There is an intern who I am responsible for this summer. But apparently she isn't interested in the job.

I gave her a research assignment which is needed for her following assignments. I told her she should come to me when she understands the concept or if she has any questions. What I want only requires a few hours work and I just want her to have a basic understanding.

For four days, she didn't contact me for work purposes. I asked several times a day how is she doing, or is there anything I can help? And finally, I mentioned I can give the next assignment if she is ready. But every time, she told me she is working on it or she is reading something and even she implied she is bored and surfing the internet.

I don't want to give her a hard time but I can't allow her to do a fake internship in my responsibility. And we already have planned her duties during internship with my supervisor. I have to report to him.

I know that it is her first job experience. How can I approach her without any hurt feelings or discouragement?

Another issue is her attitude. She is overly relaxed and it might be seen as lack of respect for other people. She acts like we are all classmates. I could ignore it but I feel that my supervisor and boss don't like it either.

What can I do in this situation?

  • 10
    Is this a paid or unpaid internship? Commented Jul 2, 2014 at 13:19
  • 10
    "Unpaid. she needs this for credits" = one option is to consider paying her.
    – DA.
    Commented Jul 2, 2014 at 23:00
  • 9
    @Vality: In Finland, unpaid mandatory internship is the norm for Bachelor degree programmes (6 months total of the 4 year programme in IT). The employer is allowed to pay the intern, but it is not required, and they very rarely choose to pay. Commented Jul 3, 2014 at 8:04
  • 9
    Yes, in some countries it's not viewed as "unpaid work" but as "free education".
    – Val
    Commented Jul 3, 2014 at 13:02
  • 5
    "My slave isn't willing to work, how can I force him?" "With a whip, maybe?"
    – o0'.
    Commented Aug 13, 2014 at 23:20

10 Answers 10


I'm not going to duplicate what others have said, good points so far, but one solution to your problem could be daily stand-up meetings.

Schedule a daily stand-up (~9 am ish) where she has to answer the following questions:

  • What did I accomplish yesterday?
  • What will I do today?
  • What obstacles are impeding my progress?

It's too easy for her to get away with "how are you doing?" questions since they're too broad, if she's forced to answer these specific questions then she'll be forced to make some progress, and if there's no progress she'll be forced to think of explanations for the no-progress, if the explanations are not sufficient then you'll be forced to deal with her in a way others have mentioned here.

Going into Kanban/Scrum would also give you and her a very good picture of what has to be accomplished and what tasks are within each assignment, but might be a bit overwhelming, yet it would ensure that both of you have an identical view of the assignment.

It's possible that she simply has a completely different view to the assignment, it's common to write pages and pages of an answer in an exam to a totally different question than the one indented to be asked, simply because the one asking and the one answering didn't understand the assignment in the same way.

Maybe she's very clear on what she's doing, just to a different (bigger) project than you originally assigned to her, she might be misunderstanding it, but yet not having any real problems to the project she think's she's suppose to be accomplishing.

If it turns out that she knows exactly what she's suppose to be doing and that she can't even tell you which part of the project is accomplished and what's next on the to do list, then she simply shouldn't be there and should be taken care of in manner of which have already been mentioned here.

  • 4
    Daily stand up is no cure for someone who actively wants to procrastinate, but they are a good tool to motivate and keep focused for those who needs a framework to hang on to. If she does not feel (despite frequent "how is it going?" questions) that her task matters to the superior she would not be motivated to focus on progress. Commented Jul 3, 2014 at 20:26
  • Note: It's spelled Kanban, not "Canban". Commented Jul 3, 2014 at 20:29
  • @DavidConrad Thanks! I use Scrum so I'm not used to writing Kanban.
    – Jonast92
    Commented Jul 4, 2014 at 12:52
  • @AndrewSavinykh That's true, but they can also be a good tool for uncovering someone who actively wants to procrastinate (at least, in my experience.) It becomes rather difficult to give specific, plausible answers to those three questions daily if you're actively looking to not do a thing.
    – berry120
    Commented Jun 4, 2018 at 14:13

The internship is supposed to be a working experience not a sinecure. She owes you an assignment.Make sure that she is progressing toward completion of that assignment and that she delivers.

From your description of her demeanor, the problem seems to run deeper than an inability/unwillingness to do the work. It seems that she is not socialized in the world of work at all. She has no clue that she has to complete her assignments and she has no clue on how to interact with the co-workers.

Unless you and the management make the decision to fire her, your thankless task is going to be socializing her into the world of work. And unfortunately for her, it starts with introducing her to the notion of accountability for tasks assigned to her.

You are going to have to be the bad guy and give her that introduction. At least initially, give her a chance to clean up her act and let your bark be worse than your bite. You will actually be doing her a favor because if she gets a bit older and she runs into someone like me, I have this unfortunate habit of eliminating frustrations by removing the source of the frustrations. And pretty swiftly, too.

If you are not willing to be the bad guy with her, delegate supervision of her to someone whom you know is much better and much more proficient at being a bad guy than you. Again, you are doing her a favor by straightening out her expectations, thus giving her a chance at any kind of career. But you yourself, somewhere down the line, will have to learn how to be a bad guy when necessary, because a manager who doesn't want to be a bad guy when necessary shouldn't be in a managerial position.

  • 8
    Actually a real "internship" is not a job its meant to be real training as I mentioned to some one else many employers have been getting into trouble with the law or abusing the intern system. as you based in the USA read forbes.com/sites/theyec/2013/04/19/…
    – Pepone
    Commented Jul 2, 2014 at 14:46
  • 3
    @Pepone Your point is well taken. The truth be told, I just read the latest on the OP's post and I don't like it that the internship is unpaid. The environmental planning consulting outfit I worked - that outfit offered only paid internships, and the hourly rate of those internships was three times the minimum wage. None of the interns we had treated their internships as anything less than a job. On the other hand, we treated the internships as a job interview - a 3-month job interview. (cont) Commented Jul 2, 2014 at 15:12
  • 1
    @Pepone We gave them real tasks to perform, as we had no other kind. So the training, the work and the performance evaluations were very realistic. At the end of the internships, we'd offer jobs to 100% of the interns. We worked them like beasts, but we treated them like human beings and we managed them like professionals. To this day, I am very proud of the way we treated our interns :) Commented Jul 2, 2014 at 15:16
  • 13
    @philipthegreat These schools suck. The administration of these schools has no empathy for the students. This is exploitation. Commented Jul 2, 2014 at 23:34
  • 1
    @Pepone: of course it's supposed to be training, training on the topic of how to work at a company. If OP does exactly as Viethni Puvan says, I think that would count as the exactly appropriate kind of training. Commented Jul 3, 2014 at 9:23

You mentioned she's earning credits for this.

I suggest you contact her academic department / supervising prof / internship coordinator / whomever and get a list of the expectations for the "course" she's taking.

Then you can sit with her, go through those expectations one by one, and give your assessment of how you're doing.

You could even ask her to prepare a written self-assessment against those expectations before you meet.

That way you can say "I'm trying to make sure we meet your course requirements" instead of "how come you're slacking?"

I've had several interns over the years. In just one case I had to call the college and ask what was up. They asked me what I wanted to do, and in that case it was "let the person go: he never shows up for work." The coordinator at the college said, "consider it done." That was very helpful. Get help from the college.


I find it encouraging that you are truly interested in helping her out. I can see how much help and time you are providing her.

What I cannot understand is why you are giving us feedback about her and not to her?

I was a bad intern once (or twice). I was happy to get any job but sometimes it just didn't make sense, because I was not up to speed on WHAT IS THE PURPOSE of this job and WHY ARE WE DOING IT THIS WAY and not the other.

So I would sit there, first thinking that after a few moments of thinking about it, it will make sense. Then, I am ashamed to ask, since this would imply I didn't get it the first time. After a lot of time passed with me just being frustrated, I would totally eliminate the possibility of asking for help, because that would be embarrassing - to admit I didn't get it, at a time where I was supposed to be long finished...

And then after a period where I am not sure if I performed adequately, I would be invited to the office and fired.

All this until my first GOOD boss, who gave me a warning shot, and even allowed for one mistake - just saying: don't worry, we forget about this one, but from now on you must perform as good as the others.

And it was that moment where I really started performing as good as the others.

Or you can go the typical cubicle cowboy way and fire her - "let someone else do the fixing, it's none of my business"... All depends on how much you care.

I don't understand how come a little friendly feedback, as well as honest and detailed clarification of the expectations, became something we can't afford spending time on. Some even consider it counter-productive. I've heard along the lines of: "if we have to tell someone he is not performing up to spec, from then on, we have severed our common goodwill and he will never feel happy to do his job" - I say, if someone is not doing well enough, letting him know ASAP will be much nicer than letting him beat himself over it for months before you pull the plug.

When I became good enough to train interns, I spared no expense (of my time and advise), knowing how bad and confusing it can get. My interns can get professional work done two months into their program, this saves the company huge money and expands my network of colleagues. Now I have successful employees in the company that can vouch for me and provide cross-functional support because they know who had their back in the early days.

  • 3
    +1 half the problem here is someone new to working and not doing it well; the other half sounds like it's someone new to supervising and not doing it well.
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Jul 3, 2014 at 12:46

It's not easy to tell what exactly is happening there, but I'd start here:

I gave her a research assignment which is needed for her following assignments.

What is that "research assignment"? Are you sure she has understood what she has to do? The corporate language is very unprecise, compared to academic language. A student becomes quite precise instructions, what need to be done and what are the criteria to accept the work.

Have you given clear criteria what is needed to accept the task?

What I want only requires a few hours work and I just want her to have a basic understanding.

The question is, does she know that? Did you make it clear, what is basic understanding? It may be obvious for you, but it is not obvious for an intern.

But every time, she told me she is working on it or she is reading something and even she implied she is bored and surfing the internet.

While some people won't miss any occasion to skip work, being bored is ofter a warn signal, that someone has no idea what he/she is expected to do.

People not acquainted with "corporate culture" would have problems understanding the formulations that are too open-ended. Make sure, you have specified, what she has to do as clear as possible. You can start here, by putting some details into your question ;)

Another issue is her attitude. She is overly relaxed and it might be seen as lack of respect for other people. She acts like we are all classmates.

As for this issue, the question is, is she aware she should behave in the other way? For you, it may be obvious you should behave in the cold and formal way, but maybe for her that concept is unfamiliar and peculiar? She may behave in the only way she is used to.

  • 2
    IMHO - it is the best answer so far, I have exactly the same questions for the OP. All these possible misunderstandings between the OP and the intern have to be cleared before reporting to the boss or college. Commented Jul 3, 2014 at 12:24
  • 1
    I 100% agree. I would like to add that I, personally, find pure 'research assignments' hard. Have you told her what the problem is she needs to use these skills for? I have never been asked to just 'research this technology', it is always: We want to do X, using tech Y. Please learn Y and do X. (As a junior employee - obviously you soon move to just 'find the best tech to accomplish X'). Not having a concrete result that need to be shown is very demotivating.
    – Ida
    Commented Jul 3, 2014 at 18:24
  • 2
    In many cases I've seen, a junior/intern has become 'research task' when the senior has no time for them... In that case 'do some research' is similar to 'find yourself something to do, I don't have time for you now' :(
    – user1023
    Commented Jul 4, 2014 at 6:16

It's not acceptable that she has been unable to progress with her task in four days, has refused your offer of help, and isn't telling you why she's stuck. She's not doing a good job in her role.

However, she's an unpaid intern who has never had a job before. She likely doesn't know any better. It is absolutely unacceptable that you have allowed someone who reports to you to remain stuck for four days on a task that should have taken a few hours, without forcing the issue. She doesn't need to tell you whether she needs help: you tell her that she needs help. You're not doing a good job in your role.

Fix your behaviour. Get involved in what she's doing and make sure she's doing it right. Discuss with her what she's researched so far. Explain some of the details verbally, engage her in a conversation about the subject in which she can ask questions, and let her go away and research from there. The sooner she gets through this research/reading that's required of her, the sooner she can do something interesting. She will probably benefit from having an outline of what the "real task" is that she's preparing for, even though before doing the research she maybe isn't equipped to really understand the task. Do these things right now, today, before she wastes any more time.

There's no need to blame her, just inform her what she needs to do in future. Likewise there's no need to blame yourself as long as you get on with it now that the issue has proved unsustainable.

This will take some of your time, but that's what taking on an intern means. Short-term workers who can get on without taking up your time aren't called "interns", they're called "contractors", and you pay them ;-)

The same goes for attitude: she probably doesn't know that as a junior employee in your organisation she is not permitted to be relaxed, and is not permitted to treat the rest of you as she treats her peers in class. In some organisations that would be permitted, at least to an extent, but even if it wasn't everybody needs to learn things somehow. You're supervising her, so you have to tell her the rules. If you think that telling her the rules is "giving her a hard time" then you might need to reflect on whether the rules are good rules. You might like to tell her, "look, this is going to sound really unfair, and everyone struggles through it, but in order to prove yourself in a junior role there are certain hoops you need to jump through". Then she knows she's being tested here, she's not hanging out among friends.

So, accept that you must present her with the facts, and what's expected of her, plainly, by the end of tomorrow. I don't know how you can best present them because I don't know your organisation, but I'm confident you'll figure it out pretty quickly once you decide that's what you have to do.

Praise her as soon as she improves. Recognising what she does right will go a long way toward avoiding making this a hard time for her, and it's also an effective teaching method since both positive and negative feedback are required to learn what is good and bad.

It's possible that she doesn't care about the role, doesn't care about what your company does, knows what she wants in a job and this isn't it, but her course has a forced labour component she can't avoid. There are still things you can teach her about how to be an employee, and maybe you can find something she would like to do, but if the situation sucks that badly from her POV before you even got involved then there's only so much you can do to mitigate it. However, I don't think you can fairly judge that based on her first task, so assume good faith on her part for now.


As others have said, she has probably no workplace experience and does not realize what she is expected to do. This is probably true for her tasks as well as her behavior towards superiors. On the other hand, she earns credits for her internship and has therefore to deliver work.

So what to do?

  1. She probably doesn't really know what to do, and "get familiar with XY and get back to me when you are ready" assignments can be hard to grasp if you are new to it. And she obviously didn't understand that she's expected to deliver something in a certain time (you said it should only take a few hours, it's very likely she doesn't know). So tell her what you expect her to learn (or get familiar with) and set her a deadline (maybe two days) ending in a meeting with her where you will discuss the topic with her (tell her that). This way she learns the she what she's really expected to do (understand XY we'll enough to discuss it with someone) and that time matters (she has a meeting with you). Be prepared that she may be at least surprised (if not a bit shocked), because it different than before. Tell her she can get to questions to you anytime, but leave her alone until your meeting otherwise (that's a difference she will notice, too).

  2. In your meeting, you should be nice to her, but show her you expect her to know the topic she should have learned. If she doesn't, you can use this to discuss with her what is expected. If she does, you can praise her a little bit and discuss with her what's expected. In both cases, show her how she and her tasks fit in the overall process and how the team depends on her and her work. You can offer her any help she needs, and to be there for her if she has any questions.

  3. Keep in mind she is an intern. That does not only mean she works for credits, but also she works to learn and she needs more guidance than "normal" workers to be able to learn. Smaller steps and more feedback will help her (and then, you).

Regarding the behavior towards superiors: I'd take her aside and tell her that most people keep more distance to them, and show her that I do this because I care about my interns (as opposed to "because you are just a lowly intern!").


What does she expect to get out of this internship? Hopefully a recommendation of some sort. She needs to be told that there is no way you could ever recommend her for a job at this point.

I doubt this person is going to see the "big picture" and change immediately, so you'll have to do it incrementally. Set very specific goals and ask her what the consequences should be if they are not met. Often, people come up with more sever punishments than you will.

She needs to know if this doesn't change, she will be sent home. I don't know if you have any control over wages, so you may have to involve your supervisor or HR. She may act like a child, but treat her like a professional. Failure to comply won't get you scolded, it will get you fired.


I suggest you go through with her and compare what you would have done to complete the task with what she did, step by step, just this time and a few times in the future for different types of tasks.

I would make it clear how puzzling it is that she took so much longer and that you want to bring her to the level that is needed to be a respected co-worker.

Similarly, reflect to her how inappropriate it is to imply being bored and surfing the web during working hours. On the other hand, being honest and open is valuable, so I suggest to show her outlets like surfing in working breaks, being bored after she completed the task or finding out why she is bored while she has a task.

After a few days I hope you'll get a feeling for whether she integrates your advice into her habits. Because if she does not, she is wasting your time.


Why are you concerned about "hurting her feelings"? She isn't doing her job, she isn't doing what you told her to or what everyybody expects. The sooner she learns to actually do something the better it is for her. So just tell her that you expect her to work on the assignement and ask when she needs to know something.

  • 9
    an intern isn't "doing a job" its workplace training not free low cost resource.
    – Pepone
    Commented Jul 2, 2014 at 13:08
  • 6
    @pepone, you are ded wrong in that. Any intern who expects to be given special handling becasue she is an intern is going to get fired. We have no need to keep someone who is wasting our time buy noit doing what he or she was asked to do.
    – HLGEM
    Commented Jul 2, 2014 at 14:13
  • 2
    @HLGEM "interns" are not employees in the strict sense some companies in the USA and UK have been getting into trouble by abusing the intern system to get round minimum wage laws
    – Pepone
    Commented Jul 2, 2014 at 14:40
  • 7
    @pepone, they are there to learn about how to mnavigate the work woprld, you have to treat them as employees for that purpose. Yes you are not supposed to be giving them the projects you would give normal employees, but they are still expected to work on their assignments and be pulled up short when they don't perform on what you gave them. It isn't a free ride.
    – HLGEM
    Commented Jul 2, 2014 at 15:06
  • 6
    @pepone, the company has cost involved: A chair, a desk, office space, the time of someone like the poster who looks after them. A good company will do that to be a good citizen, and quite selfishly to find future employees (I have colleagues who used their internship as a massive learning opportunity and were promptly hired when they were ready and looking for a job). If the intern wants to waste their time, the company isn't going to be willing to waste their effort.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Jul 2, 2014 at 15:13

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .