I'm working as a senior developer and my manager told me that I'm been considered for a promotion so I should start getting some experience managing people as it might soon become part of my responsibilities. That was good news and I was quite happy about it. I was also told that my first experience would be with a summer intern. I learned that my company hires around 40 summer interns that are then assigned to some managers (or future managers) almost randomly.

After just the first few days I started to notice that something was wrong with my intern. Despite all the best intentions he was completely unable to do even the most simple tasks. As an example, despite claiming to be familiar with web technologies and having a portfolio of multiple websites, when I asked him to write a very simple utility in JavaScript (5/6 lines of code) he was completely stuck. When trying to help him I learned his issue was not knowing how to check whether an array was empty or not, something which I would expect anyone able to code could easily Google.

Day after day I saw him struggling with the most basic programming concepts and with programming tools, despite the fact that the (smaller and smaller) projects he was assigned used the same stack he claimed to be familiar with.

I didn't give up and kept on trying to help him, but this ended up with me being on Zoom calls with him every day for many hours with me basically dictating code and explaining its meaning.

Just as a comparison, for a few weeks I also managed other interns because some coworkers in my position (potential future managers) were on holiday and while obviously they were relatively unskilled, they were all able to work by themselves and produce "working code" when given a simple and clear task.

I don't really blame this poor guy. He is young and inexperienced and I have no idea if he lied on his resume or cheated during the interview. Who I blame here is whoever conducted the interview and hired someone like him.

I'll have to give an assessment on the intern which will basically boil down to hire/not-hire. In theory I could just evaluate the intern as a not-hire, but do you think I should go one step further and investigate how someone so incompetent was hired? I'm afraid I will become "the bad guy looking for trouble in doing so".

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Lilienthal
    Commented Aug 24, 2021 at 20:37

11 Answers 11


Interviewers/Hiring Managers are human - and as such they aren't going to get it right all the time. This means unfortunately that the occasional person gets hired (or accepted for an internship) who really shouldn't have been. We don't know whether the candidate lied about their experience to the interviewer but from what you've said here:

claiming to be familiar with web technologies and having a portfolio of multiple websites

suggests that they may well have done. If they're claiming skills they don't have to you they probably would have done the same at interview.

From the way you describe your company's internship program - that after the summer there's a hire/no-hire decision to be made essentially the internship itself is essentially a long-term job interview. And if you look at it like that the process is working - an unsuitable candidate has been filtered out.

I'm working as a senior developer and my manager told me that I'm been considered for a promotion and so I should start getting some experience managing people as it might soon become part of my responsibilities.

It sounds to me like you've handled this pretty well so far, you've identified a subordinate who is struggling and you've attempted to resolve the situation by giving them extra guidance, and the fact that they haven't been able to improve sounds like a fundamental unsuitability on their part rather than a lack of management nous on yours.

do you think I should one step further and investigate how someone so incompetent was hired? I'm afraid I will become "the bad guy looking for trouble in doing so".

I wouldn't. One data point is not enough to establish that there's anything intrinsically wrong with the way the company is selecting these interns - if anything the fact that the others you've interacted with seem to be doing well suggests the opposite. If they had all (or even mostly) been this poor then it might warrant closer investigation. At this point it sounds as though they accept relatively inexperienced/unskilled candidates and then see how they respond to the training, which seems fair enough and it's something that's very, very, hard to screen for at interview.

No selection process is going to be perfect remember, and the fact that the company has the post-internship evaluation in the first place suggests that they are well aware that unsuitable candidates are going to slip through the initial screening. Blaming the people who hired them in the first place is a recipe for disaster - for one thing it may not be well founded and secondly it's a surefire way to make an enemy which could give you grief in the long run. If it turns out your own boss was the person who greenlit the original hire for example it's going to be a severely career-limiting move.

Assess this intern as "no-hire" and if possible detail what you tried to help them be productive, then move on with your life and hope the next intern you get assigned is a better prospect.

  • "Assess this intern as "no-hire" and if possible detail what you tried to help them be productive, then move on with your life and hope the next intern you get assigned is a better prospect." Well put - one might add that if summer-interns are almost randomly assigned that the OP might suggest to be present at some of the interviews to be able to get a first impression of the candidates and might be able to even hand-pick one he thinks is competent enough to actually do the tasks in his pipeline..
    – iLuvLogix
    Commented Aug 23, 2021 at 15:01
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    @iLuvLogix That might work on a small scale but it sounds as though there's fairly high numbers of interns and mentors so including mentors in the interview process might get.. messy. And of course it's possible that the somewhat random nature of assignment may be to prevent mentors fighting to get the "good" ones and avoid the "bad".
    – motosubatsu
    Commented Aug 23, 2021 at 15:08
  • True, haven't thought about those possible issues that might arise in a 'larger' scenario ;)
    – iLuvLogix
    Commented Aug 23, 2021 at 15:15
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    It may all depend, what one understands by the terms "web technologies" and "web sites"... in case of Dunning Kruger effect, he might be fully convinced of his skills, at least until failing a few times - and then likely blaming others for whatever reason, once the performance is being judged. Somehow it is kind of "fake it until you make it" approach.
    – user1026
    Commented Aug 24, 2021 at 4:10
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    Are we totally forgetting that many bad interns come from nepotism? Commented Aug 24, 2021 at 17:52

I have been in your same situation, and I was among those who interviewed and picked the intern.

Apparently the intern was great at talking, and thus aced the interview, but when it came to turning the talking into action they were not as good.

I acknowledged the evaluation error with my manager, and we agreed that such an event should not happen again. How?

While you should report to your manager that the intern is struggling and it is also costing your time (because if you are spending hours on helping them you are not doing your work), instead of starting a sort of witch-hunt on who did the choice, use this as an opportunity to improve the hiring process: examine what went wrong in the process and avoid it to happen again. For example add some practical test to the interview (e.g. "Your CV says you can code in Javascript, how would you write the code for doing this task?").

This will do much more good to your employer than bashing somebody for misevaluating a candidate intern.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – motosubatsu
    Commented Aug 26, 2021 at 6:45

...[D]o you think I should go one step further and investigate how someone so incompetent was hired?

Going to ask you straight up:

What are your expectations of interns?

I'm working with two interns and bringing two more on board as well, and I must say that the expectations that I have of my interns are pretty simple:

  • Pair with a senior developer or myself to get a feel for what we do and how we do it
  • Be prepared to ask questions or remain inquisitive on the subject matter we're working in
  • Don't sweat it too much if you don't get something - we're here to mentor and guide you

From what you describe, it sounds like you're treating the intern as if they have experience in the real world or if they're a junior developer, which...to be blunt, is not the expectation you should have set. You expect them to be able to handle or tackle problems on their own or solve things on their own. Going to say that interviews are gamified to the max at this point and anyone can say anything to wow you; this is why knowing what you want out of them and looking to get at least that is more valuable than what they can dazzle (or baffle) you with.

You should first approach this from the perspective of figuring out what the initial expectations were of the intern. If it turns out that based on the external definition of expectations, they're not meeting those, then you can approach your evaluation in any manner you see fit.

But don't evaluate them as if they were a junior developer. That isn't the way.

  • I agree with this, I worked at a bank which had an intern process where we'd be assigned interns and they'd rotate between desks. It was a chance for us to evaluate them, and for them to get a better understanding of different roles in the bank. They were never there for long enough, or had enough background to be particularly productive. Commented Aug 25, 2021 at 2:07
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    I think this is a good point in general, but I don't think the expectations here are set too high. At least in my experience, software interns are expected to be able to write basic code and have some level of autonomy. They will ask a lot of questions and need a lot of guidance, but not hours a day with no apparent improvement.
    – Alex Jones
    Commented Aug 25, 2021 at 12:40
  • It may be somewhere in the middle. OP suggests that interns are hired to do a job -- a job other than learn how the job they're studying for is performed in the real world. Having an intern that isn't able to function to the point that you'd expect from an intern doesn't mean the intern is a bad hire: they're not hired to produce actual labour.
    – Martijn
    Commented Aug 26, 2021 at 10:53

Fundamentally, the most proactive step you should take is to have a conversation with your manager and explain all this. They may decide to get involved and verify your assessment.

In any case, you can ask for their advice. You have been given a subset of responsibility of a manager. That does not mean you can decide to go off and restructure the hiring processes.

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    Speaking to a manager or someone involved in the intern program and saying "This person isn't cut out for programming, is there anything else they can do?" would be a good way to start. If it's a big intern program, you can bet this has happened before. Answers treating this as a freak occurrence aren't realistic.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Aug 23, 2021 at 16:24
  • And don't forget to document everything: just a sentence or two about what the intern couldn't do, why that conflicts with their claimed experience, how many hours you had to help them on zoom, etc. It's possible this kid got in due to corruption (e.g.: intern is a nephew of a Director or something), and you don't want them to twist it into "interns are interns, the mentor was just expecting too much". Document everything, CYA.
    – MGOwen
    Commented Aug 25, 2021 at 2:18

Internships exist because schools do a poor job of preparing people for actual work. School assignments tend to be spoon fed and overspecified. Being "familiar with a stack" to a student often means "I have heard of it and completed the getting started tutorial." "Portfolios" are often collections of slightly-customized tutorial output.

Preparing interns for actual work is your job. Your company has decided it's worth spending a significant amount of your salary on. I've had my interns wash out before, but I do my absolute best to make sure it's not because of something I did or failed to do.

Some general thoughts:

  • It's okay to assign interns "remedial" work. Have them complete some tutorials on the stack you're using.
  • Teach techniques for navigating large code bases. It can be overwhelming to work in a 100K+ LOC code base for the first time, with all the concomitant tests and build files and processes. Just cloning a project, building it, and running tests is an assignment in itself.
  • Try to assign tasks at first that have a clear sign of success. For example, you can write a failing test for a bug and have them fix it. Open-ended tasks take a while to work up to.
  • Interns need time to digest. Sometimes I give an assignment, then the next day they have really stupid questions, then the day after that, they have good questions, then the day after that, they understand the problem enough to start. We sometimes forget how much background info we know that took a while to build up.
  • Interns need clear time expectations. Sometimes they get overwhelmed because they think they are taking too long. Sometimes they are taking too long and you need to help them complete things more incrementally, instead of following the school pattern of turning it in when it's "done."

Remember, this is supposed to be a learning experience for you as well. Treat it as such. Get feedback from others on things you can try. Even if you are pretty sure he is going to wash out, challenge yourself to see how much you can help him improve in the mean time. People problems are often more challenging than technical problems, and I know engineers can really thrive on a good challenge if they have the right mindset. Try to focus on the things you can influence, rather than the things that are out of your control.

  • Karl, I think you've short-changed OP's successful management of previous interns and his efforts to date with this one. Faulty personnel selection processes are things that can be changed - and should be changed - by any staff-member tripping over them. Good management is not like a slow bicycle race where the "best" is decided by doing the least.
    – Trunk
    Commented Aug 24, 2021 at 19:29
  • Nothing I said conflicted with also trying to change the selection process. Commented Aug 24, 2021 at 19:52
  • By suggesting so many things where OP has to bear the strain, you've implied that the OP's clear assessment (that he isn't up to the job) is wrong. Any of us can only work with what he's been given. The intern OP was given is clearly not good enough for even simple basic tasks. Your answer seems to suggest that some "clever management" will change this. You know damn well it won't - it'll just make OP and intern feel worse.
    – Trunk
    Commented Aug 24, 2021 at 20:29
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    I'm not saying the assessment is wrong, or that OP is somehow to blame or must bear the brunt of the consequences. I'm just saying there's something that can be salvaged and learned from the situation. Commented Aug 24, 2021 at 20:56
  • Situations can be changed, Buddy. The OP drew the dud in a flawed intern placement process. Those of us not in such a situation shouldn't begrudge him the moral support in freeing himself from it. Christ, what the hell do you care anyway ?
    – Trunk
    Commented Aug 25, 2021 at 0:20

There are different approaches to managing people, and you seem to be stuck with micromanaging your intern. Dicating code helps no one. It frustrates you and probably makes your intern feel incompetent as well.

Treat this as an exercise for yourself. If all employees were skilled and highly motivated, there would be little need for management.

What you can do is switch to guidance mode. If the intern lacks programming skills, put him on hackerrank or codewars websites and provide some problem-solving tips/tutorials. And leave them for a week there.

After a week, your intern has either:

  • Learned something useful, gained confidence, and ready for more challenging tasks

  • Completely suck or kept pestering you with trivial questions.

When you have to evaluate, look at how much progress the intern has made and how independent they are learning new things.

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    A good idea if it was week 1. Not so good now where intern and manager have already adopted a very different approach.
    – Trunk
    Commented Aug 24, 2021 at 18:59

I'm going to disagree with the other answers and say that you should go above and beyond and try to figure out how this person was hired. The thing is, when someone like this is hired, you fundamentally have 2 choices:

  1. You can help them. This requires, as you've noted, hours and hours of time essentially dictating code and being a programming teacher in addition to your normal responsibilities. While there's nothing wrong with mentorship, having to literally teach someone how to check if an array is empty is beyond the pale. This is going to make you unproductive yourself and impact your own job performance, and frustrate you.

  2. You can ignore them. Just let them sit and deskwarm, throw them a 5-minute task once a week just to keep them busy or whatever, have them document existing structures, or whatever. The problem with this is that it frustrates the intern because they're not doing anything, it does not provide them with value for their time, and it wastes the company's money (more on this in a moment) by paying someone who is not providing value (assuming you're paying these interns, I certainly hope you are).

So, in the former case, you're wasting your time, in the latter case you're wasting their time. In either case, someone's time is being wasted and that is not good. Ideally, the interns are experienced enough that they can work mostly independently (with mentorship), and allows you to spend most of your time doing your own work.

The other thing is, if this intern isn't doing work, then the company is wasting money. They're wasting money paying this intern who can't do the work, and they're also wasting money paying you to teach them Coding 101 which they didn't have coming in. Just as an experiment, take how long you've spent with this intern on Zoom calls, calculate that relative to your hourly rate (dividing your salary by your hours), and figure out how much money the company has wasted on your salary for you doing nothing in order to teach this intern. The number is probably frightening. I'm sure the company would rather not waste that money.

As you've surmised, something went wrong when this intern got hired. They weren't sufficiently vetted, their portfolio was not sufficiently combed, their skills were not sufficiently tested, etc. This can be used as an opportunity to improve your hiring protocols. It might be worth discussing with the people responsible for that hiring process to ask them what sorts of vetting questions precisely were asked, and make suggestions on what could be done better next time. The goal should be to use this experience to have better filtering and vetting of applicants in the future, not to yell at someone or point fingers. One suggestion that you may want to give is that Cracking the Coding Interview is a public-domain book (in that anyone who wants it can buy it) that anyone can buy and study, so if they're simply asking questions out of that book (which many companies do and might be one of your company's problems), they may want to not do that.

In the meantime, you may also want to speak to your manager to see if there is something they can suggest to get you off of babysitting duty, because you're not being productive due to babysitting this intern. Your manager may have some suggestions or ideas.

  • "(assuming you're paying these interns, I certainly hope you are)." If the intern is doing it as a part of their university degree, they may not be.
    – nick012000
    Commented Aug 24, 2021 at 11:09
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    @nick012000 I still hope they are. Anyone who is providing their time to the company deserves to be paid for their time. Note, I did not say "providing work" or "providing value", or "paid for their work", because that's not how employment contracts actually work and the difference is important.
    – Ertai87
    Commented Aug 24, 2021 at 14:55
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    If the intern is doing work that you would assign to a normal employee to get done if the intern wasn't there, then they aren't an intern, they are just an employee*. Since you are spending resources (training and/or pay) on them in order for them to do stuff which you wouldn't otherwise bother to do, they are by definition a loss of money. This one is maybe more of a loss than the average intern, but not that much more, really, even good interns take up a ton of time and effort. *Employee vs intern is a legal distinction, with a few other details, in the US, so that's what I'm using. Commented Aug 24, 2021 at 19:39
  • So what do companies get out of it, if even the best interns are still a net loss? Well, you get a chance to have first shot at hiring the best ones. You get to pay them less (or not at all) while you're training them. If you make a good impression, you're spreading your network--they will go back to school and tell their friends about the great internship, and then when their friends want jobs they will apply to you (and personal recommendations are one of the best hiring indicators). And you can filter out the bad ones painlessly by just not hiring them later. Commented Aug 24, 2021 at 19:44
  • @user3067860 That is not always true. In companies where I've been an intern, it was mostly true, but in companies where I've worked where I have worked with interns, the interns do just as much valuable work for the company as regular employees. Yes, they make mistakes and are inexperienced and we don't put them on critical-path functionality, but they definitely contribute their fair share and earn their paycheque. Interns should be treated like junior-level employees; perhaps paid less due to circumstances, but they shouldn't be dismissed as "just interns" or whatever.
    – Ertai87
    Commented Aug 25, 2021 at 16:15

Any given intern (or any other candidate) applying to any given company may not actually know much at all about the topic at hand. In some cases they may get through the interview process even though the company wouldn't want to have hired them had they known what their level of knowledge was. In other cases the company may see it as more of a teaching experience for the intern where the benefit to the company can be much smaller (and the benefit may not even be about the work the intern does at all). So I don't think it would be entirely unexpected nor necessarily problematic to occasionally run into an intern that's "totally incompetent", as you say.

There are basically 3 solutions to the problem, in order of preference:

Fix the problem

You've already tried to do this, but I feel I should add a few things.

Dictating code to someone teaches them very little and doesn't help that much with allowing them to figure out the solution to the next problem by themselves. An explanation of code is more helpful, but at times it can also be quite hard to follow that and to not really remember what's been explained, even if you understand it in the moment. Explaining your thought process (as in how you actually come up with the code, instead of what the code does) could be more helpful.

But what I would generally suggest instead is to ask lots of questions and to try to lead them to the solution instead of just explicitly telling them the solution (or at least doing so where it's realistic to do so).

I see 2 main problems that make people struggle with learning programming:

  • The inability to break down problems. This is probably what I see most often from people who are struggling with learning programming. This is more a problem of thought processes and can't really be solved by skipping straight to the answer. If I can't figure out directions to get somewhere, telling me how to get there does help with the immediate problem, but I wouldn't know how to figure out directions to get somewhere else (other than to ask you). You need to address the thought process directly.

    How do they break down a vague problem into high-level steps of what code needs to do? How do they break down those high-level steps into actual lines of code? How do they "break down" the problem of "I don't know how to do a thing" into a series of steps that would lead them to knowing how to do the thing (which may include Googling it)?

    Asking them questions and letting them actually do things by themselves (under your supervision) helps them to break problems down, since you can ask them directed questions in a way that breaks the problem down in ways they can easily replicate in future and you can fill in any gaps in their ability or knowledge along the way.

    If they often struggle with things one can easily answer with a Google search, you can ask how they'd solve the problem if you weren't there. If they can't get there themselves, you can suggest that they Google it (ideally with you watching, e.g. via screen-sharing). If they can't figure out the right thing to Google, you can potentially ask them how they'd ask you the question.

    It can often help to put aside the programming context and put the problem into a real-world perspective (if possible). You want to find the smallest element in an array and you don't know how. Okay, here's a row of balls. Find the smallest one. Even a relatively small child should be able to do that and being able to turn that into code in a high-level programming language often requires little more than the knowledge of the syntax and functions of the language. Of course it isn't always an exact translation and you might need to add constraints so they come up with a solution that would actually make sense in a programming context.

  • The lack of knowledge of specific programming concepts, functions, syntax, etc. This has a fairly straight-forward solution: make them aware of those things. Now if they don't know anything at all about programming, it may be an unreasonable burden to expect you to teach them all of that. They could also learn it by themselves if they're pointed to appropriate learning resources, which may or may not take too long for the purposes of an internship. Whether it would take too long is something you'd need to judge for yourself.

Get rid of the problem

If you have an employee who isn't performing well enough, and you've tried sufficiently hard to fix the problem, the next step would be to fire them.

However, as noted above, an intern's lack of ability to get much done by themselves may not actually be considered a problem for the company and thus wouldn't be a reason to fire them. Also, firing interns for performance reasons (especially when they're trying) may be frowned upon, as internships don't typically last that long, the firing process could take a while and firing them may generally be seen as not worth the trouble. If you personally don't know whether it would be appropriate here, your manager could advise you on that.

The typical manager can often just fire an employee by themselves, or at least start that process with HR (although different jurisdictions have different laws that may affect this).

If you're not yet at the stage where you can do that yourself, you'd probably need to speak to your manager about it. If they're a good manager, they'd first discuss and offer suggestions to fix the problem instead.

I wouldn't phrase it as "we need to fire this intern", but rather "how can we solve this problem". In general it's good to propose a solution when bringing your manager a problem (and it may be good to mention firing here), but I'd be cautious to avoid making it seem like that's the first place you'd turn when dealing with poor performance.

And don't tell your manager the intern is "incompetent". That's a rather negative sentiment and some may consider it a personal attack. Instead just stick to the facts of what they know and don't know, and can do and can't do, and whether you think they're actually capable of doing the job.

Ignore the problem

Maybe there just isn't much you can do to either fix or get rid of the problem. At that point the only option would be to just ignore the problem to whatever extent possible and practical (or keep trying to fix it).

Find work for them to do that they are capable of doing without much assistance, have them shadow you or just continue spending a lot of time hand-holding them to do the work that needs to get done until their time at the company runs out.

But this wouldn't be my preferred way to solve the problem.

What about the interview process?

You could find out what the interview process currently is, and suggest changes to that, and maybe you can present this employee as an example of why that's needed. But hiring one bad employee doesn't mean the interview process is bad. It doesn't mean the person who conducted their interview is incompetent. It's not something you should specifically go and investigate because of this one decision.

Interview processes are imperfect and some bad decisions will happen.

If you're basing this on a single bad decision, that would be questionable. You need quite a lot of data, or a sound independent argument, to actually conclude that the interview process is bad. For example, do not say "we should give candidates a coding test because that would've prevented us from hiring this one employee". But you might be able to say "we should give candidates a coding test because that's a good way to evaluate their coding ability and prevent us from hiring candidates who can't code (like this one employee)". Although someone might rightfully disagree with your premise that hiring candidates who can't code is currently a problem that needs solving for the company, if the only evidence of that is one intern who can't code. You may be able to approach the argument from other angles though.

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    upvoted for the "break down the problem" part. Though it often comes in pair with the inability to accept the fact that the machine won't infer anything. The machine is dead stupid, and you have to tell it everything, and this confuses a lot of people who expect the machine to understand vague instructions, as a human being would. This also has to be taught (and I have no clue whether it can)
    – gazzz0x2z
    Commented Aug 24, 2021 at 7:50
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    It's more annoying than a dead stupid machine because each software tech does some things very well and other things not at all. Newbies never are sure if the new language/framework/system has a preformed means of doing a specific task or it all has to be coded a priori and awkwardly around the existing constructs/modules/inputs.
    – Trunk
    Commented Aug 24, 2021 at 19:19
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    Ignore is more likely than fire. Usually interns are only fired for things like not showing up at all, not just generic incompetence. It's kind of the point of the internship, you can have an extended trial period with a bunch of students and then peacefully wave goodbye at the end to the ones who didn't work out. Considering the HR hoops and how stressful people find firing to be, etc., and most internships are only a couple of months part time, by the time you're sure someone is not salvageable it's almost the same time and effort to actively firing them vs just waiting. Commented Aug 24, 2021 at 20:13

The tool you are looking for is 'performance management'. There is a course you can take on this. Do the course before you are forced to do anger management. I have seen 'inexperienced' people hired on purpose for fun just to see if their supervisor had the skills to cope. Try asking your boss 'When did special needs teacher become part of your job description?' Do not ask the employee this question like I did or it will be another trip to HR for sure ;-)

  • Always possible but I think this is just selection process failure that caused a wrong intern to be accepted - a type I error, as they say in manufacturing quality admin.
    – Trunk
    Commented Aug 24, 2021 at 19:22
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    How do you know they don't already know the things the course would teach them? What would this course teach them? I also imagine the scope of such courses would vary wildly based on where you take it. But I don't feel "take a course" is specific enough to the problem at hand. It seems much better to actually explain what they need to do (and possibly only recommend the course as a footnote). Also, if a subordinate were to ask me "When did special needs teacher become part of [my] job description?", that would be a huge red flag for me regarding how they see other employees. Commented Aug 25, 2021 at 9:51
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    Good rule of thumb: if telling someone something ends you up in trouble with HR, then you probably shouldn't tell that to anyone else either. Commented Aug 25, 2021 at 9:52
  • Yeah, in the US, there is no way that asking "When did special needs teacher become part of your job description?" is remotely acceptable—that's the sort of question that gets added to internal trainings as an example of what not to say. Commented Aug 25, 2021 at 22:18

Put them on a Performance Improvement Plan.

If this intern is just a very junior employee, put them on a Performance Improvement Plan like any other junior employee who's incapable of doing their job. Lay out clear guidelines for what goals you expect them to be able to achieve by when, and if they don't meet those requirements, then fire them. If you currently lack firing power, then talk to your boss about it first; if he's expecting you to demonstrate management skills, well, part of management is firing under-performing employees.

If this intern is working for you as a part of their university degree, then reach out to the university liaison that the university should have assigned to handle their internship. Inform them that the student is at risk of failure, and that matters will need to be addressed if the student is to pass. Then, work with the university liaison to put the intern on a Performance Improvement Plan that will get them up to the level needed for them to get a passing mark for their internship. If they don't reach that level, then they fail.

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    An intern is not a junior-level employee.
    – Makoto
    Commented Aug 24, 2021 at 22:24
  • @Makoto When they're doing their internship as a part of their university degree, sure. When they're not, I fail to see the difference between an intern and a junior-level employee with a short-term contract.
    – nick012000
    Commented Aug 25, 2021 at 0:57
  • I'm not really sure how you put a summer intern on a performance improvement plan if the performance issue is that they lack the basic skills to do meaningful work in comparison to other interns from the same class. The summer is presumably well on its way to ending by now; telling the intern they need to learn to program isn't going to make a difference at this point. I could see how this would be helpful if this was a longer-term internship or co-op situation where the student might take a break from the program and come back when they have the necessary skills. Commented Aug 25, 2021 at 1:33
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    @ZachLipton Ideally, you'd want to put them on the PIP when they've got enough time to change course and attain meaningful improvement, yeah. I don't know if the OP is dealing with a summer intern, a year-long intern, or some sort of semester-long part-time intern who's doing it as one of their university units.
    – nick012000
    Commented Aug 25, 2021 at 3:42
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    You don't put contractors on PIPs either - you just don't renew the contract.
    – Makoto
    Commented Aug 25, 2021 at 5:12

If just half of what you say about the intern is true, then he has to go. For his own good as much as for the company's and yours.

I do think that you should query the process that allowed a defective candidate to be accepted while - almost certainly given the ratio of candidates to internships - allowing competent candidates to be rejected. This is not scalp-hunting in HR: it's making the company's selection process more effective and mentor time investment more efficient. Don't let anyone tell you this would not be good management in any working environment.

Obviously, a set of coding tests would provide a baseline capability for all candidates and exclude those depending too much on their interpersonal skills to impress at an interview. But better still would be to have at least one developer on the interview panels. Naturally this role should be divided among the available developers as one of them can't afford too much time interviewing. Having developers on the interview panel would also allow them to see HR staff in action and the human dynamic between the HR interviewers and the candidates. This can be quite interesting in itself.

OP, it comes out between the lines that you are a decent and compassionate type of person - perhaps one who is willing to go half-way or farther to help people over the line. In neighbourhood life, with friends, family, social and leisure acquaintances this is a virtue. But in the workplace this often leads to some colleagues not pulling their full weight. It is most unfortunate that a person like you was paired with a fellow just not able for the tasks of internship. Were the intern just someone weak at a particular aspect of coding or maybe lacking in personal confidence, you'd both have sorted it out by now, he'd go back to college in fall a better coder and you'd have a potential hire down to your efforts.

But the way the cookie's crumbled, it is vital that you draw a line for this guy right now, choose his replacement for yourself - you've earned that right - and get on with your work.

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