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For the last month I've managed an intern in my department. This year will be my 3rd year managing an intern, however my last two years were with the same intern. My first intern was very good at not only work, but professional aspects of the job. He asked questions whenever he felt lost, and tried to work towards independence by trying to mirror the way I try to work. He was attentive, asked focused questions, and he was very independent.

Fast forward to this year, I have an intern who is almost exactly the opposite. Professionally, he's somewhat behind which is likely because he worked in retail for 10 years (He's older than me by around 8 years). I don't mind this as it's part of the training process, but he doesn't try to learn. He's very good at showing he's interested in this profession, as any career changer should be, but when it comes to actual work his work product is completely unsatisfactory. He sends me work as final with errors that anyone would catch within 10 seconds of looking at the spreadsheet (egregious typos, charts with #N/A's everywhere, etc.). I think the most frustrating thing though is that even a month in, he puts no effort into independently working through a solution. I spend almost 3 hours on average daily helping with his work, because he calls me randomly during each step of a process. If I don't engage, he puts in absolutely no effort to move forward and will passive aggressively complain that I wasn't able to help him the previous day. While our company and even myself encourage asking questions, I feel like he's taking extreme advantage of this by asking questions on every small topic that he could atleast try to put effort to think through himself (and reach a similar conclusion).

The main issue here is our department is very short-staffed right now and we're hiring for two positions. Our intern is obviously aware of this, and with the fact that he's a career changer he's been pressing me about this every week (The second day of his internship he asked me what I thought and if he could be hired for a full time position, the answer was obviously no.).

I'm wondering what the best way to spell all this out to my boss would be in the most professional tone/wording possible. I do have a (strong) personal opinion on the matter, but I'd like to be objective in how I phrase everything.

Unfortunately for myself, in my weekly meetings with my manager, I've tried to be nice about him and said he's helping out to the best of his ability and he shows drive (which is partially true, but showing and acting are different) because it's hard to judge someone on 1-2 weeks, but now that it's a month in, things are really much more stressful for me.

Almost half my day is spent teaching an intern things I've already told him many times before. I took a day off too as I wasn't feeling well, and told him to reach out to my cell if anything urgent came up and he reaches out to me for something that was extremely minor (as in, whatever decision wouldn't have even affected the final product if he thought 1 step further). It's just really annoying not being able to find time to do my own work because someone is grossly incompetent and not willing to learn. I would highly appreciate any advice on this.

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    Not really worthy of an answer, but I should imagine that you can speak somewhat candidly about this to your boss. No point being coy about it. It's your job to give your boss a clear picture, not sugar coat things. Jun 29 at 23:43
  • So have you provided this intern achievable goals to improve? When they make obvious errors, have you made the intern fix those errors, or did you do it yourself? Have you told your manager that this intern has problems, since you are responsible for training the intern, it seems it’s your responsibility to inform your manager of a training problem
    – Donald
    Jun 30 at 0:14
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    Have your intern read this: jackkinsella.ie/articles/janki-method Using SRS has been a game changer for me professionally. With that said, tell your boss the truth. Do not bring up his age, or his background, because those things are irrelevant. But there is no point in sugar coating this issue. And in the future, (I know I'm going to receive hate for this), but be a little more selective about the interns you hire (either that, or have shorter internship periods). Jun 30 at 0:46
  • @StephanBranczyk Thanks for the feedback. I completely agree. Jun 30 at 2:31
  • @JoeStrazzere It's really not, it's just another perspective to consider that's worth mentioning. I don't think there's really an issue with age unless it correlates to the other issues, which may be possible, but it's too difficult to say. Jun 30 at 2:32
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When you talk to your boss, point out that you know you are short-staffed, and this intern is helping to the best of his ability, but his ability doesn't include any independence or figuring things out on his own, which is taking time from you.

So you are actually more short-handed because of him, and while the internship is helping him, it should not be a long-term option as it will not also help the company.

Admit that at first you thought he was going to do a better job, but now that more time has past, you are still helping him with the same basic tasks. Perhaps it might be that you're not training him adequately, and offer to let your boss be part of a training session, if they would prefer. That way, they might be able to give you some training tips. (Or, more likely, they'll see that you're doing the training just fine, and the intern just isn't interested in learning.*)

*The intern might act differently in front of the boss, and actually show some initiative. If so, when he flails when the boss is not around, ask him why. Point out that if he can do good work in front of the boss, you expect him to do good work the rest of the time too.

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I suppose you can try to encourage the intern to think, learn, and work more independently.

For example, when the intern asks for help, you can:

  • Ask him what he has done so far to try to solve the problems
  • Give him some good suggestions on how to solve the problems
  • Encourage him to try out the solutions on his own based on your suggestions
  • Make it clear to him that the company prefers to hire workers who can learn fast and work independently
  • Tell him how previous interns have been hired ONLY because they were able to learn and work independently

Please give the intern some time to try out this new approach.

However, if the intern still does not improve a few weeks after you try these new suggestions, then you may need to give your manager an honest report on whether or not you think the intern is a good fit for your company.

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  • This is the better answer, although I'd give the boss a heads up now as well. Jun 30 at 16:05
  • @thursdaysgeek, Thanks for your good suggestion. I will add that to my answer soon. Jun 30 at 17:01
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Taking out the emotions from the situation, which includes your opinion on his effort levels, does he meet the minimum expected standard that is required to do the job to the expectations of the customer/bosses? If yes, this is solely a personal issue. If not, you need to highlight this objectively with factual information.

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