bod” offensive. Some moms look more like Maria Kang so let’s not assume just because a woman has had children that she is destined to be forever unattractive and sloppy.

      1. Elizabeth H.*

        And some moms are 16 and look like high schoolers? I kind of doubt that the OP intended to describe herself as “unattractive and sloppy.” It was a colloquialism and there are plenty of other colloquialisms used to describe women who have had children in different ways.

  18. Mary*

    Another possible script, to be said cheerfully:

    “You’ve referred to me as an intern a few times, and I know I look young, but I’m not actually that young! What’s the best way for me to correct you, especially in front of clients? I don’t want to do anything awkward!”

    Gives the appearance of helpfulness whilst still setting the boundary. :-)

    1. It's Me, the OP*

      I LOVE this! I love “What’s the best way for me to correct you,” because it points out that they’re the one making the mistake–oh this feels sneaky but still polite. Thanks Mary!

  19. Bridgette*

    Just out of curiosity OP, the woman who asked you to get her mail and other menial tasks- did you do those things?

    1. It's Me, the OP*

      As you might have gleaned from some of these comments, that particular person is a bit manipulative, so I didn’t mind having fun with this solution once I figured out she was trying to power-play me. On my first two days at work, I did get her mail–mostly because I didn’t fully understand the hierarchy yet, and I didn’t have much to do besides onboarding paperwork. Clearly, she decided to take advantage of this, and started asking me every other day, sometimes more. I was also irked because she would come to my desk, while I was working, and ask “Hey OP, are you busy?” Yes! I’m at work–so I’m probably busy! I would respond “Yes, I ‘m in the middle of X right now,” and she’d say “Oh, I was hoping you could go get my mail for me,” and I’d say “No, I have XY and Z on my plate today, but I think the next deskside delivery is at 2.” Or something similar. She’d stand expectantly until she realized that I wasn’t going to say anything else, then walk away, only to repeat this all the next day.

      Well…she KEPT ASKING. A few times a week, for almost a whole month. So, I waited until one day, about 3.5 weeks in, when I knew she was expecting a huge mail order, and when she would ask me to go get it for her (it was always “go get this for me,” never “help me with this big order,” btw). So I waited. She asked. I happily obliged…and watched the women in her cubicle block react in horror when I dragged up a huge mail cart with all of her mail in it. “There you go, Jane! I think that’s all of it but I told Paul in the mail room that he could bring anything else up this afternoon on his normal dropoff run! I have to get back to X, and then do Y for Linda, so I won’t be able to grab anything else, but I’m so glad I could help!”

      She seemed profusely embarrassed and didn’t ask after that. Malicious compliance for the win!

      1. Categorically Cat*

        Is it possible that this particular co-worker resents you for your role/position? She sounds very determined to force you to take on tasks befitting a junior assistant.

      2. Bridgette*

        Genius, OP, just genius! I would have loved to seen her reaction to that!!

        When I was younger I would often do things when asked by more senior coworkers. I quickly learned that even if I was the most junior person, I was not their assistant and I didn’t have to do everything they asked me. Sounds like you are starting to figure things out!

      3. Elizabeth H.*

        I find getting someone’s mail for them SO WEIRD for anyone except your direct supervisor. I just cannot imagine being asked that or asking someone else.

  20. Not a Morning Person*

    I’d be tempted to respond to “the intern” with: “Who’s the intern? We haven’t met! I have some work I’d like to assign to him.”

  21. Banana*

    All my coworkers thought I was an intern when I first started even though I was 29 years old. It will pass. I’ve now been in my job many years and no one is confused about it anymore!

    (And on more than one occasion, I’ve been like…is this new person an intern?!)

  22. Specialist*

    How annoying. I understand. Most of us have been there at some point in our careers. It does get better.

    I would be careful with how much you protest being labeled as an intern. However, you can turn it around and make it about the customer. Which may also make your problematic coworker look bad, as a bonus. When you email the client to correct this, let them know that you are actually a permanent hire so that they don’t have to worry about you disappearing in a short while. They can depend on you for their llama wrangling needs and to please contact you directly if you can be of more assistance. It is more about the client getting good service and less about mislabeling you.

    I also recommend dressing older. You should be able to have an image consultant at some of the higher end department stores help you with that. Dress one level up in formality. Avoid pink lipstick. I’ve written on this before.

    I hated this way back in the day when it happened to me. Now I do remind my older coworkers that we didn’t like this 30 years ago and it isn’t nice to do to the newly employed.

  23. Reinhardt*

    I’d suggest trying to avoid doing anything intern-ish if you can, like starting a petition on the company dress code…

  24. New girl*

    This is interesting because I’m going through a similar thing. I completed my university placement with Current Job and so for 3 months I was introducing myself as “ABC the intern”. I graduated and a full time role came up immediately which I was successful in applying for. I have then spent another 3 months explaining that I am now “ABC the permanent employee”! It’s understandable that people made the mistake early on but it was immensely frustrating to have to keep correcting them. It sounds silly but I ended up wearing more make up and professional clothes at least until they got the message.

  25. rosiebyanyothername*

    raise your hand if you’re a young woman and get called the intern and/or just generally treated like an intern when you’re not… but your male peers the same age/level as you never seem to experience this.

    1. Forking Great Username*

      How about if you’re a female supervisor and assumed by many customers to be the assistant of the males you supervise? Been there.

  26. Safely Retired*

    My position is tailored for recent college graduates, with free workshops, the chance to sit in on exec-level meetings, and opportunities to do work in multiple different departments.

    Which makes you different, like it or not.

    Does that program have a NAME? When I started work after college (1976!) I interviewed for a regular job and was hired, then when I showed up I was told I was in the “Associates Program” for the first several months. Another guy who was hired into the same department at the same time, also right out of college, was just another employee. So I went off to special meetings, trips to plants and offices, and other stuff that the other guy didn’t. Why? Because my department had one slot in the program and putting someone in there saved them from my coming out of their budget while the program lasted. When it ended the only visible change was that I got to do my regular work all the time, without meetings and trips.

    Anyway, if the program has a NAME maybe you should adjust your corrections. “Actually I’m not an Intern, but a currently in the Whatchamacallit Program on top of my regular work of wrangling llamas”.

    1. Mookie*

      I’m confused by the repeated references to the OP’s “program.” She has a position, which comes with a title that is not unique to her.

  27. HRM*

    I’ve always had this issue myself. I’ll never forget the time I was standing near a group of women about 20 years my senior discussing how everyone in HR sucks and is rude, and they noticed me glancing at them and tried to get me to join in. I said “oh, I’m actually an HR business partner here…” and one of the women responded “How? You look 16.”

  28. The Stig*

    You could hang your diploma up in your office.

    Less serious suggestions you shouldn’t do:
    –you could dress up even more-like wearing pearls or fancy jewelry a student can’t afford
    –fake having kids
    –start drinking on the job (clearly you aren’t underage)
    –complain about property taxes
    –put a picture of your grandma on your desk and say it’s your mom
    –wear a t-shirt on dress down day that says “not an intern”
    –whenever somebody mentions intern look around and say “we got an intern?”

  29. OskiEsque*

    This happened to me at my last job — one of the coordinators asked me if I was enjoying my internship and who I was interning for. I told him that I’m actually a new full time employee. When he kept pressing me and ask for what department, I said “I’m an attorney and director in the legal department.” Oops. (I normally don’t give my title but he was annoying.) We eventually became work friends and I always gave him a hard time about it, but he was a good sport about it.

  30. big 5*

    It sounds like you’re in a rotational associates program. They definitely shouldn’t be referring to you as the intern or giving you more menial tasks, but in my experience and at my former publisher our direction was always to treat the associates as a temporary assistant or advanced intern workload-wise, since they would only be with us for 6-8 weeks.

    Not that it’s OK to call you an intern repeatedly, but some people likely just don’t understand the distinction between an associate in the program and an intern (especially if the repeated offenders are associates/coordinators/assistants), as associates are usually hired by HR and dropped into different divisions similar to how the company’s intern programs work.

    1. College Career Counselor*

      That’s exactly what it sounded like to me, too. Full-time job, but because you move around and get special training, it looks “intern-y” to other people in the organization. Still annoying, however, and the OP has my sympathies. Alison’s scripts are good, and I hope the repeat offenders taper off. But, given what you’ve said, it’s liable to keep happening occasionally until you “land” in a specific department permanently.

  31. Ruth (UK)*

    I haven’t ever had this particular problem but I feel I can relate to it as I’ve had similar experiences due to looking quite young. I’m quite small (slightly under average height and very thin). During my teen years I looked like a younger teen and in my early 20s, people often thought I was more in the range of 16-19. So I can relate to being assumed to be younger than I am and being treated differently because of it. I once had someone knock on my door and ask ‘are your parents home?’ when I answered, when I was about 22 and living with housemates. Anyway, I’m approaching 30 now and this type of thing is happening less often.

    Anyway, I don’t have further advice to add to Alison’s especially, just some sympathy as I feel I can relate to part of how you likely feel. Also, eventually even the people who persist will have to realise you’re not an intern if this is a permanent position!

  32. Also not the intern*

    The struggle is real. I’m 36 (but I look a little bit younger) and have been the teapot farm manager for 2 years at my job and have 10 years of teapot farming experience. I mostly work with people in their 50’s-70’s. I get asked if I am an intern all the time (although not,mercifully, by my co-workers). Heck, our Executive Director (who is also my age) got asked if he was an intern by someone who stopped by the office. I have a friend who has her own teapot farm and also regularly gets asked if she’s an intern when she sells teapots at events.

  33. NOT a student, gosh darnit*

    Age-related micro-aggressions are really annoying, aren’t they?

    My own version of this is that I’m a research scientist, and have been for a few years now, but my housemate (who is almost twice my age, but who works in academia *in my own field* so should know better) keeps insisting that I’m a PhD student.

    “What classes are you taking this term?” “Taking? No, I teach.”

    “Aren’t you stressed out about your exams?” “I haven’t taken exams in years! These days, I’m a research scientist, so I’m the one who writes the exams!”

    “Why didn’t you get the student discount on this?” “Because I’m not a student. I’m a research scientist. I supervise students.”

    [I say something about my union] “What do you mean you’re part of a union?” “Huh?” “Don’t you have to be earning money to be part of a union?” “…of course I earn money. In my job. As a research scientist.”

    “Oooh, I didn’t realise you’d have an office. I thought students had to work in the library!” “I’m not a student. I’m a research scientist. Research scientists have offices.”

    Anyway, OP, I feel you. In my case, Housemate’s gonna housemate, so I’m letting sleeping dogs lie, but I hope everyone around you figures it out eventually!

  34. SS Express*

    From the comments here I’m getting the impression that graduate roles aren’t common in the USA, which might be part of the problem. They’re pretty common in Australia and I was in one once – we were regular entry-level employees doing the same work as anyone else, but moved through the company’s internal training faster than other employees, were eligible for promotion sooner than other employees at our level, and were given exposure and stretch opportunities by our managers that most people wouldn’t get until they’d been around longer and proven themselves more. Sometimes this exposure involved tagging along to executive meetings or spending a few days working with another team, but apart from that it really wasn’t very “internish” at all – the full name of the program was something like the Llamacorp Future Leaders Graduate Recruitment Program, and the idea was to find new graduates with lots of potential and bring them in early to train them in Llamacorp’s ways so they could move quickly through the ranks.

    But even though it was a company-wide program, LOTS of my colleagues thought I was an intern/on work experience/only there temporarily/didn’t qualify for the same benefits package/was my boss’s admin assistant (I think this might be unique to women, don’t think it happened to the men in our program!) etc, and people I knew outside of work reacted to news of my new job with things like “oh well, at least you’ve got your foot in the door”. I just think that unless people have first-hand experience, like they work in HR or have managed a grad or been one themselves, they really don’t know anything about it and assume you are like the photocopy-making, coffee-getting interns they’ve seen on TV. I can’t imagine how much worse it would be if you’re somewhere where these programs aren’t very common in the first place!

    That isn’t really advice, just sympathy – I know how frustrating it can be to land a very competitive and prestigious role only to have everyone treat you like the work experience kid. But one thing that seemed to help me was saying “the graduate program is pretty much a recruitment program targeting university graduates – now that we’re here we’re just regular Level X employees, except that we complete the Llama Grooming Training Program in two years instead of four”. (Substitute “move through different departments”, “attend the executive meeting” or whatever else is most relevant to your role/the specific conversation you’re having.)

    The good news is it’s only a matter of time. Everyone who was in my grad program – all of whom are still in their 20s – is in a management role already. Pretty sure people take them seriously now!

  35. Gorgo*

    Because I am good at being tongue-in-cheek creepy, I would give them a spooky “Not an intern. I’m going to be here foreveerrrrr….” with an empty stare. Saying that last part really slowly.

    (Anything to make it memorable.)

    Is anyone else thinking of Janet from The Good Place and her cheerful “not a robot!”

  36. Oxford Coma*

    I look about five years older than I am, despite taking good care of my skin, and y’all are depressing the shite out of me.

    1. Ruth (UK)*

      That can come with a different set of problems but for what it’s worth, I think what makes people look young at a certain age is different when they’re in their teens/20s than when they’re older.

      It’s very common for people to tell me that soon / one day I will be glad/pleased to look younger than I am and I want to roll my eyes at this because I’m unlikely to still be looking ‘yoing’. At my age, and the ages I am mistaken for, it’s definitely size related. The reason I looked 16 when I was 20 is because I’m small. I’m both very thin and not tall so people perceive it as not yet grown rather than just a small person.

      I think my skin quality etc is about average, and I do in fact have several grey hairs in my late 20s. However, they are not obvious as I have blonde hair. The things that make me seem younger (mostly size) will soon not apply and I’m otherwise not especially youthful.

      However, I realise looking older can often come with its own set of problems as people will make assumptions etc about you based on your received age so it’s generally frustrating when they’re wrong either way.

      1. Ruth (UK)*

        Ps of course I have no idea how old you are. If you’re indeed over 30, what I said above might apply. If you’re under 30, it could be a different thing. For example, the only place people guessed my age as older than I am is a charity where I’m a leader. I think the position of leadership and/or how I acted running a shift caused people to assume I was older than I am. So some of it could be context based on how you behave (eg. If you seem quite serious etc). If you also happen to be taller, etc, I think it’s more likely people might have thought you were older when you were younger and especially when you were a kid

        1. IForgetWhatNameIUsedBefore*

          By the time I was 8 or 9 I was so tall people always assumed I was like, at least 13-14, and that included other kids.

  37. Manager-At-Large*

    Good discussion here. Slightly tangent topic on people being taken for younger than they are. I wonder if it is because people sometimes don’t know any actual 16 year olds- but see them on TV or in films where they are played by persons who are actually in their 20s; so when you meet someone in their 20s do they now think 16?

    1. SS Express*

      I’d never considered this before but it’s SUCH a smart thought! I wouldn’t think for a moment that my department’s early-20s graduate looks as young as my teenage cousin, but she totally looks as young as the Riverdale cast.

    2. Sally*

      This definitely makes sense! 20 and early-30 somethings play teenagers in media = 20 and early-30 somethings get mistaken for teenagers IRL.

  38. Tiger Snake*

    Another thing to consider is, depending on the workplace, graduate positions are basically regarded as being the same ‘thing’ as internships (at least, they often are in Australia, where internships are paid and have actual work attached rather than just shadowing someone). In a lot of places, they’re all ‘training positions’. They have the same goal and execution – with careful watching and management, learn to do the simpler task and gradually move onto more independent work and more complex work – but a graduate is expected to show a greater level of competency and speed in that development.

    In those places, at the end of your graduate program you will be a ‘normal’ employee. But for now you’re viewed in the same sort of lens as an intern; new to the concept of an office job, you have some background education but limited-to-no real world experience, and your coworkers are meant to mind and guide you along until you complete your programming or transfer to a different position as a part of that program. (The two options here as basically either its going to take you 6 months to a year to really get up to speed on the work, or you’re going to be rotated around a few positions to get a better feel for where you best fit before being placed in a permanent role.)

    So that’s the other option/thing to consider. Its not trying to demean or belittle you and your work, so much as they’re just so used to doing the same thing for newbies that they can’t keep track of which program people are meant to be on anymore.

    1. D'Arcy*

      No, it’s ‘s pretty clear from the details provided that the coworkers who are doing this persistently *are* trying to demean and belittle the OP. They’re jealous of her placement in this fast-track development program and are trying to undermine and gaslight her.

      1. Tiger Snake*

        Its really not. If I call a cadet ‘the grad’, after she told me last week that she wasn’t a graduate, its not that I’m gaslighting her, and its not that I’m trying to belittle the other graduate on my team. Its that I can remember they’re both in development roles – with all the benefits that entails – and I can’t remember what program she’s in. We’ve had too many for me to keep track.

        There’s a variety of players here; the woman who asks the OP to get coffee is not the same as the coworker who introduces the OP as a grad to during a team meeting. If some of the OP’s co-workers default to ‘intern’ for all such development positions, then its not reasonable to assume malice for what we haven’t been able to rule out is a slip of the tongue.

  39. also in dc*

    This happened to me on my first week at my job — I started the same month interns did, so I get it a little bit, but another manager introduced me to her team as the summer intern, and I had to be like, “No, I’m actually the new Senior Teapot Specialist on Tangent Team,” but I tried to laugh about it and I think it blew over pretty quick — but I also didn’t want to let that misconception sit. I don’t think I’m super babyfaced and I dress professionally, but I was 26 at the time and my department ended up having a 31 year old intern that summer so who knows. Age isn’t an indicator any more.

    I agree, super weird that OP’s colleagues keep doing this *even after being corrected*? It sounds like you’re in a leadership development program, but still a full-time, salaried employee. I like the scripts.

  40. J*

    The job description sounds like a post-graduate internship more than an entry-level job. Maybe when the workshops stop the intern label will go away. It’s also possible that the other employees on the same level we’re referred to as interns until they moved into their permanent assignment.

  41. Heather*

    If it’s any consolation, your peers in the company almost certainly aren’t referring to you as the intern to be condescending or to belittle you. They’re too overworked and overwhelmed to have much energy to be that snotty at you.

    When I worked at a publishing company that had a role like this, the person in the role would rotate among departments, which meant that any work we gave them had to be a project they could wrap up within a few weeks, we shared them with several other teams, so we couldn’t give them A LOT of work, and we had to train them knowing they would leave soon – in practice, very similarly to how we would interact with interns, and the projects we assigned were often projects we gave to interns when we had them. And when communicating with outside people, it’s easier to say “this is our intern, Susie” rather than “this is our rotational associate” and have the author/agent/bookseller wondering what that means for them. I know that’s not *helpful* but… it’s something?

    In any case, if you haven’t already, you should join Young to Publishing – it’s a networking and educational group for people in their first 7 years in the industry, and is very helpful for building a community here, and later on, for job hunting. (Plus, if you work for a member publisher – and it sounds like you do – you can get on galley mailing lists. Score!)

  42. Jane*

    I’m 33 years old, have a masters degree, and owned my own business before taking my current job (which has “senior” in the title) at a large government agency … and people still ask my boss if I’m his intern when he introduces me. It’s complete vanity that I take this as a compliment. At this age, it’s like the pleasure of being carded.
    OG, I get that early in your career, this can sting. But it sounds like it’s a really sweet set up for the exposure, experience, and additional career development which will take you to a level where the perception of being “young” will feel like a compliment because of all you’ve achieved before all these folks with cobwebs in their ears. Hang in there, you got this.

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