our new-grad employees see less glamorous work as beneath them

A reader writes:

I am 26 years old. I have been in the working world for several years. Our office just hired a couple of new grads. I find some of the ways they talk about work tasks to be naïve to the point of being demeaning.

One coworker, John, often talks about his internship at the state house of representatives before he graduated. He didn’t like his boss there—he has told us this—because his boss assigned him tasks like making copies and didn’t give him a lot of substantive work. Honestly, he’s really green and seems totally new to an office environment, so it’s not shocking to me that his boss didn’t assign him substantive projects. I understand that it was disappointing, but that’s life, no? I believe you can learn something valuable in any professional situation, even when the task seems boring.

Another coworker, Jane, frequently complains about an internship she had at the State Department where they asked her to, among other things, “make copies and clean the supply closet.” Every time she shares this anecdote, she looks at me like, “Can you believe that?” Yes, I can. I don’t know why she expects me to be outraged that they would assign a 19-year-old the task of making copies rather than overhauling U.S. policy in the Middle East.

The “I’m so much better than this attitude” drives me crazy. In my first job out of college, I worked in higher ed administration. I helped run a university medical clinic. I was responsible for making copies and stocking the supply closet. Those were really important jobs—other things couldn’t happen if the copies weren’t made and the supplies weren’t stocked. We couldn’t serve our clients if those jobs weren’t done. I did those jobs well. They were not easy. I learned a ton in that role and look back on it fondly.

I worry about these comments because we have people on our team who are in charge of these so-called menial tasks, and I don’t want them to think that we devalue their work. Our office wouldn’t run without their work.

Do you have any tips for how to respond when John or Jane makes a comment like this? Should I just ignore it? Am I in the wrong?

You are not in the wrong. John and Jane sound naive about how work works, and not terribly respectful of administrative work. That doesn’t make them bad people; it just means that they might not have had anyone who helped set their expectations correctly … and they probably haven’t had enough exposure to the professional world yet to see how essential admin work is to keeping an organization running and to know that doing it well takes real skill.

But you’re extremely well-placed to help them adjust their expectations and understand what is and isn’t normal in internships and early-career jobs! Because you’re relatively close in age, you’ll probably have more credibility than someone a couple of decades away from them, whose advice can more easily be dismissed as not really knowing how things are now.

When John and Jane make these comments to you, use it as an opportunity to help them recalibrate their thinking. For example:

John or Jane: “My boss at my internship used to have me make copies — it was so insulting.”

You: “Oh, it’s really normal to do things like that in an internship. I did that at mine, and we do it here. It’s not weird — you do that stuff in early jobs.”

Optional add-ons / alternatives:

* “It’s not the most glamorous work but it has to be done, and I always found doing it was a good way to get exposed to what was going on around the office — which is a big part of the point of an internship.”

* “At the start of your career, you’re an unknown quantity. When you show you can be trusted to take care with work like that and do it well, over time you get given more interesting projects. My experience was that the interns who saw it as unimportant or beneath them didn’t get as much out of their internships as other people did.”

* “Yeah, when you don’t have a lot of experience yet, that’s where you start. But it means you get to be around people with more experience who are doing the more substantive work and you learn a lot that way.”

* “You probably don’t mean to sound like you’re devaluing administrative work, but our office wouldn’t run without the people who do those tasks. It’s important to be respectful of those jobs, even if you ultimately want to be doing something else.”

* “Did they tell you before you came on board that you’d be doing substantive policy work? Sometimes interns do get to work on substantive projects, but it’s normal to be mostly in a support role until you have more of a track record.”

They’ll figure it out eventually either way (probably), but you’d be doing a good deed by giving an honest response to what they’re saying.

{ 640 comments… read them below }

  1. CatMeow*

    I agree 100%! Work is not always fun or exciting. When it is fun and exciting that’s a bonus, not a right.

    1. Snark*

      I’m a biologist. I think, with some justification, that I’ve got the most fun job in my organization. I’m still spending today drafting correspondence and returning emails. I’ve also pinch-hit for other programs like underground storage tanks that bore me sideways. No work is “beneath” anyone because it’s not substantive enough.

          1. Kim*

            I worked for a well known corporation for many years. It was not uncommon to sometimes see even executives making copies. Yup , Ivy League degrees, making 7 figure salaries. Nothing was beneath anyone ever . Perhaps that was one reason the company was so profitable and a market leader. People need to get over themselves. Grow up.

            1. EchoGirl*

              It’s a joke. Curious is saying that working on the underground storage tanks was literally beneath most people, because those other people were presumably at ground level or above.

            2. Darsynia*

              Just curious— did this company have an underground parking garage? Was it a single storey building?

            3. Captain Lance*

              At a previous workplace, the head of our department would help teams with certain things, especially if it’s a huge project and teams needed the additional manpower. I respected the fact that she didn’t think that grunt work was beneath her. One time, a new hire sat at her desk as the rest of her team (including her boss and the head of the department) worked on something for an event. All of us offered to help and while that offer was taken up, we all knew the second it happened that the new hire was a goner. True enough, they did not stay there long.

            4. Slovenly Braid Cultist*

              +1. I always feel a bit better about executives who aren’t fussed about the (occasional!) bit of grunt work; I don’t expect them to always make their own copies, but the tacit assurance that they don’t think of that work as beneath them is reassuring.

            5. The OTHER Other*

              I am actually curious who these people thought SHOULD be making the copies and cleaning the supply closet, etc, if not the intern? Do they expect interns to be assigned interns to step and fetch for them?

        1. Coenobita*

          Also, the Leaking Underground Storage Tank program has, imo, the best acronym in the federal government. I used to work in a related area and there’s nothing like a room full of crusty old engineers saying “LUST” in every other sentence.

          1. Lab Boss*

            It may not be Federal, but there’s a low-grade form of Olive Oil that’s often (fraudulently) added to high-grade olive oil to dilute it, then sell the whole thing as Extra Virgin. That low-grade oil is called Pomace Olive Oil, or POO.

            Did I learn this at an industry conference in a room full of people? Yes. Did I have to bite my tongue to keep from giggling? Also Yes. “Harmful concentrations of POO in retail olive oil” “Limit of detection of POO” “potential sources of POO adulteration.” Slide after slide.

            1. LPUK*

              Yup – when I worked in Head Office duty-free retail one of the key metrics was the proportion of people passing through an airport that actually went into the shop – as a young female, talking to middle-aged male store managers about how good or bad their penetration was, always made me want to giggle

              also worked with a french company who spent their marketing meetings proclaiming that we needed to ‘focus, always focus’ – say that in a french accent to understand why a lot of pen-sucking to keep a straight face went on in those meetings

              1. Anonymous Luddite*

                Empathies on that last bit. We had a Quebequois sales person with a Ford Focus company car. Hilarity always ensued.

                1. Usagi*

                  I live in Hawaii, where, of course, the beach is a big deal. We had a company exec with an accent (and I never found out where he was from) that loved beaches, and always talked about how much he loved beaches. All beaches. White beaches. Black beaches. The beaches here are so beautiful. The beaches are so soft, they’re so nice to lay on. The beaches on the mainland are much bigger, but small beaches are great too. Did you know there are nude beaches?

            2. It has pockets*

              In my research field there’s a molecule called “iso-POO” (pronounced phonetically). And another one called “iso-POOPOO”. One of my friends literally screeched at a conference when a speaker referenced the latter.

              1. Lab Boss*

                No I’m sorry, if they unleashed “iso-POOPOO” on me without warning I would have to pack up and leave, under the assumption that the whole conference was a prank.

            3. Lab Boss*

              We just had another one yesterday! On a “new research” conference call a woman was talking about how a molecule splits, or cleaves. You should also know that “promiscuity” is used to refer to how readily a substance reacts. Direct quotes:

              “Great cleavage is a plus. No cleavage at all is a minus.”
              “We saw a significant correlation between cleavage quality and promiscuity.”

          2. LittleMarshmallow*

            In one of our labs we have a machine for Inductively Coupled Plasmolosis… or… ICP. Oh it cracks me up every time. Also having to go to the machine shop and ask a bunch of dudes for a 1/4” nipple is also hard to do with a straight face… and my most recent slip of the tongue at work was “I had them attach the hose to the corner bulk head so the vac guy can use the center hole for his thinger”. Only after I said it completely seriously and everyone stared at me and then cracked up did I realize what I’d said. We were trying to empty a tank with a vac truck through a small portable tank… it made perfect sense in that context. Happily my coworkers have an excellent sense of humor and also don’t judge too harshly on using the word thinger a lot. I know what it’s called… they know I know what it’s called… but nevertheless it’s a thinger.

            1. Lab Boss*

              I used to work at a gun range that included muzzle-loading rifles. The spark travels through a small channel known as the nipple to reach the powder. If that channel gets clogged, I had to ask my boss to “pass me the nipple picks.” I never felt comfortable.

            2. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

              I work in a high school, and the new sophomore-level science course is Integrated Chemistry-Physics, or ICP.

      1. AFac*

        There are times when I welcome so-called busy work. When your experiment has failed and your students did badly on an exam and all your instruments are broken and your boss is breathing down your neck and you are somehow the only person on the earth who can fix the crisis with the whatsits, it’s so nice to do something that you know can be completed relatively quickly and easily. And then that task is DONE, and you’ve accomplished something in a horrible day.

        On really frustrating days, I don’t even trust myself to write a coherent email. I catalog and make labels. There are legitimate reasons I personally do the cataloging, but also partially that it’s a deliberately easy thing to do, and I need that sometimes.

        1. Relax Relate Release*

          I agree. As a librarian who moved into administration, I used to go work the front desk for fun just to get away from all the “important” tasks on my desk.

          1. Loulou*

            But working the reference desk is exactly the kind of substantive task an intern in the library *should* be assigned. It’s not busy work, just work that’s below the pay grade (and often outside the expertise!) of an administrator.

            1. Librarian of SHIELD*

              Unfortunately, we can’t assign interns to the reference desk. You can’t really do that work without accessing customer accounts, and my state’s laws only allow library employees to access that data.

              1. Loulou*

                Interesting and makes sense! I remember having an intern or two at the (academic library) reference desk when I was a student worker, but we did not have any access to patron accounts.

              2. Anonomatopoeia*

                You…can’t? I have never accessed a patron’s account to answer a reference question. I’ve been in the library for 35 years. Circ questions, yes, but that’s not the same.

                1. anonnonaanon*

                  Hmm, at my university’s library the reference desk and the circulation desk are separate and the reference librarians don’t have access to accounts — they refer circulation questions to the other desk. I’ve also known of academic libraries where trained student workers staff the reference desk (heck, I know of a former student worker who did that who works at my library now and is getting an MLS) and refer more complicated questions on to more specialized librarians.

                2. Loulou*

                  I guess it depends on the setting — like I’d agree that strictly speaking “reference” shouldn’t require account access, but how many places truly have a dedicated reference desk these days, vs combining circ/ref functions?

                3. anonnonaanon*

                  Technically speaking, we have an integrated desk, but with reference on one side and circulation on the other. The reference librarians have a lot of other responsibilities (they’re all liaison librarians so they also do instruction, purchasing, and one-on-one support) and aren’t able to take on circulation training as well. I’ve interviewed within the last couple of years at several libraries where they had student workers doing basic reference and referring harder questions on to subject/liaison librarians.

                  We likely wouldn’t put interns on the desk, though they’d probably shadow reference and circulation if they were interested in those areas. I’m mentoring an MLS student this semester who wants to do instruction (he currently works in circulation, and was a student reference worker as an undergraduate elsewhere) and we’re working on ways for him to co-teach with me, since it can be hard to get teaching experience in library school.

              3. Chase*

                Library assistant here, and yup, interns aren’t allowed to access customer accounts in our state either.

                Related, we had a branch manager who, after many hours of meetings and emails, would often take fifteen minutes just to shelve books. It relaxed her.

        2. Dragon*

          Yes. Before Adobe Acrobat, slapping Bates number labels on pages and pages of paper documents felt like a big accomplishment without exercising major brain power.

          Now I think renaming lots of PDFs that were created with meaningless or inconsistent file names, gives that feeling.

        3. Momma Bear*

          Same!

          I do hope that the rebuttal comments help them reframe the work in their heads. I would also thank the other people publicly. “Susan, thank you for restocking the large binder clips. I had a presentation for the execs and didn’t want to hand them a stack of loose papers. It really helped to just grab and go.” Maybe pointedly do it in the complainers’ presence.

          For one of my internships I worked for the Chamber of Commerce. I did a lot of errand work but that also meant I got to learn about the membership and meet a lot of people I otherwise wouldn’t have encountered.

      2. Heffalump*

        Maybe some of your colleagues think they have the most fun jobs. If so, that would be win-win-win-win-win.

      3. Librarian of SHIELD*

        Being a children’s librarian is insanely fun about 85% of the time. But you know who cleaned out the supply closet and took inventory the last time it had to be done? THIS GIRL. Admin stuff has to get done and unless you’re in a field where having an assistant is common, you’re going to be doing a lot of that admin yourself.

        1. Oxford Comma*

          I had several interns and actually have a few colleagues who bristle at the admin tasks and sometimes that floors me, especially when it’s a one off. In every library I’ve worked at, there are times when I’m the one doing the copying or shelving. I had a project where we had to check our holdings against a large donation. It’s not exciting work, but I had an intern complain about the task. Even when I explained that if she wasn’t around, I would have to do the job, she felt it was beneath her.

          1. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

            I wish I could do that job. I am so furious that I missed the genrefication of my school’s library by a couple of years. I would have drowned in tedious enjoyment.

      4. Moi*

        I hear you. I’m in healthcare and when staffing goes down, managers are emptying urine bags and wiping bums. We all pitch in to get it done. Nothing is below anyone if it means better care.

    2. LinuxSystemsGuy*

      I’m considered a very senior engineer, I have two reports and am in charge of a very important project for my team. Today I spent two hours copying some files from one place to another because it needed to be done by someone with administrative access to the system, and my junior admin is out sick. ::Shrug:: sometimes you’re doing exiting stuff, sometimes you’re typing “cp locationA locationB” and watching the bits move.

      1. Cranky lady*

        Yup. I love the days I get to spend pouring over spreadsheets and creating pivot tables because I need a break from writing corporate policies.

    3. Allornone*

      My first job in an office was for a work-study position. My very first task? Counting promotional pens, and ensuring each of those pens had functioning ink. Hundreds and hundreds of them.

      At that point, nothing was beneath me. And while I can’t say I learned much from that particular task, paying your dues with humility and grace is almost always the best way to learn and grow in your industry.

      1. Momma Bear*

        I bet the checking that they had ink came from an embarrassing situation where a pen was bad. You do not want to be remembered as the company with the bad pens.

    4. MusicWithRocksIn*

      They need to learn that everyone needs to make copies sometimes. There is boring low-level stuff in every kind of job.

      I’m going nuts right now because my company hired a manager who just will not adapt to the way things now are. No dude, you do not get your own admin. Yes – you need to figure out how to navigate the company drives – and use excel sheets and do all your own quotes. People three levels above you all do that stuff. Everyone at the company needs to be able to do these things. Managers who don’t need to touch their computers are not something that exist in my industry anymore – everyone needs to be able to go onto shared folders instead of having one full time person doing things for you it would be faster to do yourself then to ask someone.

      People who walk fifty feet past the copy machine to ask an admin to make one color copy, two sided, with staples are people who get side eye from everyone.

      1. bleh*

        Yes, these things are true. Yet… it would be cheaper to hire a part time person to do the travel expenses – and use the awful software every day – for all SMEs than have us waste our (much more expensive) time re-learning the program twice a year.

        1. Anonymous4*

          My organization plumes itself on having saved money by getting rid of the moderately paid travel expert, with the result that expensive engineers and other specialists are forced to spend days wrestling with arcane travel regulations and crabby software — and then, when they return from the trips, spend days wrestling with different crabby software to get reimbursed.

          Ohhhh, that’s a fine cost-savings, that is!

          1. JustaTech*

            Yeah, when we were purchased by Evil Corp they got rid of whole departments (one of whom they had to hire back the next day because it turned out that EC had no idea that these people are 100% essential to us making money).
            So we got a new purchasing system that was to be used by the scientists. And when they finally did a training the trainers were incredibly rude “none of this is new, why don’t you know this?” and finally “you’re a purchasing person, how do you not know this?”
            “I’m not purchasing, I am a scientist and I have never done this before in my life, can you please slow down and explain how to find the vendor ID numbers.”
            “You’re not purchasing?”
            “No.”
            “Oh.”

            It wasn’t that any of the lab folk thought that purchasing was beneath them, it was that 1) it was new and 2) there is a reason that purchasing had been its own department. It’s not trivial (especially when you buy exciting things).

            Evil Corp was the *worst*.

        2. LinuxSystemsGuy*

          This sounds more like a process problem though )
          (Not that it invalidates your point). I don’t really deal with expenses at my current job, but last job was travel heavy and everyone up to the CEO handled expenses themselves. We took a picture of the receipt with an app that OCRed my of the info it needed. Unless the it was a weird situation, or the app screwed up, you just categorized the expense. Basically just a few seconds at the end of every meal, ride, or hotel stay.

      2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        I think the only caveat to this is the person who says “I’m new here, and/or I haven’t used this function on the copier – could you please teach me?”

        I’ll gladly help you learn how to do something new (if I know how to do it) – but I’m not your admin, and have my own list of tasks to complete so I can’t add your work to mine.

    5. Very anon*

      I can SLIGHTLY agree with the interns’ opinions, because there are a lot of places which expect more from an internship than just experience cleaning the office. And if this is an internship through a school that promises specific experience such as helping with fundraising or outreach, there is some room for a perception of “I got the short end of the stick, the other interns in the program are learning useful skills and I’m stuck working the copier”.

      That is more the fault of current perception of interns though. A lot of places treat interns like free labor, which the interns like because they get Experience to put on their resume, but which is arguably wrong because it’s using free labor to keep the business afloat instead of hiring more employees. So the people treating interns like actual interns end up with interns who were expecting to be abused in a way that looks good on paper, and are upset when they don’t get what they were expecting.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        My understanding is that, according to labor laws, an internship can only be unpaid if the intern is the primary beneficiary (https://www.businessnewsdaily.com/15161-are-unpaid-internships-legal.html). If the internship only consisted of making copies, making coffee, or cleaning the supply closet, I would question whether the intern benefitted more than the company. If the latter, they should have been paid at least minimum wage.

        I hope that the internship also allowed them to sit in on important meetings, learn more complex procedures, etc, because an unpaid internship should not be a substitute for hiring someone to help the office admin. I also wonder if the (possibly very competitive) interview process or the internship description set them up to think they would be getting more substantive work.

        Obviously making copies and stocking a supply closet are tasks that have to be done and being offended to be asked is red flag. On the other hand, I’d be annoyed if an internship with the State Department only consisted of those tasks because they decided to cheap out on hiring an office administrative assistant. It’s unclear if that’s the case here or not.

        1. Marillenbaum*

          Speaking as someone who works at a federal agency that’s considered high-prestige within the world of the civil service–every intern I’ve ever met in our organization gets to do that kind of substantive work. They might have to make copies for a meeting, and they are sitting in on that meeting. I interned at this organization before I became an employee, and I learned how to do many of the things I do now–I learned them on a smaller scale, and with longer timelines, but it was the same type of work. I also had to help pack up our storage room last month because it was getting painted. I think they’re just complaining.

        2. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

          To me, there’s also a difference between “making copies” and “learning all of the ins and outs of a modern office photocopier and all of the weird features it has”. The second is something would actually benefit most interns to know in their future jobs, since unless they had an office aide period in high school or had a previous office job it’s probably the first time they’ve gotten to use one for anything complicated. I know that the semester I spent “making copies” as a high school office aide did more to help me be successful in my first few post-college office jobs than several of the actual classes I took.

          Of course, my actual job still involves enough paper (both complicated print jobs sent to the copier and complicated scanning of paper things received) that this makes sense in my field, which perhaps it doesn’t for these particular interns.

      2. Lab Boss*

        I think it depends on the balance of tasks. I’m not sure from the details of the letter, but are the interns complaining because they ONLY got to do boring stuff like make copies? Or are they complaining because not every moment of the internship was glamorous and engaging? The former complaint has some merit, the latter has less so.

        1. CorruptedbyCoffee*

          As someone who had an unpaid library internship in which I spent 90% of my time cold calling potential donors and setting up for their fundraiser, I am perhaps more sympathetic to the idea of internships not giving substantial work than most. While I expected to make copies and get lunch, I also expected and needed substantial field based work to get credit. And I did not get that until I pushed back. Frankly, I already knew how to make copies. I was there to learn more about my field, and I, like many others, was paying for the privilege.

        2. Cassie*

          I wonder if the attitude they are now displaying towards these “boring” tasks were the attitudes they had back in their internships when they were given tasks to do that they felt beneath them. If I was working w/ interns and some of them behaved as if they had a chip on their shoulder, you can bet I’d be less willing to give them opportunities.

          It’s like in theater or in ballet – it’s not about the role that you are cast in, it’s about what you do with it.

          I knew someone who interned at a US embassy in a foreign country. They felt that as someone w/ a master’s degree, they should be doing important policy work, and not folding invitations and stuffing envelopes. Well, if the price of admission to a future career in politics is making copies and stuffing envelopes, then you should be prepared to pay so you can get in. Otherwise, they should go the other route (running for office and getting elected – then they won’t have to pay their dues!)

          1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            Thing is, with internships you either get to brag about where you were or what you did. If you’re interning in a prestigious outfit like an embassy in an exciting capital city, you can expect to be given nothing but grunt work. If you intern at an unknown start-up, you’ll be given all sorts of exciting stuff to do.
            The best is probably the glamorous place, because you can foster connections, and yes it looks great on your CV.
            You might get to do all sorts of stuff at the start-up, but you don’t necessarily learn to do it well. A young girl I know was hired to do PR for a start-up record label: she was putting stuff out on Insta and gauging reactions and had no idea whether she was doing things right or whether there was other stuff she should be dealing with, because there was literally nobody there who knew a thing about PR. She asked the boss a question and the boss said “but don’t you learn about this at school? we hired you because of your specialist knowledge!”

        3. coffee*

          Yeah, I wonder this as well. And, realistically, going to a job interview and talking about how great you are at photocopying is not going to be as strong as if you can ALSO talk about how you learned to brush a llama in preparation for the groomer to give it a shampoo and a haircut.

      3. Artemesia*

        This. An internship includes lots of grunt work but it is about learning and so none should be undertaken without a plan that includes tasks and teaching that will enhance learning. Using an intern for grunt work without also making sure they are getting a chance to stretch and grow is abusive. Maybe the learning comes through shadowing and observing in addition to the tedious work — but it needs to be built in.

        That said, years ago one of my colleagues wrote a piece called ‘What you can Learn from Grunt Work’. With a reflective eye you can learn a lot about how an organization functions while doing the routine work that needs done. A good internship will help students reflect on what they observe and what they learn about the organization and organizations from that vantage point.

      4. Who Plays Backgammon?*

        The application for my college internship stated that some clerical work may be included. Even so, I had a solid learning experience. A lot of other people didn’t/don’t get such an experience though. My current office had an internship one year and the guy spent a lot of time assembling information packets of fliers and forms. And screwed up a lot of them.

      5. Lady Pomona*

        Very Anon, you just touched on a key point in this; what the interns are promised by their school, what they expect to be doing and what it turns out that they actually do. If they’re told right off that yes, making copies and restocking the supply closet will be regular tasks that they’ll be expected to do, then yes, if they’re in college they should be able to understand that they’ll be copying documents and restocking the supply closet! Very often, people start out with a grossly unrealistic expectation of what a job or internship will entail and are then floored to discover what it really does. The fewer illusions they start out with, the better!

        1. Very anon*

          I will confess that the one time I was placed in charge with interns, it was last minute, with much confusion (the interns were sent to us a week early and the person who was ready to assign them tasks was on vacation that week, with all the materials for what they were supposed to do), and I was finally told “just teach them SOMETHING”.

          I was also overwhelmed with work that week, so the interns got a crash course in here are my cheap set of lockpicks, here’s my easy set of practice locks, here’s what it feels like when you’re doing it right, let me know when you figure out how to open all the locks. And they had a nice lesson in patience, how brute force isn’t always the solution to a problem, sometimes it’s impossible to accomplish a task with the given tools and saying so doesn’t make you weak (one of coworker’s locks that were meant for a different set of tools was somehow mixed in with mine) and how to work together to accomplish a task while I hunted down someone who knew what they were actually supposed to be doing.

      6. Elyse*

        Yeah, they’ve cracked down a LOT on internships in the past few years (especially in the film industry where a lot of places would use unpaid interns to replace entry-level jobs. I had a lot of those internships and they are kind of a waste because you’re too busy doing coffee/lunch runs and making copies and answering phones to actually learn anything).

        The supervisors are supposed to be taking time out of their day to mentor, teach, let you sit in on meetings and LEARN. I would understand their complaints if they got shafted and never had those experiences, but if they’re 22 and think ever running a copier is beneath them that’s a different story.

      7. Office Lobster DJ*

        I can see this. If these were competitive internships that promised an education about the field or were supposed to provide projects or experience the intern could leverage, doing admin work and nothing else would leave a sour taste.

        However, it sounds like they’re in a new job constantly complaining about the last one. I think OP could also approach this as “Sounds like you had a bad experience, but it’s coming off poorly to keep talking about it here. And even if you didn’t sign up for it, it doesn’t look great to demean admin work.”

        1. Kuddel Daddeldu*

          My first internship was a highly structured 3-months affair very much like a shortened apprenticeship – all kinds of metalwork. Useful (and mandatory) skills for a future engineer.
          In my second internship, I designed a part for a commercial airliner, to everyone’s surprise (and I was most overwhelmed when a year later my manager called and told me my design had passed all tests and would actually be used.)
          I get a warm fuzzy feeling whenever I fly in a plane knowing that a minor part I developed is on board.

          1. Kuddel Daddeldu*

            And still I made coffee, copies, and went to fetch whatever my coworkers needed, of course. Getting to the other end of the site could easily take half an hour’s walk – aircraft factories are huge!

    6. Viscountess Dangerous*

      Maybe this is because I’ve never been an intern or worked somewhere that had interns, but I thought the point of an internship was to get your foot in the door of a field of work and see how that field actually functions? While I agree that making copies and other admin work is essential, if that’s all an intern is doing, are they really gaining any experience from their internship? Cleaning out a supply closet? This is not demeaning work and again, it’s essential, but why are the people who are there, and are likely not getting paid, made to do this when it doesn’t seem like it would actually contribute to their education in the field they are considering pursuing as their career? But again, I’m willing to admit that I may be off base on the purposes of internships.

      1. lolly pop*

        Internships are also a way to learn office/workplace norms, like junior staff are often asked to do less-fun tasks.

        1. louvella*

          Honestly learning how to troubleshoot a copier was one of the most useful things I learned at my internship.

          That doesn’t mean it should be the only thing, and it wasn’t, but that is an office skill that will be transferrable to basically every job.

          1. Cheerfully Polite Grey Rock*

            I was amazed by how many of my coworkers would completely lose the ability to read as soon as the copier started beeping.
            “It’s not working!”
            “Well, what does it say?”
            “I don’t know, it’s just not working!”
            Meanwhile, 9/10 times the issue is clearly displayed on the little screen, including step by step troubleshooting of where the paper jam was and which door to open to get to it. On the up side, my copier whispering skills made me very popular!

          2. La Triviata*

            A number of years ago, I was the senior “assistant” in a department that hired some young people fresh out of college. They were under the impression that having a degree meant that they’d be doing substantive work at a professional level. They’d balk at doing anything they didn’t feel was up to their abilities; since one couldn’t be relied on to put things in either alphabetic or chronological order, there were issues. One wanted to be representing the organization at hearings on Capitol Hill, but couldn’t be relied on to know the names of Senators and Representatives or the proper way to address them.

            Another of the new graduates resented having to do data entry; they got back at being required to do it was to alternate lower case and upper case letters, making the information useless for much of what was needed.

            I’m nor sure if their colleges/universities had convinced them that their degree made them qualified for upper level tasks or what, but we had a number of people very unhappy.

      2. Loulou*

        At least in my field, the point of an internship is job training (as well as making connections and the other things you mentioned). I had to do an internship as part of my masters coursework and one of the requirements was that the work couldn’t be primarily administrative in nature, which I think is common. Of course I absolutely ended up doing some admin work, but the idea was that the org couldn’t use me as a free copy-maker.

        1. allathian*

          I think this also depends on whether the internship is paid or not, and whether you get course credits for it or not. If it’s a paid internship with no course credits, it can be argued that the employer has more leeway in assigning just admin work to the intern, than if the internship is unpaid with course credits, in which case it should benefit the intern’s degree in some way.

          I did an international internship for course credit for my master’s. I got an ERASMUS scholarship to pay my living expenses, but I didn’t get a salary (only I did so well that the CEO paid me the equivalent of a month’s scholarship when the internship ended as a bonus). Most of my work was basic office admin stuff, but it was a great learning experience.

      3. New Mom*

        I host interns every summer and the goal of our internship is for students to learn about office norms, learn about professional communication, support with data entry in an exciting topic but the work itself is not too interesting, and then they also get weekly informational interviews with different people and departments. I do tie in how the work they are doing impacts the larger goal of our organization and I think that is appreciated. They would not be able to do any majors projects without serious oversight by me and I wouldn’t have capacity to support with that.

      4. Parakeet*

        Yeah, I’m kind of with you and the others who are saying this. I was in technical fields that paid interns, when I was in college and grad school, and while I would not have minded having admin pieces in my internships…yes, I did work in the company’s/institution’s specific field, even though it was of course very junior work. And I expected to be doing work in the specific field, even if very junior work. The place where I got my first job after I graduated, hired a lot of interns, and they were paid, and they all had structured summer projects in the company’s actual field of work. And in the social service field that I work in now, and the ones where I’ve been a volunteer, the interns do work in the field that they’re interested in. I didn’t know until I started reading this blog that “learn what an office is like” is the major function of internships in some fields. If people just wanted to learn how an office works, I don’t think they would be applying for internships in the State Department.

        Now, if they were objecting to doing admin work at all, even alongside work in the field that they were aspiring to, that’s snotty. And unrealistic – admin work has been a part of most of my jobs (and a part of most of my volunteer work for that matter) even though admin isn’t my field.

        1. Viscountess Dangerous*

          Thank you, that’s what I was trying to get at. You explained it much better than I did.

      5. Snarkastic*

        Yes, that’s how internships are sold. You won’t get paid, but you’ll learn job skills. Most of the time, that’s true. I never thought twice about organizing filing cabinets. I can see that doing that didn’t so much help me learn the business, but it DID help the office in which I was working. On the other hand, there are a lot of things I did that were educational and eye-opening. I think if an internship is a mix of necessary tasks and tasks that will help young people understand their industry, then that’s the best-case scenario. If John and Jane learned nothing about government, I’d be concerned. I would ask them more about what they DID like on the job just to get a sense of their entire experience.

        So you’re not off base! I wouldn’t read too much into their complaints, but I also wasn’t there to hear them.

      6. Soon to be Former Intern*

        No, you’re definitely correct, I think it’s a balance to be honest, especially with training/unpaid type interns. I’ve just finished an internship in a specialised industry, and by the end of it I was in essence qualified for junior or trainee paid roles in the industry. The main problem with exclusively being handed the grunt work in that kind of scenario is that I would leave the internship with none of the basic specialty skills I should have for the role I would be entering into. Luckily this didn’t happen in my case, but I definitely had to push back somewhat to get the training I needed due to the industry being chronically understaffed and the interns being used as a way to fill in the labour gap. It’s really hard trying to pass assessments for things that you hadn’t done enough times because you were needed elsewhere.

    7. lunchtime caller*

      I’ve always said when it comes to those kinds of tasks/days etc that “there’s a reason they have to pay me to be here” LOL

    8. Sometimes supervisor*

      This. I have the sort of job title which makes people go “Oooo” at parties. But three-quarters of the time it is essentially spreadsheets, research and record keeping.

      We have a big problem with new grads coming along with “I don’t want to do data entry in Excel. I want to be working on super awesome cool project” or “I’m really bored of all this research. Can’t we do super awesome cool thing I was taught about on my course?”. They look crestfallen when you explain that, erm, this spreadsheet is the main part of super awesome cool project and the research is a necessary step to the super awesome cool thing they were taught about and, if they don’t like doing either of those things, then frankly they are saying they don’t like this career and perhaps it’s time for a re-think.

    9. Sporty Yoda*

      Oh my god, I got SO mad at my boss the other day when he asked a question about if we found work fun or not. I’m not here to have fun; I’m here to collect data/finish my dissertation and ensure the lab runs smoothly. 21 day experiments that result in negative data are not fun, but we still found out something interesting! Going back and forth editing a paper for the past two months isn’t fun, but it will be rewarding when it’s published! Looking through packing slips and freezers to find out if something was delivered and then following up with purchasing when I found out it wasn’t is never how I want to start my morning, but I’ll still feel accomplished when everything is taken care of.
      It’s not so much that work is always going to be “fun” and/or “exciting.” There’s grunt work, and it’s dull and miserable from time to time. It sucks, but if you don’t do the grunt work, you’ll never get enough trust or experience to move ahead. Deep breaths, and scream in the walk-in fridge.

  2. Aarti*

    I was an Admin Assistant for a long time. It is a hard job. And people always demeaned it. But the office wouldn’t run without people like me doing my job. When you pile all the admin work onto everyone else, the work as a whole suffers.

    1. Fran Fine*

      Pretty much. The reason people don’t realize how hard the work actually is is usually because they have a very effective admin doing those things for them to the point where you don’t see the work – it’s almost invisible because everything’s running smoothly. But let the admin be out for an extended period of time or leave with no immediate backup in place, and the place melts down, lol. I’ve seen it, and it’s hilarious. Then people get it and start respecting it.

      1. Alexander Graham Yell*

        I have very vivid memories of when our office manager was out for a week. We refused to contact her because she was off work and dangit, she was going to be OFF WORK and not hear a peep from us….but it was a little bit like Lord of the Flies there for a while.

          1. Aarti*

            Here is my favorite story. I started my job as an admin and my boss came to me with a stack of paper, maybe about 50 sheets, and said “This is all the paper we have in the office. Your first job is to figure out how to order more.”

          2. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

            Our admin was out on parental leave for 6 months and I swear everyone went feral. Post-it notes were stolen off of desks, copiers on other floors raided for paper and toner, a pen barter system. If he’d been out any longer their might have been large scale raids and looting

            1. Fran Fine*

              That’s how it was in an office I worked in when they fired our admin for “reasons.” Nobody knew how to do basic things, even how to put on the coffee, and the constant stealing of office supplies (because no one knew how to order more) turned a lot of friends into foes, lol.

        1. LittleMarshmallow*

          When Covid started and only essential employees were at the office our site went from about 15 people to about 4 and it was decided that the admin/front desk person would work from home and the 4 leftover engineers would cover admin and front desk too while trying to do their own stuff. We were all willing to step up and help, but it only worked for about 6 months maybe then our workloads just kept increasing until we couldn’t handle doing the front desk/admin duties too (we were doing 60+ hour weeks to make it work). We did finally cry uncle and the admin team worked out a plan to go back to covering the front desk and admin stuff (well most of it anyway.. we are almost 2 years past the start of it and are still trying to hand some of the tasks back). Overall though our admin team is awesome and we couldn’t do it without them (not well, anyway). We missed them when they were WFH!

      2. Cait*

        Yes! I went to an Administrative Professionals Conference and the first keynote speaker came onstage and said, “Okay, everyone put your cell phones down. I know the office is has descended into chaos without you but this is your opportunity to teach them why they need you.” We all laughed.

        1. Sammy Keyes*

          LOL, this made my day! And somehow despite having worked multiple admin jobs, it somehow never occurred to me that there were conferences for us??

      3. Liz*

        Yes! I worked in a corporate legal department once, as an admin. I still remember one attorney, after hours, sending a fax. She told me she learned early on how to do stuff like that, and use the copier, etc., because in a prior law firm job, she had seen too many of her peers, standing over the fax, late at night, with no clue how to use it!

        1. GermanCoffeeGirl*

          I was working as an admin on the late shift in a large law firm many years ago, and a lawyer came to me at about 10 pm – FUMING. Ranting about how nothing in this [expletive] firm works and how everything is [expletive]. I asked him what was wrong and he said he had been trying to send an important fax to the client, but they kept receiving blank pages. I asked him to show me what he had been doing, he showed me (after asking me if I thought he was too stupid to send a fax) and wordlessly I turned the page over, since it turned out that he had been faxing them the back page of the document.

          1. La Triviata*

            I once heard a similar story where the head of an office, staying late, approached a more junior staff person at the shredder. He asked the junior person to run his document through, which the junior person did. Then the head guy said, more or less, great – make me five copies.

        2. EmmaPoet*

          I temped at a law firm and the librarian referred to new associate season as, “Two months when we come in about three mornings a week to find one of them has accidentally printed 300 pages they didn’t mean to print while working at 11pm. Then we get to track them down and explain that they’re going to have to bill that. Yay.”

      4. Architect*

        We don’t currently have a receptionist/admin assistant after years of having one, and I had to mail a package. It took literally hours, one other person, AND the mailman correcting us to get the package mailed using a corporate account. I knew it was a little different than if I did it as a private citizen at the post office, but that was intense!
        A good admin is absolutely worth their weight in gold.

      5. A*

        Agreed. It’s one of those functions where if it’s being handled well you don’t really see the wheels in motion – but if it’s not being handled well / at all, things fall apart QUICKLY. At my last employer they had been phasing out admins across the board, but got a little overzealous when they decided to eliminate the few remaining roles – including the individual that booked all the travel. I think it lasted about two weeks before they backtracked (and huge win for the admin who negotiated the heck out of the deal in order to come back!).

    2. Helen W*

      Same hat. I work in a professional environment and I would end some days close to tears because of how I was undervalued. So many people, especially those with degrees and other qualifications, look down on admin assistants, receptionists and secretaries. Yet who is the first person they call when they have a problem?
      Sometimes, I wish that all the admin people in the world would just take the same day off and then perhaps people will see how much they need us.
      (Sorry, that got a bit rambly hahaha.)
      I have experienced exactly the type of people OP is talking about in my own office. I fee like it’s a by-product of the current ‘me me me’ generation.

      1. Ellen Ripley*

        I would argue that under-appreciating admin has been going on for literally decades, so you can’t point the finger at the current generation for this issue!

        1. Not Australian*

          Considering that I got my first admin job back in the heady days of 1972, I’m 100% agreeing with this statement!

          1. A Feast of Fools*

            Yep, I was an admin / executive assistant in the late 1980’s – early 1990’s. We were treated like garbage then, too, even from people who were generations older than us at the time.

            Admin work quit being seen as valuable as soon as women were the majority job holders. Just like teachers.

            Link in separate comment to a NY Times article about how pay decreases in any field where women start to outnumber men, despite doing literally the same job.

      2. Hot sauce everywhere*

        Respectfully, would ask that we not making sweeping generalizations about generations below us; with age and experience comes maturity and a greater understanding where we fit in with our ecosystems. The only true “me me me” generation are literal babies.

        More salient though, yes, I think admin work is seen as “less than” by many people- especially those who stepped into their career at a higher level or skipped a few rungs of the ladder. I’ve worked under a few “wunderkind” bosses where they basically rose through the ranks without ever having to schedule their own meetings. It’s not great. That said, I also work with a lot of fellows, interns, and early career professionals, and the “why” is very important when assigning a task. Yes, I’m going to assign you repetitive data entry, and here’s how it contributes to the work and the mission, and here’s what we hope you’ll take away. I’m going to ask you to scan files and attach them to these records. Here’s what the files are, here’s what the records are, and here’s how this helps. I think we do assign a lot of work without context, and it doesn’t help with career growth. Also- if the interns know why they’re doing something, it’s possible that they may contribute a better or more efficient solution after the muscle memory kicks in. I love working with early career folks for that very reason! They look at things with fresh eyes.

        It’s also possible that this batch of interns are just arrogant. There’s that, too.

        1. Fran Fine*

          + 1 to your “why” statement.

          I’m that kind of person. I have to know why I’m being asked to do something before I expend the energy to do it, and I, unfortunately, didn’t realize that before my first college co-op because if I had, I could have explained that to my boss and maybe had a better attitude when asked to do things I thought were boring and meaningless (she was totally the type of person who would have started explaining her rationale had I told her that’s how I learn).

          1. lunchtime caller*

            Alternatively, the ability to ask yourself the why is what separates the good from the great, early on. It’s not some huge moral failing to need it hand fed to you, but I’ve absolutely excelled past others with the same start I had just because I kept my eyes and ears open and always looked for ways to learn no matter the rote task I was given. “Having to know the why” isn’t a special character trait–there aren’t some people who are just happy to blankly accept tasks like packhorses while others need more intellectual motivation. They’re just capable of generating or investigating their own why instead of assuming “oh there must be none, this is just a dumb task that I shouldn’t have to do, and in fact, won’t do,” as the people in the letter have done.

            1. NNN222*

              Exactly this. The interns who get nothing out of admin tasks aren’t paying attention to how their work on those admin tasks feed into the organization and aren’t realizing how much they can learn about the organization from performing admin tasks. I do think internships should include more than admin tasks but they absolutely are part of the educational experience.

              1. CorruptedbyCoffee*

                I once worked at a place where the interns stuffed flyers into envelopes. They weren’t important flyers. Nobody explained why they were sending them out. They were alone most of the day to do it. It didn’t really teach them anything but how to stuff an envelope. I’m fine with including some admin work, but let’s not pretend it’s deeply meaningful stuff.

                1. lunchtime caller*

                  I’m not saying it’s all deeply meaningful, but the why in that case is pretty obvious, no? They needed them stuffed into envelopes because the flyers needed to be mailed, presumably as direct mail marketing. I get that it’s not all thrilling stuff (some jobs just suck!) but someone sufficiently motivated could certainly squeeze a few questions out of that. I’ve had to cold call a list of hundreds of business at an internship to update their addresses for similar direct mail campaigns, and found ways to turn even that into traction under my proverbial tires. But yeah, like I said, it does require one to seek it out versus being hand fed info, and frankly I’m better off if more people are fine not learning and becoming competition so god bless to those who just wait to be told stuff.

                2. Caroline Bowman*

                  Sure, that was a boring day, but is that what they did every day of the internship? Some things, like stuffing envelopes, is boring and repetitive, but is self-explanatory re what it achieves.

                  I have always thought that the best thing that ever happened to me – inadvertently – was starting my professional working life in temp jobs, answering phones, directing calls, making photocopies, printing things, setting up and clearing meeting rooms, ordering supplies, delivering mail round the office. You learn a huge amount about how you work, your own organisational skills, AND you learn a lot about how office life works, especially if you do this kind of thing in a few places. As a very entitled new grad at the time, this was invaluable to my working life. It showed me where I did want to work / didn’t want to work and taught me some humility and respect, and a lot about how office politics works!

            2. London*

              Hey, I happily blankly accept tasks like a packhorse all the time. It’s much more relaxing than making up some fancy reason for why this piece of scut work is absolutely vital to the functioning of the company like I used to do

              1. La Triviata*

                When I started my current job – back when almost everything was on paper and mailed – we’d have stuffing parties. Everyone on the small staff – from the CEO down – would sit around a big table and we’d stuff envelopes. It reduced the time, gave us the opportunity to talk, and there was a lot less resentment of having to do “boring” work.

      3. AdequateArchaeologist*

        I finished grad school during the pandemic and took an admin position because it was decent pay and had health benefits (my actual field was in shambles for a bit and hadn’t quite bounced back). People would always get a weird look on their face when I told them I had a masters degree. I guess they just assumed I wasn’t qualified for anything else?

        1. The Rafters*

          Every single bus driver at the company many of our agency staff uses to commute has at least a Bachelor’s degree, if not a Master’s degree in something. Very few passengers will look down on them for being “just” bus drivers, and those who do are quickly shot down by the rest of the passengers.

        2. Kinsey*

          No disrespect but I would be taken aback by that, too. I wouldn’t care but it would strike me as odd and occupationally dangerous (pink collar trap) for someone to get an advanced degree and then be an assistant. Assistant jobs only recently began to even require a Bachelors’s degree; most want an Associate’s. My old company had a tuition benefit and we had tons of assistants hire in, get their free Bachelor’s and/or Master’s, and then leave to work at the Master’s level.

            1. Mme Pince*

              Right? I worked at Whole Foods after grad school, because I graduated into a week economy and still had bills to pay.

          1. LilPinkSock*

            Never heard it described as dangerous! I have an advanced degree, worked in my field for several years, then had to leave on account of extremely high burnout and extremely low pay. My admin career has been so much more rewarding, in every sense.

            1. Macapito*

              I thought it was well-known and even thoroughly discussed on this site for years that women often become typecasted as assistants/admins and can find it very difficult to get out of that line of work once in it. “Once an admin, always an admin” type thing. Looking back, all the admins I’ve ever known are still admins, and at least a handful of them expressed a desire to get out.

          2. JESUS IS THE MAN!*

            This is one of the reasons it’s often so hard to get out of academia! You have this fancy-ass degree that won’t actually get you a job in the field you trained in because there are none, and it stymies people in other fields, who think you’re going to bail as soon as that sweet, sweet professor gig comes along. Except it won’t. And somehow you have to pay the bills.

        3. Who Plays Backgammon?*

          Pretty good point. A common attitude I’ve encountered is that taking an admin job was proof that you weren’t good enough for anything else and that if you were good enough for anything else you wouldn’t be an admin.

      4. Jaybee*

        You think the current generation is in charge of hiring, rewarding, and retaining admin? Not in any office I’ve worked in…

      5. Tinker*

        I’m glad you specified the current “me me me” generation, because otherwise I could easily think you meant one of the previous “me me me” generations that constitute everyone else that is alive.

      6. Emmy Noether*

        I once worked with a guy I liked at first – then I found out from the admins that he treated them like dirt and my opinion of him plummeted. He ended up being promoted to manager and unsurprisingly (to me!) turned out to be a petty tyrant that flamed out quickly, completely destroying morale along the way.

        Me, I always make a point to be friendly with any admins. Because (1) they deserve to be treated well as much as anyone and (2) for the self-serving reason that they can, and have, totally saved my ass when things go wrong.

      7. Galadriel's Garden*

        As a member of the evidently-‘me me me’ generation, and a person who started their career as an admin…it is very much not a generational problem, it’s a *person* problem. I’d avoid making sweeping generational generalizations like that as it undermines your point, and is frankly a little insulting.

        Also, in my professional experience, 9 times out of 10 it was the older executives who treated the admin staff like personal assistants, and those my own age who were actually respectful of my time and skillset. There’s always “that guy/gal” in every office, but as the working world has evolved and the admin role along with it, some people have kept with the times and others have…not.

    3. JohannaCabal*

      And unfortunately this is a role that many organizations are cutting. At my last job, every department except mine had an admin. This meant, I spent a lot more time on administrative tasks, making me less productive.

    4. kittymommy*

      Keeping the supply closet stocked might be one of the most important jobs in a government office. You want to see elected officials and diplomats lose their freaking mind? Tell them you don’t have their favorite pens and notepads.

      1. Caroline Bowman*

        True story!!

        As a very, very junior and somewhat ignorant newbie to the working world, I committed the grave error of ordering pens that were considerably less expensive than the ones we’d been ordering before, because I’d been asked to cut costs.

        Bad move. CEO furious. CFO in a hissy. ONLY THOSE PENS were suitable for their very busy and important work. I got shouted at by their assistants and was nearly in tears by the end.

    5. NotAnotherManager!*

      I would pay my department admin’s salary out of mine. It’s not an easy job at all, and they have skills that I just do not. (My prior admin was so good, we moved her into a higher-level position.) We have admins who run their senior-level people (in a good way) – a good admin makes a huge difference in productivity.

      1. Who Plays Backgammon?*

        How many of those good admins ever got promoted to something better/higher due to their own merit? Only the one?

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          I have no idea, TBH. It’s a large organization and my department has one admin because the nature of our work does not produce enough work to have more (and they support the department, not individuals). The admins who support people rather than departments are under the purview of another manager, though I know one of my admin department directors prefers to promote strong performers internally as well and has a promotion path for admins. Outside occasionally seeing a familiar name in a new role, I don’t know what overall stats are. It seems easier to promote within an admin department than where the admins are supporting executives and principals because we have more positions in general.

    6. Sandi*

      I find it interesting within the military because the roles that most directly support the senior leaders (AdC, EAs) are given to the highest achievers. The admin work is a way to be in constant contact with and learn about being a senior leader, with very few responsibilities. Fetching coffee and making photocopies isn’t glamorous, but if you do that work and spend time surrounded by smart people then you can learn a lot.

      I work in tech and was told early on that women should do their best to avoid being the note-taker in meetings and lead photocopier, in particular when they are young. There is a culture in male-dominated workplaces where WiSTEM try to avoid being viewed as the secretary in the group (I know, old term, but I’m referring to old bad habits). I volunteer for a lot of things at work (lifting heavy cases of bottles to restock the fridge, reaching out to students to encourage them into STEM) but never the social committee, and I prefer to avoid taking notes unless I know the group.

      1. LPUK*

        In one of my previous companies, the job of taking minutes in the Board meetings was always given to an up and coming manager with the idea that they would be exposed to senior directors ( good for profile points) and exposed to broader and more strategic discussions ( not sure I agreed with that one – not from the ones I attended lol). One time when the women would fight for that opportunity!

    7. WantonSeedStitch*

      I was an admin for a while too. I sucked at it, frankly. I like to think I’m someone who treats all my colleagues with respect, whether they’re an admin or a director, but that experience drove home to me how difficult it is to do all the different kinds of things that admins have to do, and to do them well. I will never dismiss an admin’s role, or belittle the person who holds it!

    8. Delta Delta*

      I worked for a law firm where the senior partner didn’t believe admin work was skilled. We blasted through about 15 assistants in 5 years because he constantly hired whoever would take the job for the least money. There was the person who was too nervous to answer the phone. There was the person who thought the return address meant all mail needed to be sent back to that address, and was somehow constantly mailing out things we received in the mail. There was the person who couldn’t file because she didn’t know the alphabet. It… wasn’t fun.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        At law firms, I’ve met many a senior partner that doesn’t generally think that anyone who’s not a senior partner is skilled. It’s a level of snobbery that I’ve never experienced anywhere else – kind of magical thinking, really: no one but them has a skilled position yet somehow the work does not get done, without those “unskilled” people being able to navigate pedantic court rules for filings or the technology needed to prepare filings and productions. The exception seemed to be their admins – I had multiple pairings who’d been together for decades and, if you wanted to bring fire down on your head, try to add another attorney to their pairing or suggest at evaluation time that the admin was anything but perfect. The best of the senior admins made six figures and deservedly so – it’s a hard job to start with, it’s even harder when senior partners are involved.

    9. Alpacas Are Not Dairy Animals*

      Maybe the role would be more respected if people didn’t assume that it was all stuff that could be foisted on an unpaid, untrained intern. There’s a perverse tendency in human nature under capitalism to not value what we don’t pay for.

      1. Tom*

        There’s a perverse tendency in human nature under capitalism to not value what we don’t pay for.

        FTFY.

    10. Olivia Oil*

      There is a lot to be discussed regarding the branding around admin jobs:

      One, I think a lot of the branding of administration jobs has to do with gender honestly. I don’t know what your gender is OP but because a lot of admin jobs are held by women, they are devalued. There is a reason sales jobs pay a lot more and have more prestige even though they require a similar level of education and entry level sales jobs are of a similar age range.

      There is also the issue with only counting academic credentials as “skills”. Intangible skills that can’t be taught should count for more, IMO.

      There is also a difference between doing your own admin work when you’re job is not actually an admin job, and having an exclusively admin job. Again going back to gender, women tend to get stuck with other people’s admin tasks and even when they’re not an admin assistant. This is a common dynamic among academic faculty.

      I think it comes down to: admin roles need to be treated like the specialized job functions they are. If your job is doing admin work for other people, that is a specialized job and should be compensated accordingly. But also, even if you’re not an admin, you should be ready to do your own admin work.

      Our office’s administrative assistant automates a lot of her data entry using Visual Basic and other programming software. She’s a recent grad. I think that’s pretty skilled!

  3. Meg*

    I work in the sciences and I’ve seen many a new student expect that the glassware just is magically washed by the dish fairy. Nope, buddy, you *are* the magical dish fairy. Its annoying to have to do this with nearly every eager student, but the rote work is usually done by the lowest on the totem pole, because that’s how you *learn.*

    1. Haydn's Second Head*

      Hey agreed on the sentiment but just want to point out that “lowest on the totem pole” is a pretty outdated phrase to use in 2022!

      1. Dino*

        I had to excise that from my vocab — I replaced it with “lower on the pecking order”. Same meaning but not outdated and incorrect!

        1. Keeping Current*

          That’s one good replacement. From Guides for Conscientous Communications “Totem poles are monuments created by tribes of the Pacific Northwest to represent and commemorate ancestry, histories, people, or events. The term “low man on the totem pole,” when used as an idiom to describe a person of low rank, inaccurately trivializes the tradition and meaning of the totem poles, which do not have a hierarchy of carvings based on physical position. Instead: Person of lower rank, junior-level.”

    2. Nesprin*

      Also in sciences- I try really hard to make it clear to my interns that the first half year is going to be learning techniques, helping out, and general lab maintenance. And the more that I can trust them with the faster they can get to the cool stuff, usually at a year’s time. Amazing how the ones who are happy to wash glassware tend to be the ones that usually succeed.

      1. Perfectly Particular*

        You have interns for more than a year straight? That is really interesting! I thought all internships were 6 months or less.

        1. Analytical Tree Hugger*

          In my 7-ish years in the sciences, I’ e seen undergrads stick around for years (maybe the length of their college days), because they’re building up skills, experience, and credits, while also getting more and more of the “cool” projects.

        2. Venus*

          Some science programs have internships that run for 16 months, between year 3 and 4. This has the advantage where there is overlap over the summer, and one student can help train the next one. There are also programs where the students return to the same employer in 4-month chunks.

        3. Nesprin*

          Yep- am proud of how all my 1+ yr interns have published papers. Typically they’re undergrads in the same institution who stick around for a long time.

          It’s really hard to make a significant impact in 12 weeks- by that time point you barely know how to turn all the equipment on.

    3. Snark*

      And it’s not just learning where you are on the totem pole! Once you waste a couple of weeks on contaminated samples because you assumed the glassware was clean, you do it yourself for the same reason you pack your own parachute.

    4. Ginger Dynamo*

      I also work in a wet lab as a pretty low-level technician, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised how, with pandemic times making it impossible for undergrads to join the lab as the designated magical dish fairy, the lab switched over to an attitude of “you wash what you use, doesn’t matter who you are.” If my PI demonstrates a protocol for me, of course I’ll wash the dishes afterwards because it’s courteous and she has much better ways to use her time. But I’m not expected to wash the dishes produced by another PI’s postdocs, or anyone else working on entirely different studies than me. It’s led to less random stuff piling up in the lab, like abandoned beakers of unlabeled solutions, because each individual is responsible for what they make and what they leave. Were there still issues? Yes, like when one of our senior research assistants would assume that I (coincidentally female) should be cleaning the dishes a fellow tech (coincidentally male) forgot he left in the lab sink after his independent experiments. But overall, I like the system a lot better than designating an undergrad to wash the pile of dishes, leading more students and techs to think the lab equipment just magically cleans itself.

      1. Lady_Lessa*

        Sounds safer as well, because you know what you used and know how to clean them safely and where to dispose of the chemicals.

        I recall, in the dark ages, that we had a soaking tank full of chromosulfuric acid to clean glass ware.

        I’m now working with polymers and a lot of our stuff is disposable.

        1. Ginger Dynamo*

          Absolutely, it’s safer for the experiments and the technicians if everyone handles their own messes. Some of my coworkers work with radioactive carbon isotopes, while I regularly use very potent detergents and high-concentration estrogen that’s carcinogenic when handled wrong. Even if we had a dishwashing fairy, I’d rather clean my own glassware regardless

      2. LittleMarshmallow*

        It’s generally the expectation in our lab that if you make it dirty you clean it up. If I’m cleaning the 5 liter glass reactor though I will usually go find a tech to help because it’s a 4-6 handed job to take that think apart without breaking it. But once it’s apart I clean it myself. Partly because I should because I made it dirty… and partly because I don’t trust anyone else to do it properly. If it matters I’m 15 years into the workforce and a “senior engineer”. I agree with whoever said it was safer too. I hate having to clean mystery glassware because some project team blew through the lab and just left their stuff in the way. I get called to do it though because I know how to evaluate what it might be and how to safely and properly clean up mystery substances because I’ve been around the block and seen some things…

    5. Chris*

      I’m in a different type of science and policy (water quality issues in the Pacific Northwest) and I joke that interns and new grads think that working with my agency is all petting and tracking Orca and hiking through pristine forest. The reality is it is a lot of organizing and facilitating meetings, writing reports, reading reports, summarizing reports, and other paper work. This isn’t just the grads though, it’s everyone in the field. We live for the one or two days every couple of months that we get to go out and experience the water or forest. There is always a moment where I have to break it to the new grad that, yes, they need to order the food for the meeting and take notes and help with clean up.

      1. ScifiScientist*

        So much this! I’m currently getting interview questions together and I literally said to my fellow managers, “I need a question that communicates that this job is not petting bunnies outside and is, instead, mostly paperwork and that I need people who are excited about that”

    6. Don't be long-suffering*

      For one thing you learn what a really clean test tube is, and don’t ruin the science with dirty glass, so yeah, it’s important!

    7. NNN222*

      I laughed so hard when I realized how many times I have been a dishwasher in my life. I worked at a nursing home in the kitchen in high school and a big part of that job was dishwashing (in addition to serving meals). I was a camp counselor one summer during college and we all had weeks where we were in non-counselor positions and week 1 I was assigned to dishwasher. I had several jobs with the chemistry department throughout my sophomore through senior years and I spent a couple semesters in the stockroom where I was mostly washing glassware then I had been used in labs. Finally, I get my first job using my BA in chemistry, preparing HPLC samples from inhalers. I felt like I had finally gotten a “real” job. What was a big part of that job? Washing glassware and other lab items. I worked at a large lab building for a corporation that actually did have a dishwashing room on site but the detergent they used made a peak too close to the drug we were testing for on the HPLC so we had to wash our own. In analytical chemistry, you do most of the process yourself from start to finish because you actually don’t trust other people to do it correctly. I’ve transitioned into a quality specialist role and now the only dishes I wash at work are my own coffee mug and lunch dishes.

    8. prof*

      That’s …not how it should work. You use it, you clean it. Everyone contributes to general lab chores. It’s crappy to dump all that on new people…

    9. Lp2*

      We’ve had some fresh undergrad technicians get really sniffy about tasks that are on their job descriptions like emptying bins, restocking labs, ordering and routine lab tasks. We just pointed out that the lab couldn’t run without them and ensured a steady stream of new learning opportunities when availible. Some still weren’t happy and felt they should be doing my job (20 years experience) but they tended to disappear quickly then jump around multiple short term positions – maybe one day they’ll stay somewhere long enough to get some more interesting work!

    10. nonprofit llama groomer*

      And if you want it done ASAP and you’re the highest in the pecking order, you are going to wash the glassware yourself. I’m not in the same field, but I’ve worked for medium firms, government, and nonprofits. At all of these, I’ve made some of my own copies or washed my own dishes. Interns or entry level folks who balk at those tasks as beneath them never get offered a referral much less a job offer from me.

  4. Kjolis*

    Haha, this could’ve been written about me 20 years ago – I felt the admin work I had to do was demeaning as well, and was embarrassed that my title was administrative assistant. Now, I realize how much I heavily rely on administrative assistants and others in support roles who play a part in accomplishing my work. Someone should’ve knocked me off my high horse back then!

    1. Pickles*

      One of my early bosses did, after he caught me teasing another intern about being the “copy b*tch” that day. I didn’t mean anything by it – and grew up blue collar, where that sort of thing was pretty common – nor did I mind doing it when it was assigned to me the next day. Though it probably helped it was only for an hour or so.

      However, message received, and I learned about an office environment. I appreciated it, even at the time.

      Similarly, the guy who had to be told not to bring in a box full of baby bunnies also learned about office environments, but that was a significantly different message.

          1. Jacey*

            Or if I’m in your office: BOTH! I will be cooing over the buns through the major allergy attack.

      1. Pickles*

        Weirdly, it took nearly a week for everyone to realize why the kid was carting a giant cardboard box in and out of the building. The bunnies were indeed cute, but I’ve no idea what happened to them.

        1. Very Social*

          He was bringing them in and out for a week?! Without the mama bunny? I hope he was trained in wildlife rescue…

    2. ShanShan*

      I think that part of the problem is that those are the kinds of jobs parents try to threaten their kids with to get them to work hard in school: like, “study hard or you’re going to wind up answering phones/washing dishes/making copies/whatever for a living.”

      Like every part of the pressure-kids-to-build-their-whole-lives-around-getting-into-the-right-college culture, it is both misguided and very toxic.

  5. SimonTheGreyWarden*

    I remember at my very first job I was given this kind of what felt like “make work” and at the time I felt like I could do so much more. Luckily I kept that to myself, and in time, I was doing so much more. However, the countless hours of data entry, inventorying supplies, etc were foundational in helping me with what I do now in a more specialized area.

    1. Fran Fine*

      My doing that kind of stuff so well as an office assistant is what led to my first promotion ever after only a month in the role post college graduation, so I will never regret doing admin tasks (all of my jobs in college were administrative in nature so I got to be really good at it).

      1. Liz*

        Not as an admin, but a temp paralegal, same thing. I did whatever i was given, no matter how boring or tedious it was. after 6 months or so, a permanent position opened up, and they offered it to me. I still remember another temp who had been there twice as long as me or more, who was incensed that I was offered the job, and actually commented it was because I was a different race than she was. Um no, it was because YOU faffed around, and if given something you felt was boring, you’d ask for something ELSE to do!

        1. EmmaPoet*

          I was a volunteer at my library, the manager found out I had a degree and pulled me into her office to get me to apply for a job which I got at least in part because she called HR and told them I had been volunteering there for over a year, always showed up on time or called if I was sick, and happily did whatever they needed me to do, whether that was sorting DVDS or putting security stickers in books. You never know what will get you a job!

    2. Cold Fish*

      I always liked the busy work… data entry, inventory, filing, making copies. I spent several happy hours removing staples, scanning, and creating a searchable spreadsheet for old files during my down time 7-8 years ago. I was very disappointed when I completed the project.

      The phones though (shudder). I hate the phones! I could never be an admin just for that reason. I do everything in my power to avoid the phone in my job now and I get a phone call every 6-8 weeks!

      1. allathian*

        Yup, same. Thanks to Teams, I can’t remember when I got an actual phone call on my work cell phone.

        My first office job after I graduated was an admin position in the back office of a bank. I had recently completed my Master’s degree, and I had a 7 month contract that sadly couldn’t be extended. I got to see how a bank works from the inside, and I really enjoyed it. I also learned that I didn’t want to work as a teller.

    3. lunchtime caller*

      As someone who has supervised interns, they ALL think they can do so much more and unfortunately only some of them are correct about their present capabilities–and it gets very time-consuming to fix the work of the people who were blatantly wrong! The ones who proved their ability to follow directions/retain info/etc on the smaller jobs though were top of the list when it came to assigning the more interesting work, since I knew anything I taught them would actually sink in and benefit us down the line.

    4. londonedit*

      Yep…I started out on the reception desk of a small publishing company, and my job involved opening and distributing the post, making photocopies for people, booking bike couriers, greeting visitors, making tea, answering the phone, all the usual reception/office junior stuff. Was any of that anything to do with my English degree? No. But it’s how I learned about the industry – it was a small company so I got to know what everyone did – and it meant I was sitting at my desk when one of the senior editors came downstairs to have a moan at me about how they’d interviewed 20 people for a new editorial assistant position and hadn’t found anyone they really liked. Which meant I could ask whether I might be able to throw my hat into the ring. I printed off a copy of my CV, went straight upstairs for an interview, and got the job that day. And all those office skills – wrangling photocopiers, managing databases, answering phones and dealing with difficult people, being willing to help out with whatever needed doing – have really served me well over the rest of my career so far.

  6. Insert Clever Name Here*

    My first job out of college, my coworkers were preparing for an audit. I was tasked with making copies of the contract files involved in the audit and ho boy, did it require a lot of attention to detail. It also got me VERY familiar with what the contract structure was and what items I could expect to see in which tabs (these were 6 tab file folders) which, surprise, was helpful information when I was finally able to start building contracts myself.

    1. Enough*

      I’m sure there was more than this to these internships but people tend to focus on the ‘bad’ parts. But if they showed this attitude it is possible that they weren’t given more as they showed they didn’t have the maturity necessary.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        I saw that exact thing once – intern came in acting like she was the cat’s meow and too important to do make-work like copies and inventory. Guess what she was told to go do for the two weeks she lasted at the placement (the placement called the school and asked them to get her a new placement – as she was going to FAIL her graded internship). Heard through the grapevine that she failed the new placement as well, because she wouldn’t do the tasks she was assigned…..

        (And her inventory skills were horrid – I had to go behind and redo her inventory, I’m really not sure what she was doing for the three days she spent on it, but I got it done in an afternoon; and had very different numbers as well.)

    2. CeeKee*

      Yes, this is so true–doing this kind of support work is often a great way to learn about the work you want to be doing. It also often offers the best opportunities to be a fly on the wall–if you’re mid-level, you’re often completely shut out of high level meetings. But if you’re entry-level/support staff, you often get a peek into those meetings just because of the support work you’re doing, whether it’s distributing documents or refreshing the sugar packets, and you can pick up some valuable insights just from those bits of time you spend “in the room.”

      1. smirkpretty*

        Oh so true! I was asked to be an executive assistant to a high-level search in my organization. Mostly I arranged meetings, took notes, managed communications. But it was amazing to be able to sit in on the conversations among the members of the search committee and learn about the politics and the values that were influencing the process. A lot of the mid-level folks around me were dying to know the confidential things I knew! I’ve stayed at that organization and moved up the ranks, and I credit being a part of that process for my ability to navigate personalities and politics across organizational levels.

      2. LizM*

        Yup. We use coordination and support of our leadership team meetings as a development opportunity for our more junior staff. It’s a lot of grunt work – making copies of agendas, arranging meeting details, note taking at the planning meetings and the meetings themselves, getting there early to make sure the coffee is ready – but they get a chance to interface with our senior leadership during the planning, and sit in on the meetings where high level decisions are made.

      3. LPUK*

        In one of my previous companies, the job of taking minutes in the Board meetings was always given to an up and coming manager with the idea that they would be exposed to senior directors ( good for profile points) and exposed to broader and more strategic discussions ( not sure I agreed with that one – not from the ones I attended lol). One time when the women would fight for that opportunity!

    3. NotAnotherManager!*

      This is how a lot of our low-level work is – yes, you’re making copies or PDF binders or something, but you’re getting a preview of the materials and an opportunity (if you take it) to see how the larger pieces fit together and to work with experienced people who can show you how to do the more important things.

      I hire fresh-out-of-college folks, and I tell them at the interview that the job is not always glamorous and they’ll make a lot of copies, delivery/pickup of work materials (in the before times), binder-making, etc. And, if they do not learn to do those well, with good attention to detail, and without grumbling, they’re unlikely to be trusted with higher-level projects because. A former colleague of mine called those “trust projects” because you use them to establish trust with your supervisors.

    4. Shirley Keeldar*

      I’m actually having some fond memories of the time I spent organizing and cleaning out files at my first job…if a file seemed particularly interesting, I’d take it back to my desk and look through it over lunch. I read a lot of well-written letters and learned a lot about how projects came together and how decisions were made.

  7. Anna Badger*

    I’m quite surprised at this answer – I’m in the UK so internship culture may well be different here, but everywhere I’ve worked we’ve given interns a combination of administrative duties AND substantive projects. Internal comms interns draft comms. Partnerships interns do research for proposals. If a younger cousin or friend told me their internship was purely photocopying and cleaning closets I would raise an eyebrow at the organisation they were interning at.

    1. MsM*

      Yeah, I agree that any dismissiveness toward the importance of administrative work should be shut down. But if what John and Jane are (perhaps inartfully) trying to say is that there were no opportunities to prove themselves or get feedback on skills other than copying, despite the internships having been pitched to them as more than just getting to be in a cool working environment, I wouldn’t necessarily be so quick to respond with “what did you expect?”

    2. sentientwheatgrass*

      I’m not reading this as their internships were *only* admin work, more that they were shocked it was *a* component of their internships at all. I’d say normally it’s a combination in the US, but generally the more prestigious the organization the more admin work you’ll do at least at first. There’s less low-stakes work available so the onboarding/prove yourself part is longer.

    3. Fran Fine*

      There are companies and organizations in the U.S. that do the same for their interns. I did a marketing communications co-op in college for a major city’s Convention & Visitor’s Bureau where I did administrative work and wrote media alerts and updated the content in some of our restaurant reviews. I also occasionally wrote press releases and did the research for major minority-focused initiatives the CVB was trying to get off the ground. But I was also extremely negative about the admin tasks then (I was dealing with some mental health issues that were exacerbated by boredom at the time), and after awhile, they took the “fun” stuff from me because I wasn’t pulling my weight on the admin tasks – and rightfully so.

      I suspect the ones complaining in OP’s office were bringing that negative energy to their respective offices every day and that’s why they got nothing more to do than filing papers and cleaning out closets. They didn’t show their employers they could be trusted to do more.

      1. Read and Find Out*

        Internships for academic credit at American universities actually tend to require that interns don’t do entirely admin work. Some, yes, but substantial projects are a necessity or its not considered an academic internship. We don’t know if John and Jane were doing their internship for credit, but if they were, that may be part of the reason they have this attitude–they would have been explicitly told that shouldn’t be what their internship consisted of. That doesn’t excuse their attitude toward the work, of course–I just wanted to echo the idea that some kinds of internships are expressly supposed to have a strong substantial component.

        1. ThisIsTheHill*

          Yeah, my internship for college credit (12 credits for the job, 3 for my research paper) was supposed to be substantive. It wasn’t, really, but I saw it as a foot in the door & a way to learn how to work in an office. I did a bunch of admin work for a state senator, so I essentially wrote my paper on a particular bill that he sponsored. Even though I wasn’t a legislative aide, I was allowed to sit in on each step of the process so I felt I could justify all of the less glamourous but absolutely essential work that I did. I wouldn’t have lasted long if I’d had the interns’ mindset; managed to spin the experience into my first salaried job(s).

          Still kills me that I paid a semester’s tuition for an unpaid position.

        2. Rock Prof*

          I was going to come in and say the same thing. If my university find out an internship was JUST making copies, that organization works no longer be able to partner with the university for credit. However, making copies could certainly be a part of it.

        3. CatCat*

          Yeah, I was in an internship program in DC through my west coast university. One of my classmates was doing only things like making copies and getting coffees at his internship. The program pulled him from the internship after a few weeks and helped him secure a placement that would provide substantive work. (He definitely did not view himself ABOVE making copies and getting coffee, but he sure as heck wasn’t shelling out thousands of educational dollars to do ONLY that.)

        4. Fran Fine*

          Internships for academic credit at American universities actually tend to require that interns don’t do entirely admin work.

          I’m aware that that’s true for a lot of universities, but it’s not true for all (it certainly wasn’t at my university) and it’s not necessarily true for unpaid, academic internships at government and nonprofit organizations. The OP’s new hires worked for government offices, so the rules were probably different for them.

          1. Loulou*

            I would guess that if anything, government offices are stricter about what kind of tasks can be assigned to interns (like not having them perform tasks that would otherwise be performed by paid/union employees)

            1. Becks*

              Not really. In my experience, there aren’t really any restrictions on what interns can do within reason. Most government offices are so starved for staff that any additional help is welcome. Someone might complain to the union if they were being sidelined in favor of an intern or if they had key job duties involuntarily handed over to an intern, but that’s more a problem with civil service management than specific tasks that interns aren’t allowed to do.

            2. beautifulgarbageangel*

              I work for one and I don’t think that’s the case. We don’t have interns right now, and I think most of the current employees have masters degrees, several of us having graduated last year, but there’s plenty of work to go around that A) has to do with our office’s mission, and B) isn’t too complex for a college-aged intern to handle. Lots of digitizing written or scanned documents, evaluating grant applications against a specific criteria, and basic research assignments that don’t involve a lot of expertise on the topic and are more about collecting and organizing a lot of quantitative info. And this may be partly because I’m working on a new program, but as it is now, a lot of it gets assigned based on who has time/volunteers to do it, rather than who’s specifically hired to do it. Like, last month an opportunity came up to get extra funding for our program and the program lead randomly picked two of us to spend the day putting together information on state-level policy in our area of operation.
              Now, I don’t necessarily think a college kid who hadn’t worked on a similar program before would understand the nuances of why programs are designed the way they are, probably wouldn’t be as good at written communication with other federal or state-level offices, and wouldn’t be quite as good as finding really obscure information on government websites (all of which are skills I honed in grad school), but plenty of them would do a fine job on a lot of the day-to-day tasks, and there are more than enough of those to go around.

        5. lemon*

          This. Plus if you’re doing an academic internship, you’re paying tuition to work for free. I’d be mad as hell if the *only* work I was given was cleaning closets.

          1. beautifulgarbageangel*

            I had a few STEM internships in college and they were pretty much 100% substantive work. Not always thrilling, but not cleaning closets either. I think it’s personally reasonable for an intern to do some housekeeping, low-level administrative stuff that more senior employees don’t want to spend time on, but internships are supposed to be at least somewhat educational, right? Otherwise the position wouldn’t be called “intern”, it would be called “administrative assistant”, and the company would have to pay them/provide benefits as they would for an employee.

            I’m kind of surprised at how many people seem to think interns should be happy to make copies all day. If I got an internship at the State Department and wasn’t given any policy-related tasks all summer, I’d be disappointed too. I mean, if copies need to be made, by all means have the intern do it, but make sure they’re also getting a good experience and learning about the field. And if you have so many copies that need to be made that there’s not time for an intern to work on any policy-related stuff, hire another administrative assistant.

      2. Cassie*

        Totally agree with your 2nd paragraph! If the interns were lackadaisical with their assigned tasks (which I imagine they probably were, given their frustrations), why would anyone give them more substantial work?

        1. Lexi Lynn*

          Exactly. I worked for a major chain of gas stations and apparently they were legally required to keep a easily accessible copy of every job application for the gas stations (paper applications at the time). So once a year one office put all the applications in alphabetical order then sent them to my office to put in storage boxes. Everyone in the office helped because you had to create a file folder with the name and ssn, label the folder (folder 4 box 300), create an inventory for each box and not mess up. It was boring.

          We had interns and their boss got them set up and told them to ask me if they had any questions (they didn’t). At the end of the day, they brought me their 4 boxes (3 interns, a box took maybe 30 minutes to do). I took a look and they had written everything in pencil because no one told them to use pen and apparently legally mandated files didn’t give them a hint. They were very unhappy when I told them to redo everything.

          A couple of weeks later, I had a project that would have been a good learning opportunity for them, but no one on my team had any interest in working with these interns.

    4. Nia*

      I’m in the US and I’m just as surprised at the answer. I don’t know anyone whose internship involved doing unrelated admin work at all.

      1. GreenDoor*

        This could be another thing OP might suggest to interns – that if they intend to pursue additional internships they should ask questions in the interview about what specific tasks AND specific projects they’d be assigned. Perhaps this isn’t somehting that occurs to young people when they go to interviews? I worked an internship that was great – I had defined responsibilities, a solid routine, networking was built in, etc. But I was a middle manager at a place where internship = someone to do grunt work and nothing more. Maybe the interns at OP’s place were under the impression their job would involve a lot of interesting projects when the OP’s company actually meant for it to be about doing support tasks.

      2. Antilles*

        It’s not always admin work, it can be any generic “necessary but low-skill task” depending on the industry.
        Maybe it’s cleaning laboratory glassware. Maybe it’s reviewing the hard-copy files to make sure we’re not missing any required paperwork. Maybe it’s doing a full inventory of the equipment. Maybe it’s driving the company truck for an oil change and sitting in the lobby of the mechanic’s office.
        It varies by what your industry needs, but many (most?) internships usually involve at least a couple tasks along these lines.

        1. Antilles*

          Also, just to clarify, I don’t mean to say that all admin work is low skill – there’s a lot of stuff my admin does that is super skilled and I couldn’t handle as effectively or precisely. But in my experience, the kind of admin work that gets passed down to interns usually falls more on the “print a few documents and file them” side of things.

      3. I'm just here for the cats*

        Yes. I wonder if there’s more to the story or if this is all the OP hears. I think something that the OP could say next time this happens is to ask more about their internship.

        Jane: “I had to make copies and clean the closet at my internship. Can you believe that?”
        OP “Well some admin work is expected in internships, but that couldn’t have been all that you did?”

        It Jane starts saying talking about projects she worked on then maybe the OP can address how those types of comments can make it sound like they are looking down at admins. On the other hand if Jane starts to talk about how she only got coffee and sorted the mail, etc, without any real value, then OP can address that’s disappointing.

        either way the OP should address how their comments sound like they are dismissive of admin work. And I would be carefully watching how they treat those admins.

    5. UKDancer*

      I’m also in the UK and I agree. It’s always been a mixture of different things in internships. So we had an intern this summer and we had her do some substantive work (write a paper collating evidence on teapot safety standards collating some data and then present it to the bosses) but we also had her organise and update the electronic filing system to deal with the backlog we’d established.

      When I was a law student I did work experience in a couple of law firms over the summers. I spent quite a bit of time tidying up the filing cabinets and indexing files. I also got to go to court and shadow my sponsor when they were doing some interesting things. I also remember writing a merits assessment for a particular case. So it was something of a mixture of dull and interesting.

      I’d expect internships to be a mixture of drudgery and interesting stuff.

      1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        Isn’t the definition of all jobs a “mixture of drudgery and interesting stuff”? If an internship gave someone that experience, it seems like it succeeded at its primary mission: to give real world work experience

    6. Snark*

      Ideally, yes, absolutely. Interns should get to contribute substantively. But there’s also a certain amount of scut work that the person with the least-costly time in the office needs to do. Making copies for a meeting isn’t glory, but there’s some hints there on how to run and prepare for a meeting if you care to look.

      1. Chris*

        Exactly. I think it is most common that interns and new grads do get to do substantive work, but must also do some of the admin stuff. I mean, on some level almost every job I’ve ever had included some admin component even now at director level there are things I have to do for myself and I chip in on admin duties as needed. So if someone is publicly complaining about a portion of their job in the way described here, it doesn’t often go over well.

      2. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        Exactly. We had an intern who organized meetings as part of their job. It wasn’t a substantive project, but it did give them insight into what the department did, what a fatality review was, how to run a statutorily mandated meeting using public record protocols, how to manage distributing and retrieving confidential materials for these meetings, managing a meeting where every, freaking member is the high muckety-muck of their organization, etc.. The tasks (copies, scheduling, taking minutes, herding cats) they managed were “scut” work, but that “scut” made the whole damned meeting work, which meant that their whole damned internship project worked and they had substantial relevant, work experience.

      3. LPUK*

        Plus its surprising what you can find left behind on a copier or printer… (Scanning plate was always good for interesting/confidential info! Not that I ever did anything with it of course, but it did give me a window into some of the more arcane parts of the company)

    7. Daisy-dog*

      My take is that it was a combination and they expected it to be only substantive projects.

      I know I’ve always been jealous of interns at some of my workplaces. One employer had all the interns get Six Sigma certified. They were the first ones in the company to get that program, so they were the guinea pigs for the particular program that we were implementing and their manager could identify any issues with the system. Even though I know why it happened, I’m still upset that it was an opportunity that *never* was going to be offered to me at the level that I was at.

    8. Charlotte*

      Yes–and I wouldn’t be surprised if “local house of reps” type internships were unpaid/for college credit only. So if you’re doing something for college credit, to learn something, and then you end up exclusively making copies, it’s understandably frustrating that you didn’t end up learning much of substance!
      Like, my brother had to do an internship as part of his engineering degree, and I imagine he would not have been happy if he hadn’t done any actual engineering to gain skills for his future career.

      Also–I’m an admin. It’s not useless by any means or necessarily easy work, but it is low-skill work. That doesn’t make it less important, of course, but so often the “oooh respect admins and their hard hard jobs that they are so so good at” is weirdly patronizing to me.

      1. GreenDoor*

        Disagree slightly with Charlotte. I think being an Admin Assistant, like being an intern, can be a mixed bag depending on where you work. Admins at my work do the routine “low skill” stuff – answering phones, filing, making copies. But they also assist with tasks that take skill – writing scripts, preparing reports, some graphic design work, event planning. (Yes, their compensation factors this in). So, it actually CAN be insulting to suggest that all admins do low-skill work.

        1. Fran Fine*

          Agreed. Every admin I know had to do things like schedule and manage multiple higher ups calendars (and that’s not easy by any means, so your organization skills have to be on point), arrange travel, and keep inventory and manage the budget for said inventory (so needed to be good with spreadsheets and sometimes math if the spreadsheets didn’t work correctly). Nothing about that is low-skill work.

          1. LilPinkSock*

            Thank you. I do all of those things in my admin role, plus a good amount of recruiting, onboarding, and training. I’m disappointed to know that people here consider me low-skill labor.

    9. Janet Snakehole*

      I agree (and I’m in the US). Internships shouldn’t be a way to get cheap labor for administrative duties, although I think lots of organizations use them that way.

      1. Two Chairs, One to Go*

        Agree. I would be annoyed if I thought I signed up for one thing and ended up only making copies. Not sure if that is actually the case or if these 2 new grads are just complaining a lot.

      2. Alice Aleks*

        Yes! I work for a government agency and it would be considered extremely inappropriate to have our students be the one making coffee and photocopies for the office. We have full-time well-compensated staff who do those tasks. The goal of student hiring programs should be for them to learn and gain job experience, not for the organization to procure temporary low-paid labour.

    10. Hoppintoit*

      I’m in the US, and I agree. It’s my understanding that there was a court decision in California not too long ago that interns shouldn’t be doing work that would otherwise be a paid position. In my mind, this means the work should be geared towards a learning objective. This isn’t denigrating admin work, but rather saying that it should be a paid position unless it’s specifically contributing to a learning goal. From what I understand of the court case, interns aren’t meant to be free labor where you pick up things by osmosis – in fact the labor commission specifically says the employer should receive no immediate advantage from the internship. It’s an investment by the company into a future labor source.

      1. AD*

        This is a stretch. California does not have separate law regarding this but they do have some guidelines added to what the US Department of Labor outlined regarding interns from 2018. These guidelines were implemented to prevent companies (particularly, film production companies) from basically hiring young people to work for free, and to ensure consistent training was built into internships.

        Those guidelines were not issued, however, to prevent interns from ever doing junior or administrative tasks as part of their duties.

    11. Stitch*

      Making copies is ine thing, but attacking the supply closet? I don’t think that’s right either.

      I’m US and have had internships and some clerical work is expected but a lot of it was pure learning stuff.

    12. IEanon*

      I don’t think the culture is that different, other than that US employers tend to take more advantage of the internship system than I think occurs overseas. I helped place students in internships both in the US and abroad (mostly in the UK), and if I found out that an employer was only giving students the opportunity to file paperwork or clean the supply closet, I wouldn’t continue placements there.

      I’m skeptical that that’s all they did, as I’m familiar with State Department internships and they were never that basic, but still.

      Internships benefit the intern, not the organization. If your intern is cleaning out supply closets and not learning anything specific to their field, that org is just getting free labor. That labor is valuable, and they shouldn’t demean employees doing “menial” tasks, but those tasks are not strictly what an internship is about.

    13. Mme. Briet’s Antelope*

      I’m in the US and I’m so glad I wasn’t the only one who had this thought – alot of companies have recently been getting in hot water for treating interns as admin staff, because in reality, internships are supposed to be a teaching experience as much as anything else. Places like the State Department and state houses tend to attract the best and brightest, too, people who really want to go into those fields, so if administrative tasks were a substantial portion of the internship *and that wasn’t made clear in advance*, yeah, I can see why they would be shocked.

      1. Calliope*

        I did an internship at the state department about a million years ago and I remember they worked very hard to give us substantive work. Obviously we weren’t negotiating trade deals but things like research, substantive memos, etc.

        I also wonder how often these new employees are talking about their former internship. If it’s a one off overheard conversation, definitely a let it go situation.

    14. KayDeeAye*

      I have a fairly wide but shallow experience with interns/internships here in the U.S., and I would say that most are a combination of boring-but-crucial tasks with the addition of some substantive tasks. Certainly the interns at my current employers almost always get to do at least some of the fun stuff.

      It’s hard to tell from the letter, but odds are fairly good that John and Jane got to do some fun stuff, too – though perhaps not, since they both interned in government jobs. But I think most interns in the U.S. do.

      I’ve never heard of making an intern clean out a closet, though. That’s a new one on me.

      1. Susan Ivanova*

        Twice I’ve had to deal with the results of assigning a crucial software task to an intern. Both times, by the time we discovered the edge-case design flaws (where it works 99% of the time but that 1% is unfixable yet vitally important), it was already too deeply embedded and late in the schedule to start over.

        Software interns should get the nice-to-have, self contained projects. If it’s usable, fantastic. If it’s a good idea but flawed execution, we can write a new improved version later.

    15. I'm just here for the cats*

      I was thinking the same thing. I’m in the States and I had an internship that I got university credit for (but was not a requirement for graduation). There were strict requirements including the director of the internship program coming to the office and meeting with my supervisors and me showing her what I was working on. They wanted to make sure students were getting a quality experience and not just fetching coffee for folx.

      Yes, I did do some admin type of stuff such as setting up folders for a board meeting but I also did some specific things related to my major (English- writing emphasis) such as press releases, news articles, etc.

      I wonder if these new grads are trying to say that they didn’t get the type of experience they were expecting at those workplaces.

    16. AD*

      This slew of comments/responses doesn’t seem particularly helpful or relevant to the letter. Intern job duties can vary widely by field and company and a host of other factors, and this would be the case in either the US or the UK (this isn’t a regional thing, I’ve worked in both countries).

      There are absolutely intern roles where more junior or administrative tasks would be expected and appropriate. Can we ease up on questioning the OP and Alison’s (excellent) advice?

      1. AD*

        And for what it’s worth, the letter and Alison’s response do not imply that all intern work is “purely photocopying and cleaning closets” and I don’t see the benefit of putting words in their mouths. Thank you.

      2. Loulou*

        I really don’t see how this thread is “questioning” either OP or Alison? There’s a comment section, people are sharing their own perspective and experiences on internship duties which I find perfectly appropriate for this site.

      3. KayDeeAye*

        Speaking only for myself, I wasn’t questioning Alison’s advice at all nor was I second-guessing the OP. I agree with everything Alison said and I definitely agree that the OP’s coworkers might benefit from some tutoring in the facts of working life. :-)

        All I was doing was attempting to answer a question raised by Anna Badger and other UK commenters about whether intern practices vary that much between the U.S. and the U.K., and what I’m basically saying is, no, I don’t think they do – at least, it doesn’t sound as though they do to me. No doubt they vary according to the industry or the individual company.

        1. AD*

          Fair enough! My experience is that internships can look very different, depending on many factors, whether in the US or in the UK. Labor laws vary widely by country, of course, but when it comes to internships, there is definitely a range of different types and it’s not primarily a regional thing.

          The most common type of internship is often a range of junior-level tasks and some training and learning opportunities — neither the OP or Alison said internships are or should be “purely photocopying and cleaning closets” which is why I pushed back at Anna. I don’t like putting words in peoples mouths.

          1. EchoGirl*

            Where did Anna say that Alison or OP said “internships are or should be “purely photocopying and cleaning closets””, though? I didn’t remotely see that in the comment.

    17. Kinsey*

      Yeah…in my field, we’re not allowed to give clerical work to interns. The intern experience is meant to build usable skill and preparedness for the actual job by providing a supervised realistic caseload with job duties that they will be doing on their own after their internship. If my interns went to their post-internship job and had only made copies and stocked supply closets during their internship, they wouldn’t be able to make it, and my reputation would be trashed.

    18. Yarp*

      I would have like to be part of an internship program, but when I was studying engineering about 20 years ago, it just wasn’t a thing where I live. You spend 4 years learning theory that you will never use, and then you’re on your own. Some of the other students were able to get jobs during that time, but only because they had contacts there. No company I talked to were willing to take on someone without a degree. I even offered to work for free.

      My current company had some interns a few years ago, but nobody knew what to do with them. They were there, but they didn’t have much to do. Our work is quite specialized, and you need expensive licenses for any of the software that we use. They were “just” interns, so there wasn’t much they were even allowed to do.

    19. Yarp*

      I would have like to be part of an internship program, but when I was studying engineering about 20 years ago, it just wasn’t a thing where I live. You spend 4 years learning theory that you will never use, and then you’re on your own. Some of the other students were able to get jobs during that time, but only because they had contacts there. No company I talked to were willing to take on someone without a degree. I even offered to work for free.

      My current company had some interns a few years ago, but nobody knew what to do with them. They were there, but they didn’t have much to do. Our work is quite specialized, and you need expensive licenses for any of the software that we use. They were “just” interns, so there wasn’t much they were even allowed to do.

  8. animaniactoo*

    Rule #1 that I learned in the world of work – never EVER act like or believe that the scut work is beneath you. It’s gotta be done by somebody and on average you will get far FAR more respect from your colleagues for being willing to do it when it needs to be done. Just for not being the jerk who won’t help when help is needed. Or won’t progress and get a project done because you’re busy sitting around waiting for somebody else to get the scut work done.

    1. kiki*

      One thing I would add is that you should keep track of the amount of scut work you’re doing and be mindful of how much of your day it’s taking up. If you’re *always* the person who just jumps in and does the scut work and other people at your level aren’t taking on as much, sometimes that takes away from time you’re spending on other work that’s more likely to get you promoted. I think women (including myself) often need reminders about this risk of scut work. Even if everyone really appreciates it, a perfect supply closet doesn’t usually justify a promotion.

      1. Ginger Dynamo*

        Definitely good to keep track of this. Also, how often are coworkers expecting you to do the cleanup as opposed to making the same requests to your peers in the same role, if you have them. I used to get automatically asked to clean up after my peer who would leave messes in the shared workspace, as if I were responsible for them. Sometimes I would still clean the mess, but I would always make sure to correct the record and make it clear that, in future, they should ask my coworker to clean up after himself

    2. Slow Gin Lizz*

      Yes! It’s right up there with being able to see someone’s character not by how they treat their superiors but how they treat those who are lower in the hierarchy than they are.

      1. wendelenn*

        Why hello Sirius Black (Who in his treatment of Kreacher actually did not practice what he preached.)

      2. Acronyms Are Life (AAL)*

        Yes! I have a position where bosses do rotations through the position (approx 3 years and then they move to the next rotation). I judge how my bosses are going to be by how they handle admin.

        In fact at this point I judge everyone by how they handle the admin work. In my world view, if you’re too ‘important’ to shred a document then you’re going to be a jerk and I’m going to do what I can to not have to deal directly with you. I’m talking about those people who make it known, like they legitimately tell people that they are just SO BUSY and SO IMPORTANT and TOO AWESOME in all aspects of life to actually OMG have time to do shredding. You all have met that person at least once and yes, it is in all caps because these people feel the need to loudly announce their importance.

        1. Slow Gin Lizz*

          OMG, right? I love my new job so much, partly because the CEO is not afraid to do his own grunt work. We on the admin team have been doing “tips and tricks” for different tech stuff that our team does all the time but might be helpful to other teams to know how to do, and next week *the CEO* will be doing a tips and tricks on how to use a specific integration app! Sure, we’re a small org (~15 ppl) so people here have to be pretty self-sufficient in a lot of ways, but I just think it’s fantastic that the CEO isn’t afraid to learn how to use tech and is even going to teach some of us how to use it as well.

          I suspect he’d be ok with doing his own shredding too, but we all work remotely so I can’t say I’ve witnessed him doing so.

    3. The Prettiest Curse*

      As a former admin, I would advise anyone new to the world of work to be extremely polite to admin staff. Respect that the work admins do may not look difficult to you, but it can in fact be extremely challenging. (Having a flashback here to a previous job, which involved trying to print hundreds- sometimes thousands – of pages of handouts on a touchy colour printer using different types of paper, keeping them all organized and compiling them into packets.)
      The work that support staff do is vital. And yes, in any entry-level job, you will have those “I got a degree for THIS?” moments, but unfortunately that’s the nature of office work.

      1. Selina Luna*

        In any school, being nice to the admin can also get you perks. Someone asked me how I was able to get orange paper for a Halloween writing activity. I asked one of the administrative staff if there was any orange paper-and I used please, and thank you. I did all this on top of a generally friendly attitude.

        1. Loulou*

          Yes, saying “can I please have X?” is a good way to get X in any setting! I see where you’re coming from, but this isn’t a secret admin-whispering thing. The “secret tip: be nice to the admin” thing comes off as a little condescending to me sometimes.

        2. Annie Moose*

          That’s not being nice, that’s normal human behavior. I understand that this is in contrast to coworkers who may not have even been clearing this extremely low bar, but this is just how you should always act, to everybody.

    4. Egyptmarge*

      Corollary to rule #1 is always befriend the admins and security guards where you work. At some point, you WILL need a favor from one of these folks.

      1. LilPinkSock*

        Befriend the admins and security and facilities staff because we’re (mostly) good people—not just because we can do stuff for you :-)

        1. EmmaPoet*

          This. Don’t see it as an exchange where they owe you something for treating them nicely. Treat them nicely because they are your coworkers.

    5. LizM*

      I agree, to an extent. Given how gendered the distribution of certain work is, I do think it’s worth keeping track of how often you’re doing it compared to others in your office and whether you’re really the right person to do it. It’s not about being “above” certain work, but an analyst isn’t going to get promoted to senior analyst if she’s spending her time cleaning up after the party while her male colleagues are using that time to develop projects.

    6. Karia*

      But what if you *always* get the scut work, and it’s very obvious that you’re getting it due to your gender / sexuality / race. Because that happens a lot.

      1. Free Meerkats*

        That’s when you hike up your big person undergarment and say something. Not necessarily in a combative manner, but say what it is and that you’re not there to do it every time.

        1. Tinker*

          When I was in that situation, I tried that at various points and the result seemed to be that I went from being perceived as not capable of higher level work to being incapable of higher level work and also entitled and lacking judgment in that I was asking for work I hadn’t ‘earned’.

          Ultimately the only solution I found was leaving that employer, which is something I should have done much sooner because I didn’t entirely avoid internalizing that narrative and it is now causing me an entire hecking hassle to unpack.

          On a collective level, the main responsibility for solving this problem needs to be on the people who have power and leverage TO solve it, not primarily on the people whose problem specifically is exclusion FROM that leverage.

          Yes, that means that senior people — I include myself in this — should be doing pretty much the opposite of teaching junior people the ‘work norms’ that whatever shit they receive is actually a pony for which they are ungrateful.

          1. Slow Gin Lizz*

            Yes, this^! There was a thread about this in the recent post about the person who’d been asked to leave the appreciation lunch because they weren’t eating something. People who have the power to make positive change should do so! But alas, it is difficult and not every person in power desires to help others.

      2. BeenThere*

        …and the white dude that started at the same time as you is being fast tracked to management

  9. peanut*

    I mean…is this stuff that’s part of their jobs? Certainly it’s important to tell them that admin work isn’t in any way demeaning, but is it possible that they’re just happy to be in jobs now that they feel is more in line with their skills? Again, definitely let them know that they can’t talk about admin tasks like that, but there’s a chance this is a big case of projection on the LW’s part and these people are just making small talk about their past.

    1. CeeKee*

      Even if making copies isn’t in their job description, though, you often have to do that kind of work at least for yourself until you’re advanced enough to hire someone to do it for you. I think some entry-level staff come into jobs assuming there’s going to be a staff admin or coordinator who does that sort of work for the whole team, and sometimes there’s just…not.

      1. fhqwhgads*

        Hell, I’m 15 years into my career and literally every job I’ve had, unless you’re the CEO, you do your own copying. I know the whole copying thing is an example in the letter and not the real crux of it but I’m like…why wouldn’t you make copies.

    2. Mme. Briet’s Antelope*

      Yeah, this letter read as weirdly… vent-y to me, like LW just doesn’t like John and Jane and came up with the question after the fact.

      1. peanut*

        in addition, OP is like, at max 5 years older than them, so it’s very weird that they’re trying to paint themselves as some kind of workplace expert while these new hires (who DO have workplace experience, as interns!) are completely fresh and naive

        1. Kinsey*

          Let’s say they’re in K-12 teaching. That’s possibly six years of full time teaching experience and, depending on the state, conversion to an accomplished professional license. It’s a big difference and would be insulting to say that a 6th year teacher has marginally more experience than a first year newbie who is still talking about internship. I’m having trouble thinking of an industry where 5-6 years of full time experience is near equivalent to an internship.

        2. Simply the best*

          Do you think there’s no difference in experience between an intern fresh out of med school and a doctor in the fifth year of their residency?

    3. Minerva*

      Yeah, I work with new grad and intern engineers – it’s not a thing to give them more than minimal admin stuff, generally we want them doing specific engineering tasks, not just supporting engineers. I make my own copies or a dedicated admin does it, new grads only help me if they’re working on what I need the copies for with me.

      I don’t think making copies for someone is beneath them, but it’s not a good use of their time, and doesn’t develop them as engineers.

    4. A Wall*

      Especially given that those were internships, I would not begrudge them feeling like they were not actually getting as much out of it if they were mostly covering scut work and not seeing things that helped them learn about the field as much as they’d hoped for. Folks keep saying “at my first job…” but crucially, an internship is not a job, and the ratio of training to work is not the same.

      Everyone here is arguing that scut work is important and everyone has to do it at some points, and yeah that’s true, but let’s not pretend that a lot of people use interns to cover a lot more scut and a lot less training than is really ideal. An intern hoping to get more training and valuable learning experiences over the scut work is in fact correctly assessing what their place is supposed to be and what they should be getting out of it, it’s not the same as acting like you think you’re too good to make a copy and it’s not the same as your entry-level folks coming in and demanding only advanced work.

  10. Eleanor Rigby*

    I agree with the response here but, for what it’s worth, at my org we’re encouraged to give interns learning opportunities, too — like, they may have to make copies for a meeting, but then they also get to sit in on the meeting to see how it’s run. So if they’re *just* doing low level administrative work (I know OP’s letter didn’t indicate that this is the case), they may be learning about office norms but aren’t necessarily learning about what a future career at the org could be like, and I could see how that would be frustrating.

    1. Daffodilly*

      YES, this was my thoughts exactly. I had to do an internship in my undergrad, and I was treated like an unpaid janitor. I wouldn’t mind some cleaning, but I was told to scrub the bathrooms daily, make coffee, wipe down the conference room, even make a dentist appointment for the grandboss. Not once did I get to do *anything* related to my field. I did not sit in meetings, I did not shadow those doing the work. I did not proof – or even get to read! – any of the reports my department generated, and that was something they specifically said would be in my internship. I didn’t think it was beneath me, and I did the work, but I was frustrated and disappointed I wasn’t learning anything relevant. I kept asking to do things related to the mission and kept being told that cleaning WAS enabling the mission and I should not think I was too good for that. After the first two weeks, I had a meeting with my university advisor for the internship, and she asked me what I was doing and how it was going. I told her what was going on and she reached out to the business. The business confirmed that they “didn’t have much for me to do and were finding tasks to fill my time”
      The internship location ended up getting pulled from the program and I was later placed in another (MUCH better) internship and learned a ton. It delayed my graduation by a semester but the experience at the second internship was well worth it. My mentor there did have me do things like prepare the conference room, make copies, etc. but she also walked me through how she did her work, and the last month had me writing client work with lots of help with structure, check ins, feedback, etc.
      Complaining does not necessarily mean they think they’re above it. It might mean they were subject to a “bait and switch”

    2. Double A*

      It’s not just frustrating, it’s potentially illegal. If interns are unpaid, then they *must* be the primary beneficiary of the internship. If they’re just doing work that would otherwise be done by paid staff and are not getting hands-on experience related to the field, then you’re in real problem territory.

      1. Ginger Dynamo*

        Yep, and if interns get academic credit as compensation, most universities and I believe US federal law requires that there be demonstrably substantive projects for them to work on in addition to the everyday administrative tasks

  11. mli25*

    I have Admin Assistants/Office Managers to be some of the best informed folks in an organization. They know the gossip (though the wise ones don’t freely share it) but also who you need to talk to in order to get something done. They can also be a great resource when your immediate boss is not readily available

  12. Butterfly Counter*

    People don’t realize what a skill some of this stuff actually is.

    We had a teaching assistant a few years ago who couldn’t make copies correctly. A professor would ask her to run off some copies of an article from a book so that students wouldn’t have to do extra purchasing and she would come back with pages where a few words of each sentence were cut off at the end of the page! The stuff that was missing was important not only for the information, but the flow of the reading so that people didn’t have to guess what the word or two was missing from the end of the line. It does not bode well for anyone (or this student in particular) that they take an assignment that shouldn’t be that onerous or detail-oriented, but still mess it up so that all the time put into that work was wasted.

    Personally, I always felt like I was thrown into the deep end of the pool in my jobs. It’d be nice to feel like I’m VERY well qualified to do something for once.

    1. OyHiOh*

      I think we’ve managed to demean “just admin stuff” so much that most of us forget that there are real, valuable, technical skills involved. There’s also a great deal of critical thinking and systems organization, especially when office admin and event planning converge on the same person.

      I have a parent who entered a prestigious US music conservatory straight out of high school. Did well, until they suffered a life altering accident and could no longer play their instrument of choice (piano). Their advisor recommended that my parent change their major to vocal performance “because anyone can sing.” I grew up with the mantra “anyone can sing” in my ears, which devalued the skill and talent both for me and for the parent involved.

      We’ve collectively devalued administrative skill in the same way. “Anyone can do admin” is as false as “anyone can sing.”

      1. LawBee*

        Anyone who says “anyone can sing” needs to come sit in my office and listen to my coworker caterwauling her way through Adele. It is to weep.

      2. OyHiOh*

        To be scrupulously honest about my parent, they were amazingly, remarkably good at teaching young children to sing, including a couple barely verbal speech-delayed youngsters whose parents were absolutely utterly astonished that after a few months of church choir practice, their children could ligit, actually sing. To this day, I do not know how my parent approached methodology with 5 to 8 year old church choir kids, but in that age group, they did wonders.

      3. Eldritch Office Worker*

        My “administrative” job is classified as such because it does not perform the primary business function. But I am operations, HR, IT, and yes also event planning sometimes. It’s such a broad set of jobs to dismiss but people do.

      4. Miss V*

        My dad is a professional musician who spent 30+ years playing in a nationally known symphonic orchestra. He also recorded as a session musician with several you’ve-definitely-heard-if-them famous musicians. He also has a degree to teach music, and what I understand from my friend who took lessons with him, he has quite the talent for it.

        Meanwhile, my brother can kinda-sorta play a couple songs on piano and sight read music. I am utterly and completely tone deaf. I can not carry a tune, my singing voice is warbly and breaks, and the thought of me ever being able to play an instrument is laughable.

        And so many people, upon finding out about my dad, assuming I must be a musician. They’re usually shocked when I tell them I’m not, not even a little, not even as a hobby. Because it takes *talent*. And that talent skipped me.

        Im so, so grateful my parents recognized that music is a talent and a skill, and it wasn’t just a matter of asking me to apply myself more. They recognize the talents I do have, and encouraged those.

    2. The Original K.*

      Yes – this is why I dislike when the default entry-level office job is as an admin, because it requires a particular set of skills that not everyone is good at. It devalues the work. Same with being an assistant – I have an acquaintance who has taken his assistant with him through several jobs (all high-level; he runs a law firm now) over like 25 years because she is *that* good. He’s like, “she keeps threatening to retire and I don’t know what I’ll do.” Not everyone can do that work.

  13. fogharty*

    “I don’t know why she expects me to be outraged that they would assign a 19-year-old the task of making copies rather than overhauling U.S. policy in the Middle East.”

    This is the best line!

    I once supervised a student worker, and the first day I told him that he’d be doing a lot of scanning, filing, etc. work at the beginning, we were backed up and that was why he was brought in in the first place. Mind you, these were tasks I did all the time. He quit the next day saying we didn’t appreciate him and was forcing him to do menial work. I never wonder how he’s doing now.

    1. CoveredinBees*

      Lol. This reminds me of the person who wrote in that he couldn’t find an entry-level job for an “ideas guy” (https://www.askamanager.org/2010/11/no-one-will-hire-me-as-their-visionary.html). While that LW was a more extreme case, I feel like it is pretty common for recent college grads to have an overinflated idea of what they’re going to do right out of school. They’ve just spent a long time immersed in a subject and have learned a lot. That doesn’t mean that other people in that area don’t know the same things or (depending on the subject area) the academic philosophies are useful in the workplace. You get encouraging messages about changing the world and think it’s going to happen right away. The whole experience can be pretty discouraging for those getting a dose of reality.

      1. Autumnheart*

        To be fair, I think there’s a lot of overall “experience gaslighting” in hiring to begin with. When you have experience, you’re told that you’re too expensive and/or your skills aren’t up to date, and that’s why they want a new grad who just learned the latest and greatest, but then when you’re a new grad, you’re told that you need experience that you don’t have.

      2. Candi*

        (Okay, I refuse to believe that letter is that old, but anyway.)

        OP might want to take a look at the letter. The letter can give OP some idea of where the kids are coming from, and the replies can give them more angles to tackle it from.

        But this is a part of “paying your dues” that isn’t and shouldn’t go away. The inexperienced and untried simply don’t get the plum and plushy jobs in a work environment. They have to prove their ability and character, so the company knows they’ll do the work they’re paid for, and do it well.

        Even as a 40+ something, going into a new field I expect that my first months at whatever job I get out of college will involve a lot of grunt work. I’m already selecting bits of my wardrobe with that in mind. (IT jobs usually mean middling business casual around here.)

    2. Shhh*

      On the other hand, there is a lot of space between making copies and overhauling US foreign policy. Without more context on how the internships they had were presented to them versus what the work actually ended up being, it’s hard to know if they were just slightly off base or extremely off base. It sounds like you gave your student worker a good sense of what the job would entail, but that’s not always the case.

      1. fogharty*

        Plus, I think there is a difference between “student worker” and “intern”, at least to my way of thinking. Student workers here are paid, work around their class schedule, and are not necessarily going to be in a department that aligns with their major or future career. Ahhh…. the workers we’ve had.

    3. fueled by coffee*

      I also think that there’s a general trend of overpromising what “internships” and “work experience” are like to college students in particular (on the part of college career offices, not necessarily the internship programs themselves). There’s a lot of promotional material that gets passed around colleges about the exciting projects various interns worked on, or examples of undergrads doing groundbreaking scientific research, and so on.

      Note: I completely agree that interns shouldn’t *only* be making copies and fetching coffee. But like everyone else has said, it’s extremely common for internships to involve some amount of administrative tasks mixed in with small-scale substantive work, like sitting in on meetings or writing up a report for a small project.

      But I think that a lot of college students enter their own internships with unrealistically high expectations and then feel let down or taken advantage of when it turns out that they’re spending their time taking notes at meetings, drafting short memos for low-stakes projects, and spending a fair amount of time filing or photocopying — you know, fairly typical entry-level tasks. But they were told they’d be handling policy in the Middle East! They got a prestigious, competitive internship at the State Department!

      And then they go back to school, and career services is telling everyone about how last summer’s Pentagon intern worked on a project directly with the Secretary of Defense, and they feel bitter about it, because they were stuck making copies while Joey was shaping the future of our country… even though, really, Joey entered some data in Excel that was then sent to someone at the Secretary of Defense’s office, and Joey is bitter because he heard that the State Department intern got to overhaul policy in the Middle East while he was stuck typing things into Excel.

  14. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

    Every job has unglamorous tasks. When the time for documentation arrives I sigh, think what would happen if I didn’t do it and carry on with it, because it’s part of my job.

    1. Fran Fine*

      I’m in a position that many people would consider “glamorous,” and for the last month or so, I’ve been doing nothing but program planning and strategy – it’s soooo dull, lol. I’m a doer, not a planner (naturally), so I have to find ways to push myself every day, but you know what? It’s work that has to be done and be done by me (since I manage the program). I can’t wait until I can get an intern (hopefully this year, fingers crossed) so I can start moving some of this stuff to them and getting back to the design and writing work I actually enjoy, lol.

      1. Eden*

        I don’t understand why we’re casting these interns in a bad light. When I worked summer internships in software engineering I didn’t have anything to do with supplies or copies, and it was because my specific education and skills meant they wanted me doing other things. This is true for all of my school friends.

        “I don’t think I should be doing admin work” is not the same as “I’m better than those doing admin work” or “admin work is worthless”. I thought it would be in keeping with this blog’s ethos that being in an X degree program doesn’t mean you have the necessary skills for admin work because admin skills are real skills.

        1. Minerva*

          Totally agree. I have helped hiring new grad engineers, and some of them would be awful as admins, but they’re great at what we are hiring for. It’s a waste of everyone’s time having them do admin work, unless they’re directly helping someone they are working with.

    1. Kinsey*

      The admins that most people here are adamantly saying are highly skilled, invaluable, and nearly irreplaceable? Either it’s skilled work that takes a skilled worker to master, or it’s “scut” work that lowly 19-year-old interns need to do in order to pay their due. I mean, there is some whiplash in this comment section.

      1. Loulou*

        Thank you! I feel like there’s a lot of cognitive dissonance here and also honestly people projecting their own, perhaps subconscious, ideas about what is or isn’t “demeaning.”

      2. Tali*

        Yes, absolutely! Either admin workers are so invaluable that only they should be trusted with this work, or it’s unskilled work that anyone can do. Are these interns interning for admin positions? Why would you have your engineering interns cleaning bathrooms or making copies for other departments? Wouldn’t you want them doing and learning work related to their future career as an engineer (for example)?

      3. Ginger Dynamo*

        Yep, I’m getting confused by the distinction that is being laid out between admin work and substantive work. Also, drawing the line between the body of work you would hire a dedicated administrative assistant to perform, and the kinds of daily administrative tasks each worker performs on a daily basis. Everyone does some “administrative” work just to function in a workplace and support their own job functions, and it isn’t usually the sole job of an admin to do all that work for everyone in the office, on top of all the other things an admin needs to do to keep the lights on. It’s one thing to give trainees experience with the administrative side of office upkeep, with a focus on how specifically these tasks support the organization’s mission work, and it’s another thing to designate an intern as this summer’s copy fairy and supply closet gremlin with no outside projects.

  15. Lynn*

    I semi disagree. It sounds like this criticism is levelled at former jobs, and is not actively impacting current job or people at current job, so I don’t think it’s OP’s job to intervene until it does.

    Also, I feel like there’s a lot of work in between making copies and overhauling US policy in the Middle East.

    (For the record, making copies is work I did in high school; I did two internships in college, and didn’t make copies or get coffee in either, so I don’t think their expectations were 100% without merit, but this may also vary more on the field)

    1. Can't decide on a name*

      Except that they have admin assistants doing this kind of work, and OP rightfully doesn’t want those workers to feel their contributions aren’t valuable. It really does benefit the entire workforce to clarify the importance of “menial” tasks in the day-to-day success of a company’s operations.

      1. Anonym*

        It benefits the complainers themselves, too, to help them become good colleagues and build strong relationships by respecting the work of those around them.

      2. Loulou*

        Isn’t this sort of like the admin from a few weeks ago who was being asked to deep clean the office? She wasn’t saying she felt cleaning was beneath her, she was saying it was outside of her skillet and should be someone else’s paid job. I don’t see this as terribly different. It’s not demeaning to say a job is not yours!

    2. Leilah*

      If you are demeaning admin work within earshot of admins, or people who care about admins, it *is* actively impacting your current job.

      1. miss chevious*

        THIS. I have a report who made a point in her early days on the job of making several comments in this vein. I quickly corrected her, and she has been an exemplary employee and a good colleague since then, but it took some time for the rest of the team to come around on her after hearing those comments.

        Also, I am at a level where I am lucky enough to have an EA, and if I find out that you have suggested that her work is not valuable or skilled, I will pull you up short. A good EA is *much* more valuable to me and harder to find than a lawyer, let me tell you.

    3. Reluctant Manager*

      Hard disagree. If people who work for the company full time are treated like servants by the interns and their coworkers don’t back them up, it affects morale and messes up the working environment for way longer than the 3 months of an internship.

    4. anonymous73*

      I disagree with your disagreement. It’s their attitudes that need changing. It doesn’t matter that it’s about their past internships, that attitude will be carried into their current roles and needs to be stopped now.

    5. Shhh*

      It depends on exactly how they’re presenting it, IMO. If it’s making copies is always demeaning, than that’s a huge problem. If it’s “I expected this internship to be one thing and it turned out to be another,” then LW should just let it go.

  16. Nia*

    What’s the point of that type of internship? I know what an employer gets out of it but what is the intern supposed to get out of it? I don’t know anyone whose internship did not involve doing the same type of work they’d be doing once they graduated. It would have been(and still would be) shocking to hear about an intern being asked to organize a supply closet or make copies. We’ve had interns at my current company as well and they get the same tasks an entry level person would get.

    1. Reluctant Manager*

      Every internship I had involved this. So did entry level roles in the company. If the admin or assistant is out, so does mine–and I’ve been in the field for 25 years.

    2. anonymous73*

      We don’t know that they were only assigned admin tasks during their internship, that’s just what they’re complaining about.

    3. STG*

      Yea, I don’t think some of these tasks are unusual for entry level positions either and we are talking about interns.

      1. Nia*

        I went to a STEM school. I won’t claim to speak for everything under that umbrella but in my corner of it(software development) it would be unthinkable to have interns/entry level people doing admin work. Both are expected to actually program. An internship in my field is an audition for a full time job. Doing admin work does not make for a very useful audition.

        1. STG*

          Admin work is often required for many positions though. It’s not as simple as saying ‘well that’s an admin’s job’. In many businesses, it still could be YOUR job to do those things.

          For example, I work in IT and we do use interns (we do pay though). Part of their time is focused on mentoring/shadowing people and sometimes those people are doing admin tasks. For example, our entry level techs have to manage an inventory closet. In some places, this would be the job of an admin. That’s simply not the case here.

          1. Colette*

            Yeah, in my first programming job, we did code inspections on paper copies – it was your responsibilty to print, copy, and distribute the copies. Anyone who balked at copying wouldn’t have lasted long. (This was before laptops were common office issue.)

            When I started at my current company, I reorganized a shared drive so we could actually find stuff. It’s not prestigous, but it needed to be done. Part of having a job is doing the tedious stuff, not just the exciting stuff.

        2. Not a cat*

          I took STEM interns in a software marketing department. I used them to analyze marketing data and build reports. No copy-making for them, although I’m sure they had to schedule meetings for retrospectives.

    4. Insert Clever Name Here*

      For a state legislature internship it could be primarily about making connections.

    5. CoveredinBees*

      I didn’t get the impression that copies etc was the only thing they did all just. It was that they were taken aback that they were asked to do it at all.

    6. LizM*

      It depends on the office. Government offices are chronically understaffed in the admin department. We have an admin team of 3 who support over 40 people. They’re too busy making sure payroll is submitted so we all get paid and managing a large part of our procurement program to make copies for everyone. I haven’t personally worked in a state legislature, but from friends who have, I think it’s a similar dynamic for all but the senior leadership’s staff.

      If I need copies made, I either make them myself or ask the subject matter expert staffing the project to make them. I wouldn’t think twice of asking the intern working on that program to make copies. We give them substantive work too, but making copies for of the agenda for a meeting your boss is hosting is part of the job. I wouldn’t ask an intern to do any work I wouldn’t ask a junior staff member to do, but in government, that can be a pretty wide range of duties.

  17. Lawyered*

    I generally agree with your advice. However, there are industries where these kind of complaints would be well founded (although that doesn’t seem like that’s the case here). For example, I manage our legal externship program and we’re required to enter into an agreement with the law school stipulating we’ll only assign substantial lawyering tasks that are representative of the work done at our office (e.g., legal research, drafting memos or court filings, attending meetings, observation and discussion of court proceedings, etc.). I’d be curious to find out whether this ban on assigning interns administrative tasks is unique to legal programs, or if other industries follow this standard.

    1. IrishMN*

      I was thinking along these lines as well. These two sound insufferable, and I totally get the LW, but if it was an unpaid internship they are supposed to be doing things that will contribute to their education. This rule gets broken all the time so I wouldn’t be surprised if they were basically there for unpaid admin work. On the other hand, if they were getting paid at least minimum wage, I think the company would have a lot more flexibity in having them do things outside the scope of learning.

      1. Mockingjay*

        Sure, doing related work is the point of internships. But I can see days when a mentor is tied up in a confidential meeting or is out with a cold, so they have to find something for an intern to do. In that case, cleaning the supply closet is quite reasonable.

        But I agree with the OP; the real issue is the negative viewpoint of admin work. EVERY job has an admin component. Even factory workers have to submit reports occasionally.

        I’ve had to produce briefs, print out dozens of copies, and stuff them in binders for annual multiagency government reviews. And my program manager showed up behind me to help print and assemble them every . single . time. He didn’t have to. But these briefs described the product resulting from years of hard work by our agency and our program team, and deserved the attention he gave these pages. That’s what the OP wants the newbies to learn.

        1. Former summer associate*

          “In that case, cleaning the supply closet is quite reasonable.”

          Not for students in professional degree programs (MBA, JD, etc.), it isn’t. Summer associates at law firms and banks get paid the equivalent of first-year associates. Any firm that assigned them cleaning duties would face immense difficulty in recruiting from top law schools.

      1. Delta Delta*

        Lawyer and professor of law here. Why does it matter if this person’s law firm is for-profit or not? We (lawyers, and people in legal education) generally take the position that the point of experiential learning is to help get exposure to practical experience that is not taught in law school. Some of it involves making copies sometimes, but that cannot be the only thing interns do during their internships.

        1. Liz T*

          Internships at for-profit companies must benefit the intern more than the company, legally speaking. Otherwise it’s just unpaid labor! But nonprofits have no such legal restriction on the work interns can do.

        2. Liz T*

          And, sorry, I mean unpaid internships. I’m know in some fields (like private finance) “interns” make what most people would call good money.

    2. FiddleLeaf*

      I agree with you, and I’m surprised by the answers here (and Alison’s answer). My interpretation of these comments is that there are vast differences between internships of different industries! I’m a lawyer at a law firm, and I would never ask an intern to organize a supply closet (!) or spend any significant amount of time making copies (I would ask them to make copies if, e.g., it was part of a larger task of preparing for a client meeting that they would be attending). We pay administrative staff to perform administrative duties, we don’t just dole them out to the lowest-level employee. An internship is supposed to be an extension of the intern’s education and for the benefit of the intern, not a way for a company to cut its costs by providing free labor to perform menial tasks. My interns read through legal documents and issue spot, attend and take notes at client meetings, perform legal research and write memos, and other tasks that will teach them how to be a lawyer. I was a business consultant before I was a lawyer, and my internship involved demographic research, assisting in writing reports, and building regression models. I was paying a lot of money for the college credits that I earned by doing that internship and would be really irritated if I was treated like an admin – not because there’s anything wrong with being an admin, but because that’s not what I was there to learn to do. I won’t address the legal side of it because, as Alison has mentioned in other comments, there are exceptions for government offices, but a lot of commenters here who are agreeing with the OP may want to double-check the legal requirements for internships relevant to their jobs to be sure that they are in compliance, because it sounds like a lot of them are not.

      1. miss chevious*

        Really? I was a lawyer at a law firm before I went in-house, and these are all things we would have asked our summers to do. Not exclusively, of course, and not even for a substantial portion of their work, which would have been spent on substantive matters, but one of the things we were evaluating for was temperament and fit, and if you can’t spend some time organizing the files or making copies without bitching about it, you didn’t have the temperament to work for us. And if you had attitude toward the paid administrative staff? You were never getting hired.

        I definitely understand and agree with the larger point that internships, especially for credit, are meant to be educational, but part of that education is learning how to be a strong colleague.

    3. CoveredinBees*

      I have worked in multiple settings as an attorney and had to do all of my own photocopying and filing. I did it in my internships too in about the same proportion my supervisors also did theirs. Setting students up with the idea that they won’t do “administrative” tasks is setting them up for an unpleasant surprise and if they’re given the idea that it is beneath them professionally, setting them up to be the least popular attorney among support staff. There are a number of set ups in which paralegals carry their own set of tasks, so please don’t claim their job is to act as assistant to attorneys.

      As far as I know, there was no ban on any “administrative tasks” in place with my law school, nor have I heard of such a weird distinction before, so it might have just been your school.

  18. Texan In Exile*

    Someone says, “Cup of tea?” to James the work experience kid in After Life.

    “Yes!” he answers.

    “No, you’re the one who makes the tea,” they tell him.

  19. Pop*

    An honest question – if they’re not going to do it, who is? How do they expect the work to get done?

    1. Mme. Briet’s Antelope*

      Perhaps their bosses should hire admin staff instead of relying on interns to handle the administrative things.

      1. S*

        And that might send the message that admin work is skilled work that is worth paying for, rather than a method for emphasizing the lower status of junior staff.

    2. J*

      In my area, that question is a great one as we’re for profit but have unpaid interns. Which means the DOL’s standards come into play. It might be different in OP’s scenario but in general it is something to be mindful of.

      1. The internship must be similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;
      2. It must be for the intern’s benefit;
      3. It cannot displace paid employees; (which is where your question is key, it sounds like you’re endorsing this replacing paid employees)
      4. The employer must derive no immediate benefit from the intern’s activities, and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded; (also overlaps with your question)
      5. The intern cannot be promised a job at the conclusion of the internship; and
      6. The employer and the intern understand that the internship is unpaid.

  20. Bend & Snap*

    I managed someone like this at a PR agency. She was entry level but had an MBA and thought she shouldn’t have to do low-level work (spoiler…the whole job was low-level work). She was a nightmare to work with and a nightmare to manage. She finally got fed up and went to work for one of the Big 4 consulting firms. Bye!

    1. Macapito*

      It sounds like she was underemployed, and, realistically, as if your boss shouldn’t have hired her given her expectations and education. Possibly, she was bait-and-switched with what she thought and was told the job would be vs “the whole job was low-level work” spoiler. It also sounds like she leveled up by leaving.

  21. Double A*

    I’m actually a bit surprised that Alison didn’t address the legal requirements of internships. I didn’t think you could make interns just do the administrative work, especially in an unpaid internship. The purpose of the internship is to give them actual experience in the field, and unless they’re doing an internship related to administrative support, that *shouldn’t* be the bulk of the work. It’s unclear to me if these interns are complaining that they were occasionally required to do this type of work, or if they were complaining that this was all the internship consisted of. If it’s the latter, well… they’re in the right!

    Internships, especially unpaid internships, are so often exploitative, not to mention exclusive. It’s important that everyone be clear about their legal requirements.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yes, if these were unpaid internships and this was the bulk of the work, it would be illegal unless it was at a nonprofit or government entity (it sounds like it might have been the latter). There’s nothing in the letter to indicate it was illegal though.

      1. Double A*

        Interesting, a nonprofit or government agency can have unpaid interns do work unrelated to their field?

        This still seems sketchy for me because you’re usually doing internships for college credit. Which you have to pay for. So you’re paying thousands of dollars to do admin work.

          1. Fed Employee*

            Federal Government agencies are largely required to pay their interns due to the Antideficiency Act. It is the same law that requires the government to shut down when there is no budget. There are, of course, some exceptions.

            1. Bored Fed*

              Very interesting. I recall my agency having unpaid legal interns (particularly 1L summer folks) during the lean budget times of the early 2010’s. The work they did wasn’t in the nature of copying, but it was the least sophisticated work in the office. Your point about the Antideficiency Act resonates, though (and may be why we no longer have unpaid interns!)

        1. LizM*

          Government agencies are allowed to accept volunteer work. Allowing an intern to do primarily work unrelated to their field raises ethical questions, and may cause issues with the university or college if there is an agreement in place, but legally, unpaid interns are often under volunteer agreements and not subject to the same rules a for-profit company would be in terms of accepting free labor.

      2. doreen*

        According to the letter, one was complaining about an internship at the State Department and the other was at the state house of representatives – both government entities. There has been the occasional intern at the government agencies I’ve worked for – and none of them were doing it for college credit. Mostly they did what I assume Jane and John would consider administrative tasks – but it wasn’t all or even mainly cleaning supply closets and making copies. It was taking notes at meetings – which meant they were at the meetings even if they didn’t participate (and these were relatively high-level meetings, not all-staff meetings). It was compiling directories of resources (housing/treatment/employment, etc) that staff could use in referring the population we serve.

  22. Alison*

    I’d like to bring up how an internship should deviate from an admin assistant type job. Legally, interns should not primarily be doing tasks that are necessary for the business/department to run. Internships are supposed to be for the benefit of the intern—they should primarily be receiving training and experience throughout the internship, including doing “substantive tasks.” I find it understandable for an intern to expect tasks that are different than admin assistant tasks, or else they would be admin assistants! I believe their frustration to be fair, especially if the internships were unpaid—an unpaid internship where interns mostly make copies and do similar tasks, unless it’s an internship designed to teach someone how to be an admin assistant, would be illegal.

    1. Don*

      Obligatory mention that unpaid internships are gross and classist and play a large role in keeping underrepresented folks out of a lot of fields. And if you pay all your workers you don’t have to worry about accidentally violating labor law by have some of them do administrative tasks!

      1. L.H. Puttgrass*

        The LW said that the internships were at a state house of representatives and the State Department, though. I don’t know whether they were paid (I’d guess the statehouse internship was unpaid and the State Department internship was paid), but they’d both fall under the exception for government internships.

        1. Becks*

          At the moment, paid State Department internships are incredibly rare. If the FY2022 budget gets passed, that may end up changing, but for now most State interns are unpaid (yes, even the ones who went overseas prior to COVID hitting).

        2. I'm the Phoebe in Any Group*

          This also limits who can paticipate: you at have $ to fly to DC and pay rent there for the summer

      2. Susanna*

        Right, but I did several unpaid internships in college, and I got college credit for them. I was doing substantive work, so not getting paid wasn’t the issue. And not because I’m “privileged” – I was very definitely not – but because I didn’t get paid for the internship any more than I got paid for going to class.

        The idea f college graduates doing internships is something that developed after I graduated – and I think it’s slimy. Even if they pay you, it tends to be a small amount, so they are getting a college grad at minimum wage. And the grad does it because it’s a way into the business.

        We have year-long “fellows” where i work – and they do ALL substantive work, are paid (not a ton, but not intern wages), and are very often offered full-time jobs after the year.

    2. S*

      It’s also a way to say to the admin staff that their work isn’t worth paying and needs no training, and I think that’s likely to be a bigger problem for morale and retention than some new hire complaining about a former boss.

    3. Colette*

      There’s no indication that they only did admin tasks, or that they in any way acted as admin assistants. Almost every job has administrative tasks (expense reports, email organization, booking meetings, etc.); that doesn’t make everyone an admin assistant.

      1. Macapito*

        Cleaning out supply closets? Really? In no way did the letter make me think the clerical tasks were embedded in the interns’ future positions. The supply closet bit was a big red flag in the letter, IMO.

        1. Colette*

          I’m by no means an intern, and I’ve spent an afternoon cleaning out a supply closet. Sometimes that kind of thing needs to be done, and it likely doesn’t fall into anyone’s job.

          1. Jeni*

            Coming out of lurkdom to offer that our paid administrative assistants, office managers, and/or secretaries cleaned out and reorganized supply closets. Never an intern. Never a regular non-admin employee. Always paid support staff. I’ve never worked in an industry, which includes education, healthcare, and systems engineering, where a non-admin cleaned out a supply closet. My managers would have chewed me out for spending an afternoon cleaning the office supply closet.

  23. PT*

    When I was in school, we were constantly warned “Don’t let anyone dump admin tasks on you, that’s how you get your career derailed, especially if you are female!”

    It’s possible their lack of work experience means they took that advice incorrectly. I know I certainly had a hard time discerning when a not-listed task was something I should be doing as part of my job or to be a team player or when it was something I should not be doing because someone was disrespecting me and my job description.

    1. L.H. Puttgrass*

      The version of this I was told during my consulting days was, “Don’t let people find out you know how to work the report binder.”

  24. Taylor*

    I’m more sympathetic. A lot of these comments read as “I had to walk up hill in the snow both ways when I was young, so stop complaining.” It obviously depends on the industry and the position, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect an internship to give students exposure and experience to the skills they are going to use in their actual career. For example, if you’re a Computer Science intern, it’s not unreasonable to expect your internship to focus on programming and software development in a professional setting. How is making copies going to prepare them for a career as a software engineer? Of course administrative work is important, which is exactly why my office has . . . administrative staff whose responsibilities cover these things. It would be a waste of both of our time to have interns do these things. Especially when intern performance is used as a signal as to whether we want to hire them full time. Unless they are being hired as an admin, organizing a supply closet gives me no indication as to whether they will be successful as a full time hire.

    1. Alexis Rosay*

      There is a huge difference in internship expectations depending on the field. I am 100% sure OP is not talking about CS interns. I am currently in a CS program, and I’m about to start a paid CS internship in which the expectation is that I will be trained as a junior engineer and hired at the end of the internship if successful.

      I used to work in nonprofits, and I’ve never heard of an intern-to-hire program at a nonprofits the way I am experiencing it in CS. Even the largest nonprofit is tiny compared to most tech companies and have only a fraction of the openings or ability to hire. Occasionally my workplace would hire our interns, but that only happened in like 10% of cases and was more of a lucky break than anything. A lot of our interns were simply handed to us by local universities desperate to place their students somewhere for “service learning”; their limited hours or limited interest in the business, or else restrictions placed by their universities, made it impossible for them to be given meaningful tasks.

    2. STG*

      I work in IT in government. Our interns come in, part of their time is spent with their focus, the rest of the time is entry level tasks across the department. Our inventory room isn’t managed by our admin staff but our entry level staff. Not all admin type tasks are handled by an admin at every business.

      We do pay our interns though. So there’s that.

      1. Wintermute*

        The pay is the important part here, because an unpaid internship has legal requirements of being “primarily for the benefit of the intern”– simply handing them low-level tasks that other people don’t want to do would not qualify.

    3. Nanani*

      I disagree. A lot of people are correctly pointing out that “exposure and experience to the skills” IS support work early on. They are getting to hear and observe things that will help them later, and they don’t yet have the skills to contribute at a higher level.

      There is a big difference between “go sit in the corner and organize the closet” and “make copies of this important document while absorbing WHY its important and how it will be used”

      1. Tinker*

        Hmm. Why not lower the cost of a college education by having students get class credit for photocopying textbooks rather than attending classes? They could save on tuition and textbook cost, and since “work norms” cannot be learned to any extent in classes but can be learned by making copies, it’s a more effective method anyway?

        1. Tinker*

          I am admittedly being quite snarky, and also I think that billing miscellaneous office activities as being something that senior folks save their valuable galaxy brain time while simultaneously providing irreplaceable experience for juniors looks suspiciously appealing as a rationalization for taking advantage of people who are limited in their ability to push back. Particularly if the folks then doing the work are being paid in “exposure” rather than money.

          What was it that the artist died of again in that one joke? I forget.

          That doesn’t mean it’s like that every time or that it’s always l intentional when it happens, but it is absolutely aligned with human temptations, and ten years or so of exposure to software QA skills by *actually doing it* means that when I hear “it works, there’s no need to test it” I invariably think it much more likely that *when* I test it, it won’t actually work.

    4. Colette*

      I’ve spent my career in IT, and everywhere I’ve worked the interns would get the lowest level work. Maybe it would be cleaning out the old software cabinet, or organizing a shared drive, or handling the easiest, repetative tickets. And I’ve never worked somewhere that had admin staff who made copies for you, so if an intern wants/needs copies, they’ll have to figure out how to make them.

      Of course, they also do more field-appropirate work, but that doesn’t mean no low-level admin work.

  25. cubone*

    Honestly, I think this is by far the best line to use:

    “You probably don’t mean to sound like you’re devaluing administrative work, but our office wouldn’t run without the people who do those tasks. It’s important to be respectful of those jobs, even if you ultimately want to be doing something else.”

    As much as the OP could/should do a bit of educating that admin work is a very normal part of internships, John and Jane might still believe that it shouldn’t be, or that *they* were both the specialest, best interns who deserved better projects. But respecting all the work that goes into making an organization run, and all the people who do that work, is universal and timeless. John and Jane could be asked to do menial work if they were VPs in the future, where it would be valid to push back based on their time + priorities (as we’ve seen in many great AAM responses), but these types of comments that DEMEAN said work and the workers who do it would still be unacceptable.

    I wouldn’t bother spending the time trying to define what a “normal internship task” is, and would just focus on respectful communication looks like – that’s the skill they really need for their futures.

    1. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

      Well said. Many of us have stories about people who got ahead, or didn’t, based on how they treated admin staff.

  26. GarlicBreadAficianado*

    I have always secretly believed that before one graduates from college/trade school, someone should have 6 months of retail (with Christmas shopping season), 6 months of food service and 6 months of admin work to really appreciate a wide swath of things… how much work and how exhausting those “menial” jobs can be, how to treat people who you deem “beneath you” showing up on time to your shift so someone else can go home etc

    (

    1. Imaginary Friend*

      I have always not-so-secretly believed that everyone should spend a year doing retail work in between high school and college. (Other public-facing work, counter work, service staff, all of that.) People should get some experience dealing with the general world before they are loosed upon it without parental buffers.

      1. STG*

        Yep! I think some of my best life lessons came from waiting tables for a couple years after high school.

      2. RemoteForever*

        While I definitely agree that I’m more grateful for my office job after working retail, I also think the main difference between the two areas is that retail is more exploitative of workers than most office work at a desk, in general. So what are we getting used to, exactly?

        1. GarlicBreadAficianado*

          I have hopes that the youths (please say that in your best My Cousin Vinny impersonation) will be able to fix some of the more exploitative aspects of capitalism in retail. And I certainly wouldn’t say “getting used to” as part of the lessons, but I learned A LOT of things from my years in retail and waiting tables and admin work. 1) No work is beneath you. You’re a manager? Great. Trash still needs to go to the dumpster. Copies need to get made, filing needs to get done, food needs to get into the freezer, stock needs to end up on shelves. Literally no one there gives a good goddamn that you go to Harvard. Bus your friggin table. 2) When you have a shift, don’t no call no show or walk in 2 hours late, the person who’s been there on their feet all day can’t leave until you show up. 3) These jobs may not be challenging intellectually, but they certainly are mentally and physically taxing. And the people who do them deserve respect.

          I also learned how hard people who were waiting tables, working retail and to struggle. I was a high school/college kid waiting tables for beer and abercrombie and fitch money. My bills for the most part were being paid by my parents (and I was a scholarship kid). But I saw how hard those single parents worked and how much a shitty night of tips weighed on them. I saw how they had to put on a happy face and bring people cheeseburgers even though they knew their 6 top of high school kids was gonna give them 5 bucks and sit their all damn night

    2. EchoGirl*

      I kind of feel like this could just as easily backfire, though. Entitled people will often just use their own struggles/suffering/what have you to further fuel their entitlement, so I feel like the very people this is meant to teach a lesson to would probably just find a way to use that against fast food/retail/admin workers. If nothing else, it would almost certainly end up being used as reinforcement about certain claims related to those jobs (namely that they’re “not supposed to be careers” or similar) that are often used to justify low pay and poor working conditions.

    3. Minerva*

      Nope. How about we respect people in retail by making it something you can treat as a career, and respect that it requires skills we don’t all have?

      I could manage to do basic retail work, but dealing with the public and sales are not my strengths. I don’t need to be forced into a year of horrible work I am unsuited for to respect them.

      1. EchoGirl*

        ^This.

        I’m another person who really is not a good fit for food service and retail; I’d probably be a complete mess mentally by the end of that year, in a way that would have negative repercussions on my life for years to come. I’m really not a fan of this thought exercise (which pops up in a lot of places on the internet) because it feels like yet another case of someone being willing to have people like me (my issues are disability-based) be collateral damage in pursuit of a “better world”.

        Also, to go back to your comment, Minerva, I really feel like actually doing this would probably just further the idea that these aren’t “real” jobs for people to have in the long-term. You already see “those aren’t meant to be careers!” type language used to try and justify looking down on those kinds of jobs; making them the jobs that everyone does in college would really only add fuel to that fire.

  27. Erin*

    It depends on what’s normal for the industry and those internships in particular, but I can understand why that might cause frustration.

    Now, if these were paid internships, or the support/admin/clerical work is a normal part of the job/field, then I have no sympathy. You’re in the field, being paid, and you pick up what you can while you build connections. If they were unpaid, though, and/or meant to give more direct experience, I can better understand the frustration.

    I work at a gov office, and our support staff are AMAZING. they work so hard, and they very literally have kept us chugging along through the pandemic. Without them, we would be in SUCH a bad place. I try not to make more work for them than I absolutely have to!!

    I interned here before being hired (unpaid), and if I’d been given a majority of assignments that aligned more with support staff than my field… I would have been very upset: not about the work itself, but at being, well, taken advantage of. If I was going to work for free as a law clerk (and it WAS a full time job- I worked minimum 40 hours a week for about 2 months) I expected to actually be doing legal stuff.

    Which is not to say that I didn’t make copies, or fetch things, or track down transcripts, or things of that nature. I absolutely did, all the way through my internships- but I did a TON of substantive work as well.

    If the internship turned out to be more along the lines of support staff work, and it was billed as something that would give different work experience- then yes, I can understand being upset about that. But if it was just part of the overall job? Then yeah, they’re out of touch.

    1. PlainJane*

      I was going to say something like this. Once you’ve hired at an opening level job, yes, you should expect to do some grunt work. But unpaid internships are something else. I don’t like the entire concept of unpaid internships–they basically prohibit anyone whose parents can’t support them for the summer in an expensive city–but the point of them *is* to be exposed to the field, not to be administrative assistant. This doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with admin; it’s necessary, important, and dignified work. But if you’re interning to a congressman and working there for free, then presumably, it’s because you want to learn about life as a legislator–how it works, how they evaluate bills, how they work in committees and figure out knotty issues. That way, you know if it’s something you’re interested in pursuing further.

      Now, I recognize that “internship culture” may not encourage this, but if it doesn’t, then there is no point to the internship. You may as well go home, save the ‘rents some money, and get an actual job as an office assistant, where they actually pay you for it. You’ll learn just as much, and, from the sounds of it, get about as much networking value from it.

    2. This is a name, I guess*

      I think we have enough context, though, for these kiddos. The State Department is an…administrative agency. So, it makes sense you would do…administrative work. The other was a State House intern. Legislative staffers provide…administrative support. Seniority and specialization lead to more specialized tasks, but the grant scheme of things, it’s administrative work.

      Also not mentioned here is that State House and State Department internships are kind of…showy. They are competitive, and they have significant name recognition. Some internships are about the work you did, not the name of place you interned. Other internships are about the name of the place you worked. Perhaps the interns weren’t given adequate information from their career services offices about internships – and that’s a problem that needs to be addressed – but they should have known and/or been told that sometimes you trade name recognition and prestige for quality of experience.

      1. Becks*

        That’s just not true of the State Department internship program. Yes, it is highly competitive to get in, but interns can still generally expect to get some substantive work. It’s not supposed to be a tradeoff between prestige and meaningfulness.

        I’m also not sure what you mean by the State Department being an administrative agency so of course interns would be doing administrative work. There’s far more to diplomacy and foreign policy than making copies and cleaning supply closets.

        1. Izzy*

          Yes, unclear what you mean by saying legislative staff do administrative work? They take meetings with stakeholders and advocates, write memos and vote recommendations, run hearings, brief electeds, and obviously write legislation. None of that is remotely administrative.

          1. Elsie*

            Yes, and part of taking meetings, running hearings and briefings involves tasks like: compiling/cleaning up contact lists, making copies, compiling briefing books, taking notes in meetings, circulating agendas for meetings, proofreading documents authored by others, data entry on past vote counts, etc. And yet I have had entry-level/intern staff push back that the latter tasks are too administrative and not substantive, and yet they are precisely the type of task that in any hierarchy will be dealt with by the most junior member of that team or office. When I was in a mid-level policy role these are all things I would have to do myself on breaks between interns, or often would do myself depending on the timeframe and whether I could quickly train someone else to do what was needed. And I’m talking about legislative/policy offices who may not have designative “administrative” staff, or if they do, it’s to deal with tasks totally separate from these (finance, payroll, mail, supplies, contracts/procurement, office maintenance, etc). Yes the lines can be squishy, but nearly every white collar job has some “administrative” element.

  28. sometimeswhy*

    I had someone fresh out of school who basically refused to do the job assigned to them because they had ~.~ an advanced degree ~.~ and then threw a literal tantrum when they were evaluated negatively for not doing most of the job assigned to them and screwing up the part that they did do. (They lasted longer than they should’ve for reasons out of my control.)

    I had someone else who was also fresh out of school cry during their first evaluation, a perfectly cromulent “performs to standards,” because it wasn’t “occasionally exceeds standards” or “consistently exceeds standards” because they “didn’t get an A.” A primer on how to interpret your evaluations is now part of my onboarding process. I also keep tissues now.

    1. F.M.*

      Oo, that was me, once upon a time. When you’ve had impressed upon you for years of schooling that anything less than Top 10% means you’ll never get anywhere in life (and it’d better be top 5% if you want praise for it!), it’s really hard to move into a situation where getting what looks like a C grade isn’t an indictment of your work ethic or talent or worth or… whatever.

  29. Perfectly Particular*

    I’m surprised by this answer also. I “co-op”-ed rather than interned while I was in college, but the expectation was that we would do degree-related work. Our school had working relationships with many employers, and those who gave mostly administrative type work would be taken off the list for getting more students. I also have managed several co-ops, and we always give them technical work…. it might be more lab work than office work, but definitely relates to their degree and helps build experience. Maybe this varies by field?

  30. YL*

    I don’t know why interns think internships are glamorous. They’re there to learn. I used to manage interns when I worked at an art gallery. They were college graduates and were 2-3 years younger than me. They were…something. They basically perpetuated stereotypes about coddled millennials. They made me not want to oversee interns ever again.

    Even though I tried my best to make sure they had the tools to do their assignments. I would give them instruction for things that weren’t obvious so they weren’t scrambling trying to figure things out. They would complain about how there wasn’t enough structure and about learnings things on the fly. Your tasks are assigned based on business needs and your aptitude. This isn’t college where you get a syllabus. Not all assignments are exciting.

    They were actually preventing themselves from advancing because they had trouble with simple tasks. For example, one intern had to copy and paste text into a new document and add a photo. When I reviewed the work, a large swath of one paragraph was missing. Normally, I don’t read copy and paste assignments because they’re so simple. I’m glad I did because otherwise we’d anger the artist.

  31. Snarkus Aurelius*

    When I worked on Capitol Hill and state government, I called it the West Wing Effect. In my experience, that show did so much damage to our new hires (from college grads to political appointees aged 50+) who had completely unrealistic and naive expectations for what working there would be like.

    I could always tell they watched the show because…

    * On day one, they’d always, always complain about the administrative, low-level tasks. ALWAYS! I remember an agencyhead asking me if he really had to review and approve the agency’s budget, sign off on a pile of HR hiring request forms, and attend a monthly IT meeting. It was literally in the job announcement, which I’m guessing he never read.

    * The former legislative director at my old job used to stand up and give these long speeches about how we were serving the public and it was such an honor and we were taking such courageous stances. We would look at each other like, “Who is he talking to?” We used to answer our desk phones when he’d start up, but he kept going even though no one was listening. Funny how filling out expense forms and doing the annual conflict of interest training weren’t such “honors” to him because he was constantly late on those.

    * An intern actually said, “I serve at the pleasure of Congresswoman X” to my boss’s face with a big grin. She didn’t watch TV so she didn’t get the reference and why he was saying it to her. She asked me later if he had issues. I told him never to say that again anywhere, and “Uh we don’t do that here. So just don’t, okay?”

    I have no advice except I cannot stand people like this. And, no, you can’t pass a piece of legislation start to finish in a year! Did you go to the school you claim you did?!

    Okay rant over.

    1. Goose*

      As a big West Wing fan, this is hysterical. Veep (especially the early seasons) was probably a better representation of working in government

      1. Snarkus Aurelius*

        100%. Veep was much, much better and far more accurate than WW ever was.

        I wish I could get more people in my line of work to admit that though.

    2. L.H. Puttgrass*

      I miss the “Spotted: DC [Summer] Interns” blog. It was full of face-palm stories like that.

      1. Snarkus Aurelius*

        OMG I totally forgot about that blog! It was the best. I used to tell our interns about so they wouldn’t end up being part of it.

  32. Ann O'Nemity*

    * “You probably don’t mean to sound like you’re devaluing administrative work, but our office wouldn’t run without the people who do those tasks. It’s important to be respectful of those jobs, even if you ultimately want to be doing something else.”

    ^^I agree with this one completely! But not so much to the OP’s attitude and the rest of Alison’s advice. (Sorry!)

    Interns want meaningful work that aligns with their career goals. The best internship programs are well-planned and engaging, with a focus on real and meaty projects. If a company expects interns to mostly make copies, get coffees, and/or clean then they’re going to disappoint the interns and likely to get a terrible reputation at colleges, which is going to hurt their ability to attract full-time employees. Maybe it was different when the job market sucked, but these days there is so much competition.

  33. justabot*

    That’s sooo off-putting. I started off as an assistant in a high profile company/industry and what killed me was that the (female) assistants were given those kind of tasks and the (male) interns were all given the “opportunities” and glamour things to do. And it was condoned. I would have to stay behind to answer phones while the interns all got to sit in on important meetings. They completely had the same entitled attitude as what is described in this letter. Except no one was pushing back on them. Instead the female assistants (who were still trying to get on a career path, not be career secretaries) were the ones tasked with filing, ordering lunches, answering phones. I spoke up and spoke up and it fell on deaf ears. It was a good old boy’s club and still is. Now this same company pretends to care about diversity and women’s empowerment (in the media) and gives a few made up token positions to females for pr purposes. Not a dig at women in those positions, but it is all for show and almost every one of them has moved on. But those interns who never paid their dues got the actual qualifications and skill set to be in the pipeline so when those real positions did become available, they had no problem being qualified and ready. No filing or cleaning out storage closets required.

      1. justabot*

        But it was always the females who got “stuck” in those positions while the interns didn’t get grunt work, they got the development to get the opportunities to advance. And they had that same entitled attitude that they were above it all. The bosses made sure to give them the real projects and the grunt work fell to the “assistant.” Nor was it an “admin assistant” it was just the department “assistant” but the guy roles were looked at as a career track and the females there were given the “secretary” kind of jobs. Most of the other females there didn’t seem to care. It was a male dominated industry and I was one of the only few females there that seemed to care about advancement. It was not an easy road. Now I see all their “initiatives” and none of those things were in place or listened to back when there was no public call for it.

        1. Macapito*

          Were the interns there to be assistant interns or secretary interns, or were the interns there to do substantive work for their field and learn their field by attending meetings and completing “real projects”? It is not the role of an intern to do clerical tasks or “grunt work.”

          Maybe I’m not understanding, because you’re saying the women were assistants and the men were interns, which suggests to me that the assistants were full-time employees hired to be assistants at the company, while the interns were student non-employees who were guests at the company as part of an intern program. It definitely sounds like you and your colleagues weren’t given opportunity to move up, and it sounds like women were not given internship spots, but I really don’t see how or why people hired as assistants would begrudge interns for doing intern work.

          1. justabot*

            When I first started, the interns were hired kind of haphazardly and it wasn’t a formal “internship” or set of duties. They weren’t part of an intern program. They weren’t always that bright or qualified and they were usually someone’s contact/favor/referral/relative of somebody important/ brought in to help the department and get some experience. They were always, always, always men. We never once had a female intern. I think at some point the company did have a more formal internship program and they had an intern lounge and formal networking experiences and it was a little more regulated. They did focus more on diversity then, but the females tended to get placed more in areas like “marketing” and “pr” or sometimes “finance” but not in the very male dominated side of things. This has changed significantly since then, at least in theory. But they are at least getting in the pipeline which was almost non-existent in my day.

            Yes, women were often hired at an “assistant” title/level. Some departments had “executive assistants” which was to be an an assistant to a high level person. Many departments such as mine did not have someone hired for that role. Most of the other females in an “assistant” role like mine didn’t seem to care or be interested in advancing. Or at least not enough to take on an uphill fight. (Although looking back I think it’s a shame that no one ever bothered to ask them if that’s something they would want or be trained for a new role.)

            For the few of us at the time who did have career aspirations in this field, yes we probably did resent the interns. Not them personally as people. But frustration over the way they were treated, even if we were smarter, harder working, etc. And if the guys did get hired, even into the “Assistant” role as often happened, they still were involved in high level things they had access to as interns. While we were still answering the phones and filing. We did speak up. It was just so invisible to others and there was not much recourse at the time. Nor were there any females in leadership positions to help advocate.

            1. Macapito*

              I hear that. I once worked with an administrative assistant who sat at the front desk but was NOT a receptionist; she was consistently frustrated that her non-entry-level work, like data reports and spreadsheets, was interrupted by people walking in to chat, coworkers walking by and making comments, and convenience requests {“I can probably just look, but since you’re here…”}. She was only at the reception desk because it was there, despite everyone agreeing they didn’t actually need it. So, long story short, a college sophomore intern came along who was assigned a lot of clerical work but was also taken to meetings for experience…and he was given his own office where he could do his work, which was usually homework. When the admin asked why the intern couldn’t sit at the reception desk so she could have that office space to focus on her work, she was shut down pretty hard. It didn’t make any sense. Looking back, I think part of it was the organization being rather conservative and the manager not being okay with a man sitting at reception. The admin left not too long after. The messaging was that admin work wasn’t important, because this random intern could do it, and that the specific admin’s work wasn’t important, because her manager didn’t care about constant disruptions to that work.

              Which is why this letter and the comment section is…I don’t know the word for it. So many are saying that admin work is highly difficult, skilled, and important…but also saying that these inexperienced, sub-entry-level, undergrad “brats” should stop whining, take their lumps, and appreciate the hidden learning in being assigned difficult, skilled, important…low-level, nonskilled tasks. Having seen someone I quite respected and appreciated quit because of this dual messaging in real life, it’s hard to see it here (in general).

        1. justabot*

          The department didn’t have admin or office assistants. Only the female assistants were given the secretarial kind of tasks. And all the guys, regardless of level, including the interns, were brought to meetings and lunches. It was the whole company culture.

          And when I finally WAS promoted and they hired a new assistant who was a guy, HE immediately got to do all the “real” stuff including getting to go to conferences or industry events that I still didn’t get to go. Because I was a female. Some of this has (slowly) changed over the years when a public and media spotlight and rise of social media chatter keeps it out of the darkness. Now you see many females in different roles at these things. But at the time (early 2000s), it was infuriating that the male interns got to do more than the female employees there. I pushed and pushed for access. Eventually I did get to go to some of these things and often was the only female (out of more than 300 people) in the room. There was one meeting where someone mistook me for a server and asked me to get them coffee! No one ever asked an intern to do that.

      2. Tinker*

        The thing is, though, if these admin tasks are legitimate experience for the role that the admin supports, then that’s true regardless of the job title or apparent gender of the person doing it.

        If the interns start by doing the same things the admins do and then are given exposure to increasingly challenging projects, and if the admins also are often ultimately interested in learning the field, why not remove the concept of “intern” and instead hire people for properly compensated admin positions, plan their career growth in the way that is a basic people management task, and expecting to promote from there?

        (Also, I’m most recently a software QA and boyyyyyyy do I have stories about looking around and noticing that if a new QA can pass the paper bag test and grow a beard, then in about six months they’ll have enough experience to be promoted into a dev role. Presumably the experience accumulates in the beard like soup.)

        1. Tinker*

          Q: What about your beard, bro?
          A: It is evidently in some way different from most other beards because my last manager, despite looking at it every day for nearly a year, somehow still managed to accidentally call me ‘she’ while trying to convince me not to resign. For some reason, this effort was unsuccessful.

        2. Jeni*

          It is a common issue that women are not developed or promoted out of admin work and, in fact, are actively blocked from developing and promoting out of admin work. I’ve served on very few hiring teams who could see past the support staff job title, even with a resume of measurable accomplishments, and so the roadblock is the “expecting to promote them from there” part. Many, many people don’t see support staff as people who promote or develop. If I had a dollar every time a hiring team colleague has said out loud, “Why is an ASSISTANT applying for this [entry-level] job!?” I could retire.

      1. justabot*

        It does. It just always struck me that the interns were given all kinds of access, formal networking and introductions, and perks and really, groomed to be ready for hire for next level positions. They had their own lounge! And the assistants in the office were not given any opportunities to learn skills, network, or gain knowledge that would prepare them for a role. When those jobs did become available, it’s not that they couldn’t apply, but they didn’t have the experience or relationships to be qualified for those roles. And so the men who continue to advance and the females would be left behind ordering lunch and doing expense reports. I had friends in a sister company with the actual higher title, definitely not an assistant in official title, but whose boss would send her to his house to put the clothes he forgot to take out of the washer in his dryer while his interns would accompany him on fancy road trips. We were in a different era. In any case, in my experiences the interns were pampered, almost always men, and were never expected to do any low level tasks. And it was a “a million people would die for these jobs” kind of deal so you either left or put up with it. These days, the tales of some of these bosses who were public figures would probably end up being shared on twitter and likely be canceled or at least get some backlash. But back then, it was just the norm. The male interns quickly, formally, and systematically surpassing longstanding female junior level colleagues was a huge issue that we battled on our own.

        1. Feeeeeeeemale*

          Quick question on your choice of language here: I can’t help but notice that you refer to women (presumably, since this is a discussion about work so I’m assuming adults) as “females” vs referring to male adult humans as “guys”, “men”.

          Why is this? It’s pretty dehumanising to women – you could be talking about females of any species, of any age – and it’s also demeaning and dismissive when compared to the words that specify males as adult humans.

  34. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

    A former boss used to handle complaints about repetitive or low-level tasks by saying “This is why they call it work and not beer.” Thanks to him I have been using that line for many years.

  35. Anon100*

    I didn’t intern at State Dept but I did intern at another federal agency in DC years ago and yep there was a lot of making copies and filing things. Luckily I didn’t have to take phone calls like my peers on the politics side. This is just pretty much par for the course, what I got out of the internship was *listening* to the senior technical staff about issues and how the agency was addressing it. Then a year or two later at my first full time office job, I did substantive technical work but I was also put to filing and scanning if we were in a lull for projects. Funnily enough, knowing where things were filed or scanned to meant I could help more senior staff find their old projects that they wanted to reference for a current project.

    Also, I am an millennial, slightly on “almost 40 yrs old side,” and I want to say that indeed my generation was told lies about being the best and brightest and we’d all change the world when we were in our twenties. It seems to me that society is still passing on these lies to the next set of young people so OP and the rest of us will just have to keep on bursting bubbles as we get older…

    1. Esmeralda*

      I got these lies back when I graduated back in the dark ages. It is ever thus.

      I have a brother in law who changed careers multiple times, including finally academia, and in every career — where he was by definition the newest and least knoweldgeable and least skilled — he bitched and moaned about doing menial work and not being given interesting, important projects. When he got into academia (my field), I finally got sick of it and said, You know [Name], those decisions are made by department heads. Who have tenure and who have been professors for X years. They’re not all kissing the deans ass, dude, they have actual experience and credentials.

    2. TootsNYC*

      re: the lies
      One of the other things that happens is that when they are in school, students are doing more substantive work on their projects for class. Then they get to work and are filing, etc.

  36. Tehanu*

    I discuss this when interviewing university students for four-month co-op positions. The works isn’t always glamorous – but it is essential and part of what makes the overall organization function. Sometimes it can be data entry or verification, it can be dry and boring. But it needs doing. And this goes for everyone – sometimes it is the senior people doing stuff they might not enjoy but that is life.

  37. TimeTravlR*

    We had one of these type people as an intern one year. She spent A LOT of time complaining about how all her other intern friends were doing this great awesome projects (possibly solving world peace?!) while she had to do spreadsheets and file stuff. Two things: 1) she was not offered a permanent position partly due to her complaining constantly and 2) she didn’t do a great job filling or setting up spreadsheets so why would we ask her to help us solve world peace (or offer her a perm position… see item 1).
    My advice to all interns is learn everything you can even if it’s just how to make a really good, efficient copy. You never know who is watching

    1. TootsNYC*

      my other advice would be: if you are stuck photocopying, learn about the stuff you’re photocopying.
      What does it say, who prepared it, to whom and why is it being distributed? what will each of those people/departments do with that paper, or with the info on it?
      What decisions will be made that are connected to it, and what will guide those decisions? who will make them?

      In fact, I think the person who has assigned that task to an intern should be making those explanations when they hand over the task.

      1. TootsNYC*

        also, if you’re stuck doing administrative tasks, use that opportunity to investigate the administrative setup. How tasks are assigned, how people are given roles, even how the files are organized. What can you deduce, what do you think works well, what’s stupid and wasteful?
        One day you may be the boss with admin staff under you, and you will be far better at it if you have paid attention.

        The people giving you the task may think of you as “unthinking labor”; YOU can turn it into an independent-study project on office procedures, etc.

        1. TimeTravlR*

          I agree. Pay attention. It’s amazing what you can learn by being observant. We did not assign busy work to our intern. It just wasn’t glamorous enough for her, but she could have learned a lot. And she’d have had the opportunity for more had she shown any ambition.

  38. S*

    Wow, I’m not sure if my workplace is a wild outlier, but we don’t ever have interns doing administrative work, nor would we consider that appropriate unless we hired them as administrative interns. We give them summer-sized projects that they’re expected to complete, working with a mentor, and we often use their work product going forward. We’ve had interns write code that we put into production, review documents for litigation, and experiment with different machine learning techniques. Some of these are grad students (whom we pay at $25 an hour or so) but some of these are undergrads as well. We use our internships as a summer-long job audition, and we hire the best of them.

    I’ve done coffee and copies myself, but that was in administrative jobs. An internship is supposed to have a learning component, and I’d be annoyed if I weren’t given an opportunity to learn. “It sucks to be junior and nobody cares what you think” is a learning experience of sorts, but certainly not one that’s going to bring me back to an employer. I don’t understand why an employer would go to the trouble of having an internship program unless part of the point was recruitment.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      This is how my workplace does it. I would never, ever, ask an intern to make copies for me unless our supervisor specifically asked me to show the intern how to copy something that needed special attention (we’re in archives and rare books). 100% not their job.

    2. CoveredinBees*

      This also really depends on the job in question. I’ve done a number of professional jobs and I always had to do my own photocopying, filing, etc. Everyone but the C suite did. This includes working in jobs as an attorney.

      1. TootsNYC*

        well, yes, but that’s part of your job. So saying to an intern, “Do this project, and part of it is to make copies for all the approvers and drop it off” is having them do their own work. Not someone else’s.

        It’s not about “never make photocopies”; it’s about “don’t treat an intern, who is here to learn, like administrative support.”

    3. Parakeet*

      With the qualifier that in smaller workplaces without much or any dedicated admin staff, everyone will be doing some admin work as a piece of their job – what you’re saying is closer to my experience (both as an intern and as a regular employee in organizations that hire interns) of internships.

    4. Liz T*

      Even the non-profits I’ve interned at (in theatre) took the education aspect pretty seriously. Yes, they got free labor out of us, but we weren’t replacing office managers or anything.

      Even in my one paid internship (minimum wage), my supervisor got upset when he found out a director had me wash out their tupperware during a rehearsal–I was supposed to be in rehearsal, learning.

  39. Alexis Rosay*

    I think interns often don’t realize how much knowledge and time work projects really require. The main reason we frequently used to assign our interns fairly mundane tasks was that their internship simply wasn’t long enough for them to do something complex.

    1. Daffodilly*

      Why even take interns, then? Internships – by law – have to provide value for the student, and not just free work for the employer.
      If an internship isn’t long enough to accomplish that, the answer is to either not have interns or have longer placements.
      Internships are not just free labor!

      1. Alexis Rosay*

        We were basically taking them as a favor to our partners at the local university, who were often desperate to find ‘service learning’ placements for their students.

        1. Minerva*

          Then maybe don’t? An internship done right is a contribution to developing workers for the future.

  40. anonymous73*

    It doesn’t matter if you’re 22 or 52, never act like a task is “beneath” you. It’s called being a team player. Granted there are exceptions to this, but if you have the bandwidth and ability to help out with something, don’t be that “it’s not my job” type of person.

  41. Dust Bunny*

    Mixed feelings: On the one hand, internships are supposed to be a learning experience, not menial labor. Interns at my workplace get actual projects and the only copying they do is that which is directly related to that project–they’re not here to do our grunt work. I make copies because I’m an office assistant and copying is legitimately part of my job, even though I’m a lot more experienced than an intern.

    However, the attitude that it’s beneath them needs an adjustment. I do a lot more of this kind of work at my actual non-internship job than our interns do because my job and their internship don’t serve the same purposes–they’re here to learn the processes of the discipline and I’m here to serve patrons and my supervisors. Ironically, if they had more experience, they’d do a lot more of this. It’s not a matter of the work being skilled or not–it’s a matter of the position having different needs.

  42. Reluctant Manager*

    I’m reading an assumption that people in a full-time career role do not do the administrative work to support it. That is not true in most places, especially smaller businesses. If I didn’t give our interns admin work, they would be the only people in the company not doing admin work.

    1. Fran Fine*

      Hell, it’s even not true in larger companies. My company has nearly 5,000 employees, but my team is so teeny and we all end up doing our own admin tasks. It is what it is.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      My dad worked for Giant Petroleum Company and only the highest-level people didn’t do their own admin work.

  43. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    If this starts to become a pattern, you might look at your hiring process. You might deliberately try to hire new graduates who haven’t had the road snowplowed for them by money or family connections.

    1. Wintermute*

      I think this is partially right but I also think you’re making some huge assumptions about the people they’re hiring.

      It’s could ALSO quite easily be a problem because they are hiring from a program that sets the expectation that they will be doing substantive work (which is both often a legal requirement of an internship and part of the social compact involved) and you’re handing them *excessive* amounts of work that amounts to treating them as free labor– thus violating their expectations and the norms around interns.

  44. EZPast*

    Oh I had a few 20 somethings working for me with that attitude. Their primary job function was writing marketing communications, but that comes along with other types of tasks. We had a part-time admin for 10 people, and even when I pointed out that the VP of the dept. frequently made her own copies, they still complained.

  45. TrackingCookieMonster*

    “If I can’t trust you to make a photocopy, I can’t trust you with a budget.”

  46. Llellayena*

    I’d also add to the list of responses: Do you know how much you can learn by making copies? You get to read or at least skim every single piece of paper handed to you. There’s a lot of info in those copies!

    One of my early tasks at an architecture firm before going to grad school was hand copying the red-line markups from one set of reviewed drawings to the other 4 copies (they don’t make copiers for 30×42 paper and it was pre-computer review). I learned a TON from that as the architects would flag the design issues and errors. My hand and back would be cramping by the time I was done and it was boring to do it 4 times in a row. But it’s so much better to learn from OTHER people’s mistakes!

    1. TootsNYC*

      I learned how to edit by retyping the marked-up manuscripts and galleys at the place I interned.
      Someone might have thought that retyping was admin work–and when I wasn’t doing it, the admin staff did–but it was hugely educational.

  47. Hello From NY*

    I also think a lot of this mindset is built on privilege. Many white collar workers (especially in big money making industries) look down upon blue collar work. If I had to guess, I imagine they came from strictly white collar families and I doubt any of them were working retail or fast food while in school. If they have never been at the “bottom” then making copies seems like a slap in the face. It’s not! My first job out of college gave me a project to digitize hard copy documents and scanning and converting them to PDF. It was tedious and boring. But I look back now and realize going digital made a huge impact (saving both time and money down the road).

    1. Mary*

      It could also be that school doesn’t prepare you for what The Real World is actually like. No one told me in law school that I’d be the one making copies and archiving emails because I was the only one in the office who knew how to do those things. Or talking Pam in HR off the ledge when she wanted to only put up Christmas decorations during the holidays. It was all substantive law, all the time.

    2. Nanani*

      Oh definitely. It is my understanding that government internships often go to the relatively privileged in the first place for a variety of reasons, too.

  48. Esmeralda*

    Even when I had leadership positions in my field (stepped back from that for family/medical reasons), I would occasionally make copies, file reports. Right now we’re short an admin (we’ve lost two in six months — mediocre pay and inflexibility about WFH, which we have no control over). Everybody in the office, and I mean everybody, covers reception for an hour so that the admin helping us out can go to lunch.

    Anyone who expresses disdain? Not going to last, not going to get a very good reference.

  49. The Original Stellaaaaa*

    Honestly, the interns are correct about admin overflow not being appropriate internship tasks.

    1. Martin Blackwood*

      Honest question, who should do it, then? I’m not saying if an admin is out sick for a week just get the intern to civer, but if a couple hours of filing need to be done, and the intern has the chance, why shouldn’t they learn to file? Every office has admin, surely a grasp of those skills will be useful, at least for the future when the admin in their full time job is out sick.

        1. internship program manager*

          Which in my experience is something like ‘please look to see what in the supply closet is outdated, what we need more of it, and arrange it in a way so people can easily find what they need.’ What’s wrong with that? Someone needs to do it and you can actually learn from jobs like that when you’re early in your professional career. I assume they were doing other things with their time as well, not stuck in a closet everyday. I managed an internship program for years and let me tell you, the ones who took jobs like that seriously and didn’t half-ass it were the ones our managers would give a chance to with higher level work.

          1. Macapito*

            The interns I manage are going into a professional field, and, if I don’t give them the experience in their internship to manage caseloads, write reports, and professionally talk to clients in a safe supervised environment, they will not be successful in their real job. Cleaning out and organizing a supply closet doesn’t do the trick in my industry, and I honestly don’t care if they’re good at spotting old white-out and/or organizing closets. I care if they can do the job I’m preparing them to do, so, when they become my junior colleague, I have trained good colleagues that better my local industry and are trusted to serve my community. I’m glad the supply closet strategy works for you.

            1. Wintermute*

              EXACTLY!

              No one is saying that this is useless “dig a trench from that wall until noon” work, or that it’s not necessary to an office. What we’re saying is that internships have a purpose, and they are to teach you things you cannot learn in a classroom and will be to your detriment if you don’t learn them before you even begin your first career position and cleaning supply closets does not qualify.

              1. Minerva*

                Yep. I have never, in my career, done admin work that wasn’t explicitly part of my larger job. There’s only 1-2 admins for the large department, but admins have a different education and career path than the group they support. Any interns are not going to be served well by supporting that job, we need to make them better technical people in a non academic setting, and let them try/shadow a couple roles to see what suits them best.

            2. Elsajeni*

              I do think there’s a difference between the kind of highly field-specific internships it sounds like you’re talking about — stuff like social work, counseling, student teaching, legal internships — and the more general category of internships that may be in the field you want to work in, but aren’t necessarily geared toward specific on-the-job training for a specific future career in the same way. Like, yes, it probably is inappropriate to ask a student teacher to make all your copies or clean out the supply closet (except to the extent that it’s a normal part of the job they’re training for; most teachers copy their own handouts, so student teachers do, too). But a typical intern in my current office would be here partly to be exposed to a variety of office jobs and types of work, and partly also just to learn how one behaves in an office, and doing some of the “grunt work” type of admin tasks would be a reasonable part of that.

      1. Wintermute*

        paid employees are supposed to handle tasks like that. Internships, by law in most cases and by custom in all cases, are supposed to be doing more substantative tasks that have “as much benefit for the intern as the company”, and under no circumstance is it appropriate to use them as simply more labor for menial tasks. The expectation is that if there’s random work that has to be done to keep an office running that doesn’t involve any specific field or a learning opportunity, or isn’t part of an intern’s larger project, someone who is drawing a wage should be doing it.

  50. Required*

    Yes on the copies, but no on the closet cleaning. I’ve never heard of an internship where cleaning is part of the job—at least for an office type internship. I think that’s way out of line with expectations going in. Still, the ongoing focus on it after the fact is a bit much.

    1. Goose*

      I worked at an NP with a giant program supplies closet–I had interns help organize it because it was normally part of my job! And it certainly wasn’t their only task

    2. Spencer Hastings*

      This was my thought as well. And cleaning isn’t necessarily “admin” either — you’d want to put that in the job description up front if it was included. (Didn’t we recently have a letter about someone who was hired as an admin and their boss was like “Surprise! Another part of your job is cleaning the bathroom”?)

      1. Fran Fine*

        I had one of those early on in my career (well, it wasn’t my boss, but the older office assistant I was hired to relieve partway through the day in one of my first jobs out of school) – I told her flat out I wasn’t cleaning anybody’s bathroom or unclogging the toilets (which apparently got clogged enough times that it was A Thing…still not sure why they didn’t then hire a plumber to see what the issue was) but I was more than happy to man the front desk and answer the phones when she or someone else did.

        I was never asked to do this stuff again, lol.

  51. Spearmint*

    I’m going to partially disagree here. Internships are not the same as entry level jobs, and it’s a problem that many employers treat internships as the new entry level job. The primary purpose of an internship for the intern is not to make money (even if paid, as internships usually pay less than entry level gigs in the same field) but to gain experience in a particular field to advance their education and build their resume. Yes, most internships will involve *some* menial tasks, but if they consist primarily of menial work or work outside of the intern’s chosen career, then it’s a waste of time and misleading.

    This is different than an entry level job. For a real job, the primary compensation is financial, and people in them don’t really have standing to complain about duties being too menial or uninteresting (unless they were actively misled in the hiring process).

    With that in mind, I look at the two interns in the letter differently. I completely sympathize with the first one. He got a prestigious internship and then proceeded to do nothing that would bolster his resume or help him learn public policy work. The second intern, however, does seem more entitled. Doing some administrative tasks is part of most white collar internships, and as long as she aid other opportunities, then she really should complain.

    1. CreepyPaper*

      Seconded, we love our admin and without her our International Logistics department (me and my colleagues) would be ten extremely disorganised humans who wouldn’t be able to find ANYTHING.

      That said, I did do my own filing today because I actually had some downtime! Admin assistants of the world, we salute you.

  52. just a thought*

    ughh reading this reminded me of my after-college roommate and her friend. They kept getting in trouble at work for not doing their administrative tasks or something simple and then would complain that it didn’t matter. But according to them “it’s fine. I’ll do a good job when they give me something important to do”
    She was also one of my worst roommates that said it was my responsibility as a good roommate to clean up after her.
    I have not kept in touch and do not have an update on how this has turned out 10 years later.

  53. I should really pick a name*

    Note: I’m Canadian. My expectations from a co-op placement/internship might be different than a typical American one.

    I actually of side with the new grads here.
    A job placement is meant to be a learning experience. Making copies and cleaning closets isn’t learning.
    I’m not saying an intern should be developing a company’s marketing strategy, but they should be doing something that involves developing skills.

    Things like updating procedures, working with manufacturing drawings, processing change requests. There are all kinds of low stakes tasks that an intern can do that teach them something about the field their working in.

    There’s nothing wrong with having them make copies, but if that’s all that they do, I’d be disappointed as well.

    1. Minerva*

      Also Canadian, totally agree. You want admin support, hire a career admin. Pay well. You take on an intern to give them experience to really enter the field, or at least to put their education into context. Please help me once with these copies? Fine. Spend all day doing work tangentially related to the core work they’re learning about? Not fine.

    2. blood orange*

      If you’re reading the letter as saying administrative tasks were all they were doing, then I see what you’re saying. I don’t read it that way though. It sounds as though those tasks were likely a small piece of their internship, and they felt insulted when they were asked to do them.

      Consider a task such as assembling an RFP proposal. Those projects are insanely detailed and take a ton of time, but getting to experience that process is a great learning experience. It involves things like making multiple copies, assembling snail-mail packets, etc. but it also gives you a much greater look at the complexities of a scope-of-work. Any project manager can tell you they understood an RFP better than the project team or the account manager because they had to perform those tasks. If I had been lucky enough to have an intern when I was working on projects like that, you bet I’d focus on other tasks while I asked an intern to take the more low-risk pieces of the project. It still would have been an excellent learning experience.

  54. Salad Daisy*

    There’s an old Israeli folk song called Zum Gali Gali and the lyrics basically translate as We All Work Together. The lesson is that everyone’s work is valuable.

  55. Homebody*

    I work with a lot of new grads and interns. I’ve definitely noticed that there is a cultural contribution to it…we really put the college degree on a pedestal! So much about growing up is about college prep and we put a ridiculous amount of emphasis on “if you get into X college and get Y degree, you’ll be able to do whatever you want and get the job of your dreams!” And the reality is…college only gets you the job, not the career, and you need a good amount of on the job experience before you can really start to do interesting things. “But I went to X college! I deserve more! I was told that it makes me entitled to things!” Sorry kid, your degree doesn’t really matter anymore. I know it’s easy to dismiss this as the problem of “these entitled kids”, but they’re getting this narrative from somewhere, you know?

    1. irene adler*

      There is a local University** here in San Diego, whose graduates many of the biotech companies will not hire for exactly what you describe (talking BA or BS degree level). Said graduates are insulted that, upon hire, they are not put in charge of projects and the like. Lab work was beneath them. They expected to be in charge of the lab techs. No one wants to deal with that attitude.

      And I graduated from this same University. **hangs head** I know how the “attitude” was cultivated there.
      Guess, I was lucky. My parents drilled into me that all work is honorable and no task is beneath me. And I’m happy doing the lab work. It’s the most interesting.

      (**it is also one of the top science universities in the country. So the reputation is there. )

  56. Out & About*

    Being in STEM, internships meant projects and field related work. Admin work isn’t beneath or lesser, it just wouldn’t be the intended experience based on field internship expectation. If John and Jane were told they’d be participating in project x prior to accepting the internship and then were met with only copies and cleaning – it would be disappointing and frustrating. With that said, the above doesn’t seem to be the case based on OP’s letter.

  57. Koala dreams*

    Internships are supposed to be learning about the field and the work, not doing any random low valued tasks. I’m sure the interns could be more tactful, but the letter writer’s attitude comes across as undervaluing the work of professional cleaners and professional administrative staff.

    Of course, if your company don’t employ administrative staff and expect everyone from intern to the big boss to do their own copies and order their own office supplies then explain that to all new employees, but that is a different discussion.

  58. Silver*

    I did a stint at Starbucks after college. Not the most glamorous job and I’m not a huge fan of Starbucks by any means. But I also found meaning in caffeinating the big important city I lived in. We had people who started every day with their custom order. And it felt special at the time to be part of that chain

    1. Girlvetica*

      Be careful what you wish for, you may find yourself so loaded down with big responsibilities in the future that you’ll be longing for the chance to tidy a supply closet.

  59. Lobsterman*

    Isn’t the point of internship programs to select for people like this? By definition, it’s someone with enough family money to be able to work for free.

  60. Sam*

    Plenty of other people have said this in the comments, but it isn’t just people who are starting out in the work world who have to do the odd administrative task. I am a rather experienced lawyer, and I regularly make copies. If the printer jams on me, I try to unjam it. That’s part of working in an office. Positions where there is always someone to take care of everything administrative for you are few and far between. I would go further with the language I used to the new grads and stress that that’s just part of working–especially when starting out, but really always.

  61. WingedRocks*

    During my military career, one of the consistencies I noted was both new enlisted folks and new officers were often assigned work they thought was beneath them. It was always a teaching moment, where we had an opportunity that each member had a role to perform, and each task had a purpose, in order to execute the mission. The garbage had to be hauled out, dishes had to be washed, and somebody had to do it so we didn’t live on a dirty ship. Something that helped was that, when we had the ability, senior personnel would jump in and also do the dirty work – demonstrating that this stuff wasn’t beneath anyone, even those of us with tenure. Because, honestly, I don’t believe that any kind of work is beneath anyone.

    1. Tinker*

      This. My manager in my first professional job was a retired Air Force officer and still arguably the best manager I’ve had, and as a result I somewhat imprinted on stuff like this and find it a bit weird when I encounter managers who distinctly don’t work like that.

      Like, I don’t think an intern’s job should be fully free from admin / maintenance / cleaning (as appropriate to the type of workplace), but in the sense that my job as a senior engineer is not free of those things either and presumably the intern will be seeing this. Or certainly should, since at my level doing that sort of thing is partly a leadership function rather than strictly the production of the actual copies.

  62. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

    I’m going to be the lone voice of dissent here, but first, story time. My first job out of college, as a fresh math and CS grad, was a programmer job. My day-to-day work was programming. There was an older analyst guy in our open-space office of 15 people. One day, this person borrowed me, presumably with my boss’s permission, to do some voluminous paperwork that I don’t remember the details of, but I don’t believe there was even a computer involved – I was hand-copying something. Just monotonous work that took me a couple of days to complete, and that had nothing to do with my actual job. As I was working on his assignment, this guy walked up to me and, loud enough for everyone to hear, said something like “see, now you’re finally learning what real work is like”. I just stared at him in horror like “does he mean I will be doing a lot of this now?” but before I could become properly horrified, all 15 people in the office, starting with my boss and the lead developers, laid into that guy and gave him the tongue-lashing the likes of which I’d rarely seen. What they told him was along the lines of “don’t go around scaring our new teammates” and “no this is NOT what her real work will be like”. And it wasn’t. It was not a progressive workplace at all. It was pretty sexist and my tenure at that place ended when I went on maternity leave with my oldest, and when I tried to return, they said I couldn’t, but they’d still keep me on the books so on paper I would still work there. Basically I lost that job for the sole reason of having a baby. (Not in the US.) But even so, overloading new (and old) hires with paperwork, makework, and busywork was where that workplace drew a line.

    I also knew someone who had, after a long job search, found work as a journalist in a magazine in a major city; then quit it less than a year later because the job turned out to be 10% journalism and 90% admin work. Had that person stayed at that job, they’d still be making coffee and booking flights and hotels for their boss – which is important work and one someone has to do, but they had a degree in journalism and were told that this was a journalist position. Last I heard, this person was working as an actual journalist and loving their work.

    I admit that every job has its share of mundane stuff that has to be done, and that it is more true for internships than post-college jobs. But if a job is advertised as a professional one and then turns out to be all about “making copies”, then that my friends is a bait and switch situation. It is also a dead-end job. At least in my field, getting stuck doing admin things when your title is a software developer would be a dead guarantee that you would not be able to find another job as a developer. Basically your career would be over before it began.

  63. No Dumb Blonde*

    I’m a big fan of helping people deduct something by asking them probing questions. Rather than telling them why they shouldn’t denigrate admin work/workers, instead, ask question like: “Oh, what kind of work did you think you might be assigned in your first job?” or “What do you suppose would happen if that work didn’t get done?” To answer the question, they have to think it through. That forces them to think about it to form an answer, even if that answer is, “I’m too good for it.” Make them say it out loud. Then ask another question, like “Did one of your college advisers tell you to expect that?” or “Why did you assume that?”, etc.

    My first job out of college was with a daily newspaper that was part of a larger corporation. I count myself lucky that the parent corporation rolled out a customer service training initiative early in my career, and everyone, from the managing editor to the lowliest preproduction staffer, had to attend. One metaphor they used to illustrate a customer-service mindset involved a guy who washed windshields at a full-service gas station. When asked to describe his job, he might say, “to wash windshields.” But his real job was “to provide clear vision to the driver.” Sure, it’s cliche, but it sunk in because I still remember it 35 years later.

  64. CommanderBanana*

    Hahahah. I literally used to screen internship applications for the State department. We quickly learned to weed out the ones that said, and I’m not exaggerating, that they would be able to help broker peace in the Middle East during their internship. I needed someone to help organize supplies and deal with admin stuff. I did not need a cranky 19 year old Poly Sci grumping around the office pissed off because he wasn’t getting invited to meetings with Netanyahu.

    1. Spearmint*

      (Posted this in the wrong thread below, reposting here)

      Serious question: what’s the benefit of a (presumably unpaid) internship at the State Department to the intern if all they do is make copies and organize closets? They could get the exact same experience, and get paid to do it, by working for some random business that needed an admin.

      Some admin tasks are to be expected, I cheerfully did them when I was an intern, but if that’s the vast majority of what your interns did then you were just exploiting people to do unpaid admin work for little benefit to them.

      1. CommanderBanana*

        They did, and that was the whole point of the internship. It was an opportunity to see how State worked from the inside, get a feel for the different Bureaus, and see whether you’d want to think of going into federal service as a career. But there was also some admin work, because the Bureau offices always needed help with admin work, and the interns needed to actually have stuff to do on a day to day basis.

        When we had great interns, we did our best to help them find placements, recommended them for entry level fed jobs, served as references for other jobs or for graduate programs and generally tried to help them find the connections they needed to get where they wanted to go. I’m still in touch with some of the students who interned there and are by now well situated in their career. Behaving like a jerk during your internship could follow you around later.

      2. CommanderBanana*

        I mean, if you wanted to eventually work at State, and most of our interns did, there’s an obvious benefit to interning at State versus interning at some ‘random business’.

      3. CommanderBanana*

        Also, don’t forget that the lowly admin staff are often the only staff that are there for any length of time. Almost all the other State officers are FSOs and rotate out every year to two years, so all of your continuity is coming from either your civil service staff or your admin staff. So an admin staffer saying they’ve got a standout intern and advocating for them to be given substantive work goes a long way. I certainly wouldn’t do that for an intern that kvetched that making copies or helping set up an event was below them.

    2. L.H. Puttgrass*

      Did the interns get at least some policy exposure, though? I can see where an intern would be cranky if they only exposure they got to State Department work was overhearing conversations while they’re organizing supplies and dealing with admin stuff.

    3. Becks*

      There’s a lot of delightful (and I truly mean that) naivete in some State Department internship applications. Pro-tip to anyone interested in interning overseas for State, don’t choose France and don’t tell me you want to go there because you studied abroad there and fell in love with the language, people, and food unless you want to be identical to at least 50% or the applications EUR receives.

      All that aside, internships need to be more than just admin work. Occasionally organizing supplies and dealing with admin stuff is fine, that shouldn’t be the main focus of the internship.

  65. anon this time*

    I work at the State Department. Many of the interns come in thinking that they will be handling the issues they are reading about in the news, and seem to have the idea that I work for them (!). Very frustrating, and has made me take a pass on more than one highly-credentialed intern who had never held a job before. We do rely on our interns to do real, substantive work, (in non-COVID times when they could actually come into the office) as well as make copies and perform other clerical tasks. I have to tell you, if Jane was cleaning the supply closet it means one of two things. 1. we had a computer outage and were looking for something for her to do or 2. she is incompetent and it was something that, if she screwed up, wouldn’t hurt anything.

    1. Spearmint*

      Serious question: what’s the benefit of a (presumably unpaid) internship at the State Department to the intern if all they do is make copies and organize closets? They could get the exact same experience, and get paid to do it, by working for some rabies business that needed an intern.

      Some admin tasks are to be expected, I cheerfully did them when I was an intern, but if that’s the vast majority of what your interns did then you were just exploiting people to do unpaid admin work for little benefit to them.

      1. Nanani*

        They get to observe and listen and talk to people doing the work they want to be doing in the future. That kind of exposure is pretty valueable and not available to everyone.

        I’m asuming here they weren’t sitting in a copy closet away from the actual work of the place, but rather doing the copies and printer runs that are a necessary aspect of the work itself.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I could write pages on what I learned in internships but here are a few off the top of my head:
        – how the field works in the real world, as opposed to how it seemed in school — constraints (political and otherwise), realities, weirdnesses
        – parts of the work I didn’t even know were part of it
        – how to write in a way aligned with the needs of the field
        – how other people are edited (because I’d see drafts going back and forth)
        – how to participate effectively in meetings/what those norms are
        – what things are prioritized in an org
        – how to get attention for a problem or idea
        – reasons a problem or idea might not be a big priority, because of their positioning relative to other priorities
        – how to generally conduct yourself in an office
        – power — who has it, who doesn’t have it, who gets it over time and how
        – how to talk effectively to weird/irate/annoying callers
        – how to talk to a busy manager to get the stuff I needed
        – how to ask for and take feedback
        – what kind of feedback is normal to expect
        … and on and on.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Agh, I just realized you were asking about a specific type of internship and I gave you a more general answer. I think the first few on this list would apply though. But also, a big benefit to certain govt internships (like the State Dept) is learning how things are done in that agency and govt in general, making contacts (hugely important) and establishing yourself as a known quantity who has been exposed to professional work in your field.

          1. Spearmint*

            I do get that, but I’ve also known people who took unpaid internships doing mostly menial work in prestigious government organizations who were sold the idea that the contacts and the exposure would lead to bigger and better things, and then for some of them it didn’t, and all they could put on their resumes were low level admin tasks. I think those people rightly feel taken advantage of.

            1. Becks*

              This is a huge problem with government contracting as well. Recruiters sell you all kinds of things about getting a foot in the door, getting converted to civil service, etc. Things that they have no way of following through on.

            2. JT*

              Absolutely agree, especially for unpaid work, And on top of that if they were themselves paying for expensive housing in DC while just doing tasks like copying and cleaning, honestly that really sucks, good internships can include some tasks like that but should also carve out time for learning, shadowing higher ups to meetings, getting exposed to professional materials, etc
              My first internship was with a state senator, and they had every intern take on a specific project so in addition to things like answering phone calls and data inputting they had something to show for their time and something to get into on a deeper level, I think it’s easy to say I paid my dues so now you should too, but it’s better to go hm how can I make someone’s experience valuable for both of us

            3. JT*

              Absolutely agree, especially for unpaid work, And on top of that if they were themselves paying for expensive housing in DC while just doing tasks like copying and cleaning, honestly that really sucks, good internships can include some tasks like that but should also carve out time for learning, shadowing higher ups to meetings, getting exposed to professional materials, etc.
              My first internship was with a state senator, and they had every intern take on a specific project so in addition to things like answering phone calls and data inputting they had something to show for their time and something to get into on a deeper level, I think it’s easy to say I paid my dues so now you should too, but it’s better to go hm how can I make someone’s experience valuable for both of us

          2. Olivia Oil*

            I did an unpaid DC federal government internship in college and it didn’t benefit me that much. I would rather have done a paid job that summer. (I worked part time throughout college, but received a scholarship one semester to do the internship.)

        2. River Otter*

          Cleaning out supply closets and making photocopies don’t really teach you most of those things…

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I’m assuming the internship wasn’t exclusively cleaning supply closets. But yeah, most interns do some low-level tasks and can learn a lot from many of them.

            1. Insert Clever Name Here*

              That is, you’re correct that it isn’t going to teach you anything if you’re so busy sneering that you can’t look for a way to learn something (even if that something is just “sometimes everyone has to make copies”).

      3. anon this time*

        The State Department is a very large organization, so interns do a wide variety of jobs, from accounting to zoonotic disease prevention programs. My interns have written briefing materials for Under- and Assistant Secretaries, have prepared demarches, monitored foreign press reporting on key topics to alert us to e.g., Russian misinformation, helped plan and carry out substantive conferences, etc. There is a lot of value in an internship over and above that work, including meeting people and establishing a professional network. But yes, they also may make copies (and stuffed folders for the conference I mentioned) and perform other administrative tasks. Government budgets don’t extend to large admin support staffs, and I also make copies and stuff folders as needed.

    2. Becks*

      It can also mean that she had a crap supervisor who heard “free labor” and didn’t put any thought into making the internship a meaningful experience for her. Unfortunately, there are more than a handful of those kinds of managers at State.

  66. Ursula*

    I think we really collectively need to tell all kids that half of every job in existence is administrative work. The only people for whom this has a chance of not being true is someone who has a dedicated administrative assistant, and even then, they end up doing some, I’m sure.

    Administrative work is how your other work goes from sitting in a box or on a hard drive somewhere to actually, you know, being implemented.

    1. Ursula*

      And also tell people that data jobs start out as 80% entry, audit, and data cleaning. That percentage goes down as you move up the ladder, but it never goes below 30%.

    2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      But… it’s not? Only time any part of any of my jobs was administrative work was when my job title was “administrative assistant”. Low-level work, monotonous work – sure. I would’ve had no problem doing some admin work if I’d started at a job and saw that it’s part (half, even?) of everyone’s job duties. But that was never the case. And no, I never had a dedicated administrative assistant and never will, lol.

    3. TechWriter*

      I dunno, for my job there’s little-t0-no traditional admin work. We don’t have paper copies of anything. We don’t have an office anymore, so no phones to answer, no meeting rooms to book, no kitchens to stock, no mail to file, no supply room to organize. I guess managing my own emails and booking the occasional meeting in Outlook/Zoom is admin work, but it’s nowhere near 50% of my job. Everything is in an online content management system, so it’s the click of a button to get my work from my computer to where it needs to go.

      Really only the director-types have or need admins in my line of work. And yes, they totally do a ton of work for those people, and yes, that work is essential to keep the project as a whole running. But the work to get my deliverables out the door is done by me, a bunch of automated/self-serve systems, and some very well-trained production folks who do a few more technical tasks to make it go live.

      I’m sure there *are* plenty of jobs with a lot of admin work, but there are also plenty of jobs like mine. Telling kids “you’re gonna do a bunch of admin work no matter what” might make them less surprised if they end up having to do it, but it might also just be whistling in the wind.

    4. Andy*

      That is just not true. It is relatively super sma part of my job.

      And even then, making copy because I need copy for other task and making copy for someone else on order are two different things.

    5. Ursula*

      I should note I consider most meetings (any that are primarily status updates or figuring out who is doing what on a project) and a significant portion of email to be ‘admin work’, as well as doing things like documentation. So I might be using a more expansive definitions that most.

    6. Macapito*

      Not true for me. I print copies of reports I write, send my reports via email to people who implement my findings, upload my reports into a federal database, answer my email, and sometimes turn something on my calendar into a meeting invite for 2-3 people. My job is 2% administrative stuff, 98% skilled work. I don’t make copies, I don’t clean supply closets, I don’t manage calendars, I don’t answer phones, etc. I would be written up for doing any of those things on a consistent basis, as I’m not paid my salary to do those things, as my boss put it once. If I had my interns doing clerical tasks, I would be doing them a disservice.

      I have found it valuable to know how to unjam those big copy machines, though. I have them do that.

  67. Monkey Fracas Jr.*

    I don’t know. If I worked hard enough to get an internship in Washington, I’d expect to learn things that are relevant to my career path. I did a few (unpaid) internships at non-profits during and immediately after college, and I did a lot of work that was relevant to what I wanted to do long-term. It sucked because it was unpaid, but I also came away with incredible experience. Hopefully these interns weren’t just cleaning the supply closet, because that feels a lot like somebody cheaping out on actually hiring an admin assistant. Yes, these kids are brats, but they’re also right.

    1. Monkey Fracas Jr.*

      Also, I’m not sure about this claim that everyone is making about how “half of every job is admin stuff.” I never do admin stuff in my job. Not in my last job, either, or the one before that. If my job made me do admin stuff, I’d quit. This just feels like a way for everyone here to prove they’re more worldly than a couple of 20 year olds. Maybe your companies should hire more admins?

      1. MsM*

        I think it does depend to some extent how people define admin work. I do a fair bit of data entry in my role that gets billed as administrative, and an intern might not be happy about being handed those tasks because they can be very tedious – but for someone new, that data is a good opportunity to learn about who we serve, and how we go about tracking what we do so we can build our departmental strategy.

      2. Meep*

        I could argue half of every job is managing yourself and your time. I could see why people confuse that with “admin work”. Not many people are actually effective at managing themselves.

      3. Fran Fine*

        I’m not sure about this claim that everyone is making about how “half of every job is admin stuff.”

        I don’t think “everyone” is saying this at all. I think a lot of people are saying that many internships and entry level roles require some amount of admin/lower level work and it’s possible the reason OP’s new hires didn’t get to do more substantive work when they were interns is because they complained about doing things that almost everyone in their offices had done when they were new (and were probably still doing from time to time depending on the office) and didn’t show they could be trusted with higher-level tasks.

    2. JT*

      I’m not sure what makes them brats? They’re not saying anything horrible just that they didn’t have a very valuable experience

  68. Nanani*

    The attitude toward support tasks is more alarming than them being naive in and of itself.
    They need to cut that shit out before they get senior enough to demean people who do that kind of work.

    They were in a position to learn a lot by observing and listening while helping out with tasks that may be unglamorous but are still giving them a window into jobs that not everyone gets. Pretty oblivious of them!

  69. IrishIris*

    I was an executive and intern wrangler for a few years and I had some VERY entitled kids. One of them even said “wow, you’re so smart. I can’t believe you didn’t go to college, at least community college.” With my MBA hanging on the wall behind me. Two of my interns didn’t get class credit because they were shitty to the maintenance staff, who are basically everyone’s favorite coworkers and the best.

  70. Resident Catholicville, USA*

    This isn’t so much related to the intern/menial task issue, but I wonder if there’s a general lack of understanding of how everyone’s job affects everyone else’s. I’ve always viewed my jobs as being a part of the bigger picture- even at my last job, where I was pretty much left to my own devices day to day and therefore no one really knew what I did. But I understood that if the people who handled the processes before me didn’t do it correctly, I wouldn’t be able to do my job correctly, which would mean that the people in the next steps wouldn’t be able to do theirs properly.

    At one point, the president of the company sat everyone down- from the lowest level in my division to the highest- and explained that to everyone. I was kind of shocked- this didn’t seem like a foreign concept or something that should have been addressed, but apparently it was.

  71. Matte*

    Yeah, the attitude could just be from being new to work. I also wonder if there was a miscommunication on the details of the internship John was complaining about that could have set them up to think that way. I’ve done a political internship and I mostly worked on grant editing. I wasn’t going around making copies or doing admin tasks at all, but one time I did an interview for a job that was advertised as “communications and social media coordinator” but when I got into the specifics of the job duties, it was basically a full-time office administrative position with bulk of the work being in filing paperwork, with only a small amount of social media work, and I was pretty frank with them that the title was misleading and they should change it to an office admin position when I turned it down.

  72. TootsNYC*

    I disagree–I think that if someone is an intern, they are not there to do scut work. They are there to learn. Period.

    Otherwise, they’re an entry-level employee.

    In my internship program, one of us was yanked from the company they were at because they only thing they’d done in 2 weeks was filing. The program director recruited another company to take them on, because the program has higher standards than that. It was a specialized internship, and we were supposed to be learning about our specialized field, not about ” how to be an employee.”

    On my internship, I did several low-level tasks, like retyping edited text, but those were far more educational than filing would be. But I also got explanations for why things happened, I accompanied people to sit in on meetings (along with explanations), I participated in or simply observed discussions about big-picture planning.

    I also performed actual work, albeit at a lower level and with a lot of close supervision.

    I was there to learn, not to be a cleaning lady or file clerk.

    I would never ask an intern to clean out a supply closet!!!
    If I asked them to file, or make photocopies, it would come along with a LOT of explanations about the project whose filing/photocopies they were working on. They wouldn’t be left with the idea that the only thing they did that was was to make photocopies.

    1. TootsNYC*

      Demeaning that work–that’s a big problem, I agree.

      Personally, I would be trying to prepare my interns for the idea that the access and involvement they have as an intern is not what they’ll have in their first job.

      That they probably will be doing basic office work as a big part of their job, and that they won’t have the kind of access or input once they’re on staff–that this is education, and so it is different.

  73. Me*

    “You probably don’t mean to sound like you’re devaluing administrative work, but our office wouldn’t run without the people who do those tasks. It’s important to be respectful of those jobs, even if you ultimately want to be doing something else.”

    This every time. There is absolutely no task that is ever beneath you. I don’t care if you’re on your 3rd doctorate and have 20 years experience. Everyone at that business matters, and often the people doing those tasks others deem beneath them are by far the most important. Just try working in an environment where no one cleans the bathrooms.

    Shut that ish down HARD.

    Then sure enlighten them that education doesn’t equal experience in the work world so they will get easier, delegable tasks to start. And also that not every part of a job is fun or glamourous.

    But the I’m better than that attitude – needs to go immediately.

  74. Ellen N.*

    As both employees complained specifically about making copies, I’m thinking that their complaint may have been about outdated technology as opposed to believing that the tasks were beneath them.

    I haven’t worked an office job since 2013. Even then, we very rarely made copies.

  75. Decidedly Me*

    Our admin is amazing! She has her hands in so many different tasks and excels at all of them. I feel her absence more than when folks in “higher” roles are out.

    Definitely push back if you hear comments like this! No one should feel less than for their job.

  76. awesome3*

    Often times when I have an intern, I have to take on more menial tasks so that I can give them work that meets the objective for their school credit. If I give them administrative work, organizing, or data entry, I explain to them how that task plays into their objectives they are required to meet, and how that work serves the overall mission/goal.

  77. Free Meerkats*

    You probably don’t mean to sound like you’re devaluing administrative work, but our office wouldn’t run without the people who do those tasks.

    Recently on a national forum, we were discussing the rise in Omicron and a manager at a treatment plant mentioned having all the “non-essential” personnel working from home. When I called him out and asked if his plant could run at all without those people, he backtracked quickly and blamed his administration for the term. But he was the one who used it and I hope he’s not still using it for the people who don’t push buttons and turn valves.

    1. Loulou*

      Maybe I’m misunderstanding, but in this context doesn’t non-essential just mean “their onsite presence is not essential”? I don’t think it’s meant to suggest the TASKS performed are non-essential…much like a hospital could not function without office/admin staff but since they’re not seeing patients, they may be able to WFH in a surge.

      1. doreen*

        Yes, I’ve heard “non-essential staff” since way before COVID and WFH – and it never meant the people or the tasks weren’t essential to my government agency. What it meant is “these are the people who can stay home during the blizzard/after the hurricane because we can get by without them for a day or two while we will send snowplows to pick up the correction officers if necessary”

  78. Retired (but not really)*

    If you pay attention to what you are filing you can learn a great deal about what goes on in that particular office. I’m not talking about reading each item, but more along the lines of these are the vendors we use, these are the clients we serve, this is how the files are set up so I know where things are if I need to reference them later. Granted there is assumed to be much less paperwork now than when I started working, but still there is often much more paperwork involved than we might like. And most of it is actually important!

  79. Just Me*

    This is a petty and passive-aggressive way to solve the issue, but does anyone remember there being a tumblr or blog where White House and Washington-based intern managers shared their stories about clueless interns not understanding basic professionalism or the core functions of an internship? In my dream world I would love to casually mention it to interns and say, “Oh, can you believe the things these interns do….?”

    1. Tinker*

      Why not do it for real, except instead of doing it in a petty and passive-aggressive tone step through it with them as a legitimate case study in how to effectively work within an organization?

  80. Hippo-nony-potomus*

    In the first summer of my internship, I made copies, ran errands, and (it was the ’90s) did things like go to the libraries of the universities around me to look up research. The next summer, my “internship” looked a lot like a full-fledged job that a 30-year-old would have.

    It’s also valuable to understand that it’s sometimes a lot easier to do your own administrative work than to parcel it out to other people. When an admin gets overwhelmed, people who normally use the admin’s services are going to have to do it themselves. This stuff is important and it doesn’t do itself.

  81. Caters*

    I completely agree. When I managed restaurants, I really enjoyed taking an hour to just wash some dishes at the end of a long, crappy night. It’s not the most glamorous assignment but the work is simple and the difference is very tangible. Now that I work in accounting, I like to file invoices when I have a bad day- so satisfying.

  82. a thought*

    Yes, all the work is important, but one perspective to add is that for interns who are doing *unpaid* internships, there are legal requirements about what sort of work they can do. It’s required to be an “educational environment”. So while stocking supply closets isn’t demeaning by any stretch of the imagination – agreed with everyone else that this is worthwhile work that I have done and currently do at my job and I’m sure will do at future jobs – it might not be appropriate (or legal) if that is the majority of the work given to an unpaid intern.

  83. Delta Delta*

    I’m a lawyer and have both been an intern and have had a lot of interns. It is a lot of work to find meaningful, substantive projects for interns to work on, because (at least with lawyers and other licensed professions) there are things the interns simply cannot do. Never mind the fact they don’t have the skills yet – they are literally not allowed to do those things. No, second year law student – you may not give legal advice.

    I did have an intern once who I wanted to punch in the mouth. I assigned a case to him one afternoon, knowing the work that would need to be done could be done by someone at his skill level and in one afternoon. It involved making a few phone calls to gather information, and once the information was gathered, drafting and sending that into an email to a prosecutor. Intern looked me straight in the eye and told me he wasn’t going to do it because, “arguing in front of the court is where I shine.” My boss wasn’t there that day, so I was stuck with his refusal. Interns should not be this guy.

    1. Fran Fine*

      “arguing in front of the court is where I shine.”

      What?! He was an intern – how in the world would he even know this? LOL. Don’t tell me he thought his high school mock court team was exactly like real court experience, lol.

  84. Lor*

    “I worry about these comments because we have people on our team who are in charge of these so-called menial tasks, and I don’t want them to think that we devalue their work. Our office wouldn’t run without their work.” Thank you for noting this and saying it – if more people felt this way, workplaces would all benefit. To me people who do admin tasks (the bulk of my work) and cleaning and maintenance are so important. No one wants to work in a dirty office, with garbage everywhere. These are basic tasks perhaps, but super important.

  85. SawbonzMD*

    I could be wrong and I don’t have a source to quote, but I thought that unpaid internships are only legal if the intern is doing substantive work that will further their knowledge in their field? Again, I could be wrong; it wouldn’t be the first time!

    And this letter reminds me of when I was in high school working in the school office. The assistant principal handed me a sheath of papers and told me to fax them, adding, “I didn’t go to college to send faxes.” I was honestly curious when I looked at hear and said, “I didn’t think they taught faxing in college”!

  86. Andy*

    Internship should be educational. That is the whole point. If the actual activities interns do amount to cheaper admin staff, the position should be named “junior admin”. State department that uses glory of its name to get cheaper admin staff is in the wrong.

    Making also copies once in a while is fine. But there absolutely should be other activities that actually have to do with future job. And no, these tasks don’t teach as much as some commenters make it be. Otherwise we would count part time job at starbucks as professional internship – and we just don’t.

    It is absurd to simultaneously claim internship composed on copying is fine, but actual jobs with actually harder work somehow don’t count.

    Also, there is massive grey zone between “fetch me coffee” and “making policy for middle east”.

  87. OhBehave*

    Hopefully you will get the opportunity to educate them! Jane may very well have thought she was going to broker peace!

    (Sometimes comments on this site demean those jobs. It’s rare here thankfully.)

  88. Beth*

    I actually feel 50/50 on this. On the one hand, the interns absolutely shouldn’t be talking like these kinds of tasks are beneath them. Making copies, keeping the office organized, answering phones, and other administrative tasks are absolutely essential to keeping a workplace running–acting like it’s offensive to be asked to do these things shows a major disconnect about what kind of work is really important. They also do give you a broad overview of the workplace–what kinds of forms are commonly used, what kind of person calls about what kind of topics, how things are structured, who’s in charge of handling what kind of tasks, etc. They allow you to build up the professional experience and trust that are needed to handle higher-stakes work. They allow you to meet a range of people in the company, which lets you start building a professional network. All of these are good things for an entry-level worker to be doing.

    But an internship isn’t supposed to be an entry-level job. Interns aren’t just cheap labor–sure, hopefully their work is a net positive for the company, but the primary reason they’re there is as students trying to learn about this field. They should be exposed to the daily tasks that are part of entry-level work, but they should also be at least hearing about or shadowing higher-level projects, and ideally should have a chance to try their hand at it in a low-stakes way. Even when they are doing routine administrative tasks, someone should be explaining to them how this work fits into the bigger picture. If a student gets through their entire internship without doing anything that they understand to be substantive work, it seems to me that the internship has exploited them, and they have a right to be upset about that.

  89. River Otter*

    Unless the internship was for an admin job, giving them lots of admin work is inappropriate. I would expect an intern to have approximately the same ratio of administrative work to professional work that an entry-level professional hire would have. I think the OP and Alison should rethink what they believe intern duties to be.

    1. Meep*

      This I agree with. Jane’s experience could also be mildly sexist too, if she were the only one to do it. I work for a startup as an engineer so part of that is sometimes taking out the trash. When I noticed I (one of two women) was the only one doing it and recommended that the men take out their own trash in their office space, I was met with scoffs about how they had more important things to do. In this case, while “necessary” it bypassed “appropriate”. I now only clean up after myself. Is there a large stain in the fridge right now that is about to grow legs? Yep. I am going to clean it up? Well, it isn’t my chicken noodle soup or in my job description so tough cookies.

  90. pudding*

    I work in a high-tech engineering start-up. When I joined, there was a guy who was doing an internship with us from his PhD in physics. He screwed aproximately 7500 1 1/2 inch screws by hand into wooden boards. It was his entire internship. (we were prototyping something out of wood).
    He came back to join us once his PhD was completed. He now is in charge of a department that does a thing based on his PhD. Sometimes … you just gotta screw the screws.

  91. Meep*

    I worked at a Science Center on a University Campus for two years during my undergrad. It was a fun place, but the last semester we hired a guy who thought EVERYTHING was beneath him. Didn’t want to stock the shop, walk the floor, work at the cash, do inventory, help with groups, nothing, zilch, nada. He didn’t even want to TALK to anyone. All he wanted to do was play games on the front computer (which he ended up breaking but the doofus installed Windows Steam games on a Mac). Then again, it might’ve been most of the staff on his shift were women (and leads) and he was also a raging sexist… I ended up being the only one who didn’t want to punch his face in so I worked two days a week with this creepzoid.

    I was so glad when three months in he just stopped showing up… Maybe they will just stop showing up?

  92. Becks*

    As someone with a bit of experience with the State Department and its internship program, I do feel bad for the second intern (assuming she’s accurately portraying her experience). Sounds like she got stuck in an office that didn’t know what to do with her. While interns certainly aren’t going to be revamping U.S. policy towards the Middle East, the internship program really stresses giving them substantive work. That substantive work may not always be glamorous (research and writing sometimes aren’t), but it should be more than purely administrative work.

  93. a clockwork lemon*

    OP, something to keep in mind is that your first job was in an administrative role, which means you were getting paid a wage to perform that function. Unless this was an unusual internship (i.e., big law or finance or certain tech internships that are very competitive and extraordinarily well compensated), it’s not unreasonable for these junior employees to be upset that they paid for an opportunity to learn and instead spent the majority of their time paying for the privilege of making copies and cleaning the conference room when they could have just as easily gotten the same role elsewhere and been paid for the work.

  94. Chickaletta*

    15, 10, 3 years ago I would have agreed with OP and Alison. But, with experience, my mind has changed. Slightly.

    I was given these so-called menial tasks at my first job right out of college – I had a BA in Business Administration and literally one month I was discussing Keynesian economic and monitary policy, and the next I was pushing buttons on a copier. Of course, I felt demeaned. In theory, I would have been given more challenging projects and my career progressed. Only. It didn’t. I was so good at taking meeting minutes and organizing the office for other people that that’s where I stayed. Nobody tried to mentor me, nobody gave me challenging assignments. Instead, I floated from job to job trying to find some meaning. Here I am in my mid 40’s, and EA, a professional office organizer. And from my perch in the c-suite, I’ve watched how interns can and should be treated – our current batch are invited to meetings way above their current understanding, given projects that challenge their thinking and help the organization at the same time, and are mentored every step of the way. Sure, they make copies, but they make them for themselves, not for other people. They are growing and will someday have their pick of jobs where they do someday become the people making decisions, forming policy, because they’re being prepared for that. I was not.

    So I say this: be careful if the majority of the work these college graduates are being given are tasks that could be done by someone with a GED. It is not worth their time, or yours, to have them be doing this type of work. They should also be brought up into their careers. It is a fault that our society expects people to just have all this experience, and then not provide that experience to them. Do that for their sake, please. They will, after all, be the ones leading the world someday.

  95. Amorette Allison*

    As someone who runs a copy room and has made around 10,000 copies in various colors, on various machines, in various configurations, for dozens of different people, in the past two days, I want this smug kid to come intern with me. He can learn how to repair the machines and change the ink and toner for different machines ranging in age from 30+ to 3 and know all the quirks and ins and out of all the machines and all the people I make copies for. Guess what, sport? When I’m not there, the place collapses. Because copies are IMPORTANT to the people who need them.

  96. Macapito*

    I once worked with a legal secretary who was highly offended that our new community outreach intern program meant college undergrads coming in and doing her work, like making copies, scanning records, organizing the shared drive, filing papers in our complex case management system, going to the courthouse to drop off filings, and ensuring the subpoenas were properly collated, enveloped, addressed, weighed, stamped, and green-carded with return receipt, etc. She felt highly demeaned, as she valued her work, felt it took skill {and it did}, and lost her efficiency when the kids came and needed helped, trained, corrected, etc. I agreed with her. Her work wasn’t so easy and unskilled that 19 year olds could come in and do it, particularly when they had come to learn about the legal field from the partner. It was a just-for-show stunt that the partner put on the website as a selling point, with no intention of developing, mentoring, or supporting these kids. But, great, an intern organized a supply closet, which I’m sure an admin redid the next day or next week.

    1. Becca*

      Totally agree, and I think it’s two separate things, the interns weren’t there to learn to become admins, they should have been soaking up professional skills in their field, similarly admin work and prepping materials and copied is not easy and can’t just be thrown to whoever, I find the same thing happens with social media where people just go oh the interns can just do that, whereas I actually spend a lot of time making sure we’re presenting our org professionally and that our content is polished and it’s not just some easy thing to do at a higher level

    2. Red 5*

      I have refused intern assistance a few times now because I tried it a few times, and by the time I’d trained someone enough that they were actually helpful, they were moving on. Add to that the fact that training and supervising their work took twice as much time as doing it myself because it -is- a specialized skill set that I’ve perfected over decades, and it wasn’t worth it for either of us. Interns can be asked to make copies in a pinch, but they shouldn’t be replacing a good admin, that’s not what they’re good at.

      1. Macapito*

        Non-admin interns shouldn’t be replacing any admin, good or bad. The interns should be learning about the field they’re going into, so the experience they’re gaining is transferable to their next step, whether it’s another internship, another degree, or their real job. I’ve often seen interns get pushed off into the admin staff because clerical work is seen as “easy,” or as many here have put it…as “scut work…” and the intern supervisor was stressed, didn’t have time, didn’t prepare projects, etc. I have interns and don’t do that to them or my staff. If I can’t commit myself to the mentorship and training in my professional role, I don’t offer an internship. Period. :)

  97. Red 5*

    There a really deep and troublesome disregard and disrespect for administrative work in the public policy world, especially if the LW is in DC. Please, take the time to correct them about how they shouldn’t be insulting the vital administrative work that keeps the company running. I’ve seen the end result of a company full of people who think that stuff is beneath them and it’s not good.

  98. Save Bandit*

    I made a ton of copies in my first job out of college – it was one of my primary jobs, actually. It wasn’t the most fun, but I learned efficiency and time-management from copying and collating hundreds/thousands of packets at a time. I didn’t realize I had learned those things; I assumed everyone just naturally had those skills in the professional world. Then I moved on and saw how extremely inefficient so many people are. Knowing how to doing a job correctly and efficiently, while juggling other projects, is a huge asset to me and has helped make me well-respected in my career.

  99. feral faerie*

    I think that some important context is that these internships were held by undergraduates for the federal government. Undergrad internships on capitol hill are known to be heavier on the administrative work. I never interned on the hill but I grew up in DC so I know plenty of people who did. They are considered prestigious internships so a lot of people clamor for them knowing that it involves a lot of making copies. The tradeoff is that the internships come with connections and they look good on resumes in the public policy field.

    I think that the larger problem with Capitol Hill internships is that they are frequently unpaid or do not pay enough for the intern to actually pay rent in DC for the summer. Some colleges offer stipends, but many do not. The internships are less accessible to people who are from lower income backgrounds or who don’t have financial support from family members. Consequently, people who can’t afford to intern on the hill might have trouble competing against people whose resumes are stacked with these types of internships and who made professional connections while they were interning.

    The comments from the LW’s coworkers seem out of touch because most people who get these internships know going in that there will be a lot of clerical work. Information on what interning on the Hill or for the State Department looks like is widely available online. People generally choose to intern at these places because of the benefits to their career and because they are genuinely excited about being “close to the action”. I think Allison’s suggestions are on point considering the internships in question. If the comments continue, the LW can say something like, “I’ve noticed you make a lot of negative comments about your internship for xyz. I understand where you’re coming from, but just as some friendly advice, complaints about admin work can across as out of touch with some of the norms in our profession. It’s common for people to do a lot of clerical work in these