updates: the awful summer intern, the too-low salary, and more

Here are three updates from past letter-writers.

1. I have an awful summer intern, and I can’t fire him (first update here)

Thanks so much for taking my original question! I wanted to reach out with a somewhat amusing update. I appreciated your, and the commenter’s, advice so much and I tried to be diligent about incorporating that feedback, as well as your general advice given on your site, into my management style going forward.

Last summer and fall, I somehow inherited an even worse intern. To use Stranger Things as an analogy, Bad Intern was the Demigorgon, and Somehow Worse intern was Vecna. And of course, he was brought in by the literal top person in my organization. On his second day, I brought him in to join a conference call with a service provider that works with a niche population with specific needs (let’s say, former cat owners). While we were talking about sending more of my volunteers to help the former cat owners, my intern started spouting off about how they could start educating and including current dog owners as their priority going forward. He 100% didn’t understand what they did, why they do it, or why it’s important to serve former cat owners. I jumped in and immediately clarified that Org did a wonderful job of the important work of serving disadvantaged former cat owners, and we are so honored to be a part of it, and briefly explained the importance of the work.

After that episode, and another less egregious but still mortifying meeting, I looked at your site for ideas on how to handle someone being obnoxious in meetings. I found this letter (https://www.askamanager.org/2016/12/update-my-coworker-keeps-hijacking-team-meetings.html), and adapted the advice to my specific situation. Knowing that Worse Intern was still learning professional norms, I decided to let him know expectations for every meeting he came along to. I would brief him and my other intern, letting them know that a certain meeting was going to be quick and we were largely attending to learn about a project vs. providing feedback actually worked really well to curb the mortifying “let me tell you all how to do your job” attitude he had on the first few calls. I included them both in some volunteer projects, and briefed them about how to work with the team; it was successful enough that Worse Intern was able to work with one of our corporate clients on an important project and they complimented his contributions to me.

I am so incredibly thankful to you for running such an awesome website. I regularly recommend you as a resource whenever work issues come up, and I can honestly say that, as someone who comes from a disadvantaged background with parents who didn’t work in white collar industries, I feel like I’m caught up with my peers on office norms and job searching because of you. So thank you!

2. Ending an interview when the salary is too low (#3 at the link)

After seeing your column, my husband finally got the reassurance to understand that it’s an affront to him for being underpaid and that he doesn’t owe the interviewer anything. Our personalities are pretty different when it comes to work/interviewing whereas I’m more outspoken and he’s more reticent. I think he really needed to see another outside perspective to understand that he’s really worth that much. He quickly got another interview with an amazing company that’s at the top of his practice area and got the market compensation that he asked for. Your site has been invaluable in his job search and mine since we’ll be relocating. Thank you and the commentariats for your sage advice and reasonable outlooks.

3. I’m not included in meetings about my team’s work (#2 at the link)

Thanks for responding to my question! It’s been a while since I wrote in and I feel more at ease in my role now. I’ve improved communication with my team and try to focus on their workload, clashing priorities and whether my support is needed. When I got a clearer view of the bigger picture, I found out that some tasks within my team have been very unequally distributed, which has caused tensions within the team. I’m now working on counteracting that.

As I mentioned in a comment to my question, originally my main problem was related to meetings with other managers (without any of my team members). That situation had already improved by the time I wrote to AAM, but in retrospect I can see that it set me up to be anxious about being left out in general and to be uncertain about the expectations of my team.

In fact, now that I’ve recently completed my first year as a manager as well as annual reviews, I’ve done a lot of reflection and have come to realize just how much of a struggle I’ve been through this year. Just within my first few months as a manager, first my direct supervisor (John) was busy being the acting division head, then we got a new externally hired division head (Liza), and then John went on a LOA for 6 months. The handover from John was too brief and left me uncertain about the expectations for my new role. I had a set of objectives that I didn’t know how to achieve and the whole situation was really overwhelming.

In addition to that, very soon Liza was questioning the division’s organizational structure, which made me feel uncertain about my future. In fact, shortly before I wrote in, Liza had just informed me that my position would be removed upon John’s return (meaning I would be demoted). It was so hard to be confident and to feel useful when I knew I’d lose my position! But I just kept trying to do my best and worked with my team to improve what I could.

In the end, it all worked out fine. When John came back I kept a low profile and about a month after his return I was informed that there would be no reorganization at the moment and that I could keep my position! I’m still not sure about my long-term future at this company, but for now I’m quite happy with the progress I’ve made and John is pleased with what I’ve achieved. I know I still have a lot to learn about management and will continue to read AAM for advice!

{ 51 comments… read them below }

  1. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

    LW3, I’m really sorry they let you sit there for six months thinking your job was going away! If that ever happens again, I would take it as a sign to go work somewhere else.

    1. Healthcare Manager*


      Great that you did well OP, but any work place that treats you like that doesn’t deserve you.

    2. Alan*

      That Liza announcement (“in 6 months your job is going away”) seems very unprofessional to me. She also reminds me of a few people I’ve met over the years at my own job, who come in and announce changes, the people actually empowered to make those changes ignore them, and eventually they go away. Seems like she was trying to flex muscles that she really didn’t have.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        I wonder if for whatever reason Liza just decided she doesn’t like OP and was doing a I’m going to manage you out of here, so you’ve got six months to find a new job? Only John and others preemptively shut it down and forgot to tell you/didn’t know Liza had already talked to you?

    3. Ashloo*

      They’re lucky OP didn’t aggressively job search and bounce before John returned, leaving whomever to deal with both levels vacant.

    1. Fancy Owl*

      As a long time D&D player, it’s been pretty trippy suddenly hearing Vecna’s name everywhere. Probably how comic nerds felt when the Avengers took off and casuals suddenly knew who Thanos was.

      1. Rowan*

        This is exactly how I felt when Game of Thrones went global and all of a sudden I was reading political opinion articles referencing Joffrey and Cersei! Like, suddenly everyone’s talking about those books I read in the mid/late 90s?

    2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Begging for a bit of help here:

      As someone who didn’t play Dungeons and Dragons and also doesn’t have Netflix or HBO, what are the Demigorgon and Vecna?

      1. Lauren*

        The Demogorgon and Vecna both came from the Upside Down, a gothic-horror mirror-world. The former is nine feet tall and very murderous. Vecna – avoiding egregious spoilers here – is a mastermind who is even more intimidating than the Demogorgon when he shows up in a later season.

      2. Huttj*

        Demigorgon is a demon prince bloke.

        Vecna is a powerful undead wizard-god known for his hand and eye being powerful artifacts. Name is an anagram of Jack Vance who wrote some of the sword and sorcery books DnD drew inspiration from.

      3. Kwazy Kupcakes*

        Combining the info from Lauren and Huttj, the kids in the Stranger Things universe encounter creatures from the Upside-Down and name them after entities they’ve fought while playing D&D.

      4. No Longer Looking*

        In D&D, the Demogorgon is a two-headed demon prince, the name was drawn from Christian medieval writings. Vecna was a powerful ancient wizard who had used terrible magics to preserve their life and become an even more powerful and evil undead creature. Long since destroyed, some cursed Vecna artifacts still survive (specifically the Hand of Vecna and the Eye of Vecna).

        In Stranger Things, a horror TV show on Netflix, these names are given by young D&D players to horrific creatures they encounter due to events that I shall not spoil here.

      5. Quake*

        The Demogorgon was a big scary beast who was the “final boss” of the first season of Stranger Things.

        Vecna is a much more sentient demonic man-devil person who is revealed to be in control of all the demogorgons in Season 4. He’s the true main villain.

        Or if it helps, if you’ve seen Marvel the Demogorgon = Loki, Vecna = Thanos.

      6. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Thank you all!

        I read the Marvel stuff as a kid, and have seen many of the movies as well (so Quake’s analogy helps a lot).

        While I love the site – and how current it stays, it’s hard when a lot of the references in letters come from streaming service shows that not everyone has the budget to watch.

  2. Hlao-roo*

    #1 – Great job dealing with your interns! Both the good ones and the bad ones. You sounds like a very competent manager and you are doing everyone a great service by steering the interns in the right, professional direction.

    1. Churple Pairs*

      I agree. This is impressive. In a previous job, we had the culture of not correcting someone who made a faux pas early in their employment, just chalking it up to it being a personality flaw that can’t be fixed. To see it handled this way is just lovely and refreshing.

    2. My Cheap Ass Rolls*

      Truly! This is a great piece of advice for anyone with an intern, or mentoring someone new in their career – explain to them what they need to know instead of waiting for them to pick up on it.

      I guarantee in 10 years time, those interns will look back with the benefit of experience and thing “My manager during my internship really did me a huge favor.”

    3. anonymouse*

      To add to the kudos for LW 1, my family background is doctors, engineers, lawyers, business execs.
      I have two degrees.
      I have 30 years of corporate work experience.
      I have learned more about how to be in an office in the last 5/6 years of reading this site than everything else combined.
      Talking about the Upside Down. Reading this site for the first six months, I felt like everything I’d ever learned was backward, incomplete or flat out wrong.
      (On a positive note, it helped me see what a great manager I have. So upsides as well!)

    4. daffodil*

      I really like the way LW#1 addressed the problem by giving positive expectations for what the intern should be doing at specific meetings. So simple, so brilliant!

  3. I should really pick a name*

    I’d move away from the idea that offering a low salary is an “affront”. That’s making it way too personal.
    They offered him less money than is acceptable for him. He rejects the offer. End of story.

    1. Expelliarmus*

      I agree with you, but from how OP describes their husband, this framing was the best way to get him to stand up for what he really wants.

      1. cubone*

        Yeah I think it was more that the OPs husband thought ending the interview was an affront to the interviewer, and they’re trying to help him understand that he also is allowed to have opinions on what he expects.

    2. Fluffyfish*

      I don’t know. A lower salary than is acceptable is one thing.

      A low-ball offer that is not anywhere close to what the market value of someone’s experience and expertise is
      and should be insulting. It’s not necessarily the hiring manager making that decision, but it is the company.

      There’s plenty of companies out there who will pay as little as they can get away with. People should absolutely take that as an affront. If everyone did, then they’d be forced to raise the salary.

      1. WomEngineer*

        Agree. Sometimes you can tell what it might be from the job title and description (even if it doesn’t say it). idk if I’d hold it against the company, but I’d certainly think “this isn’t the one for me!”

      2. Gumby*

        I agree that there is a line below which it becomes insulting.

        I am on an email list that occasionally sends out job listings. There is a certain program which regularly lists high level jobs for people considering retirement (thus accomplished in their fields and probably near the top of the pay scale for those roles) for, essentially, $25/hour. In the SF Bay Area. For comparison, local fast food places list a range of $18-$22/hour. It’s part of a whole ‘we’ll teach you about working in the non-profit world’ thing and I have to assume anyone who applies both is absolutely set for retirement financially and also considers the positions basically volunteer roles because I get mildly offended even reading the descriptions of the roles attached to this salary. These are NOT entry level roles. Many are management roles, some even VP level.

      3. Ellie*

        Yep, and its an affront when they’re willing to pay other people what they’re worth but won’t increase their offer to you as well. If I know my male coworker is getting paid X and they’re only willing to offer me two thirds of that, that means they see my skills as lesser. It’s not wrong to view it that way.

    3. MCMonkeyBean*

      That’s not how it went down though. He asked for an amount already below market value and the interviewer responded in a way where the OP’s husband felt as though he had offended the interviewer. I think “affront” is pretty reasonable in that particular situation.

  4. Generic Name*

    1) While what the intern did in the meeting was absolutely cringeworthy, I can kind of see why an intern might assume they are expected to provide input if they are invited to a meeting without being told why they are going along. College professors, especially in upper level classes, encourage open dialogue and discussions and challenging other’s ideas in class. It can be hard to switch from that mindset to simply following instructions exactly and not doing a ton of questioning and suggesting when one first gets out of college. I’m glad you were able to guide them and give feedback so they could learn and do a good job.

    1. Fluffyfish*

      Such a good point.

      Add to that that young and inexperienced combined with an education can equate to thinking you are more of an expert than you are. Learning that despite that degree, which supposedly qualifies you do to a job, you still have a whole lot to learn and a whole lot you don’t know can take some time and the occasional rude awakening.

    2. Filosofickle*

      LW taking the time to brief the interns on what’s expected of them in a meeting is super helpful. And not just for interns! I’m decades into my career and know how to read a room, but when it’s a new client / job / situation I will often check in advance what kind of meeting it is and whether I should step up or back. It’s just good practice.

    3. RB Purchase*

      Great point! A big meany internship boss I had scolded me for lightly chuckling during a call with a client during the first 2 weeks of my very first legal internship. Like most interns, it was my first ever office job and I did not know that interns do NOT participate on client calls. I was coming into the legal world after spending most of my previous work experience in hotel recreation departments, so I had a huge culture shock. This internship was heavily focused on the premise of it being my job to figure out what I think I should do and then getting told what I should’ve done instead so a lot of the information he taught me was through a lens of “I can’t believe I’m telling you this; You should already know this.”

    4. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      yeah, and then you read things in articles catering to women and minorities like “get a word in at the meeting early on so that it’s easier to speak up later” and wanting to make a good impression so people will remember you and there you have it: the young know-all who barges in sounding off crazy ideas.

  5. Hiring Mgr*

    This is beside the point, but the Vecna intern seems way better than the first guy. Vecna seems clueless whereas the first one was openly hostile and yelling and screaming at you.

    1. LW #1*

      Vecna was way worse. Bad Intern definitely sucked and definitely did actually argue and was rude to staff, but Vecna more or less actively told a group of women who do SUPER important work providing a critical service that their org should refocus on this thing that he thinks is more important because who cares about cat owners anyway, they should have made better choices.

      Vecna is also super, super overprivileged and it showed. His family is the type that owns multiple estates (not homes, estates) in multiple countries. My work involves working with poor people and orgs that serve their needs, and he occasionally treated it as this oddity that he was learning about instead of people’s lives.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Ah yes, the “what do you mean there are people who aren’t like me” privileged types who then are willing to change their opinion. The whole world got to see a few of those in action about 6 years back for the span of about four years.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Sorry – I hate autocorrect.
          That should have read “privileged types who then are UNWILLING to change their opinion.”

      2. Hiring Mgr*

        I wonder why he even wanted the job in the first place? I guess if the CEO or whoever is just going to make anybody an intern without anyone else having a say this is what happens..

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Wonder if his college program required an internship, and they latched on this company because their relative was a big shot and they didn’t have to work hard to get said internship?

          1. allathian*

            Sounds very likely.

            I work for a government agency, and we have interns every year, including two years of almost completely remote interns. Our organization is in a slightly obscure field, in the sense that if you mention our name, the average person has no idea what we do. For this reason, we get a lot of internship applications from people who have family members working for us, but being the young relative of an employee, regardless of their place in the org chart, is no guarantee you’ll get an internship, but it simply makes it more likely that you’ll know about us.

  6. ThisIsNotADuplicateComment*

    Way to go OP1! I’m glad Worse Intern was able to improve his behaviour and that the improvement was properly credited to you!

  7. TootsNYC*

    re the bad intern:

    , I decided to let him know expectations for every meeting he came along to. I would brief him and my other intern, letting them know that a certain meeting was going to be quick and we were largely attending to learn about a project vs. providing feedback actually worked really well to curb the mortifying “let me tell you all how to do your job” attitude he had on the first few calls.

    Isn’t that something you should do for EVERY meeting, and for EVERY intern?

    When I wasn an intern, that’s what the staff did for me. The Big Boss would come and say, “Come to the meeting, so you can learn. Here is who is going to be in the meeting. Here is stuff about their role. Here is what we’ll discuss. Here is what we hope to achieve. Here is where I think someone will object to my proposal. Here is the person whose approval is most important.”

    During the meeting, sometimes he’d interrupt to say to me, “Here’s why she’s recommending that,” and often the other person would further explain.

    On the way back, he’d say, “Here is what went different than I thought. Here is what we’ll do with the information or decision we gained from this.”

    Interns are supposed to be learning. You have to teach them. Actively, as well as passively.

    1. Jackie Straw from Wichita*

      Yes, it is what you do with interns, although I’d say not every meeting. If it’s a follow up on a meeting they were briefed on last week, etc., and hopefully not at that level for every meeting by the time they’ve been there awhile.

      I also think it’s reasonable to expect an intern NOT to pipe up in a meeting about a product they know nothing about, with clients they’ve never met, while working for a company—and in a role—they know almost nothing about. The LW wasn’t off their gourd to think that and not brief to the level they then started doing. Most people wouldn’t do that at all but definitely not on their first day.

      1. Warrior Princess Xena*

        Yes – if you brief an intern on ‘meeting etiquette for a kickoff meeting with client A’, I’d expect that if there’s a kickoff meeting with client B next week I wouldn’t have to repeat everything to do with kickoff meetings. I’d still brief them on ‘here’s what’s different for client b’ though.

    2. Mid*

      Ehh…to a certain extent yes, but I think what you’re asking for is a lot of time and effort for people who are already stretched too thin. I figured out by the time I was interning that I didn’t get to steamroll people in meetings and I was there to learn and listen. Having a debrief or regular check-ins should be part of an internship, but I don’t think you should be expected to explain basic meeting behaviors before EVERY single meeting. And what your boss did was, quite frankly, A LOT, and very atypical.

  8. Luna*

    LW1 – “To use Stranger Things as an analogy, Bad Intern was the Demigorgon, and Somehow Worse intern was Vecna.”
    Personally, that tells me nothing because I don’t watch the show. From context, though, I can presume that one is decided worse than the other.

    LW3 – It sucks to think you are losing your position, even if it’s ‘just’ a demotion because it lowers the money you make and what you can do. And telling you that six months ahead of time… I can understand letting someone know that their current position is temporary, with a general idea of how long it takes, but at the same time, telling it bluntly can lead to a huge loss of motivation (and, in your case, anxiety) and an easy trap into the “I’m not gonna keep this position in X months, so why should I bother trying to do more than The Absolute Minimum at it?”
    Good to hear that it worked out well, though! Maybe Liza can improve on how to bring up the temporary positon news next time.

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