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Tl;Dr

As an intern, if your recommendations are being ignored should you try a different approach or give up? If yes, what is the best approach?

Context

I'm an intern for the summer in a small high-tech business. It's my second internship with them and I have been given a complete project to manage and realize despite my lack of experience; therefore I know they do trust my judgment and professionalism.

The thing is, I feel like I'm not taken seriously during discussions and my recommendations for the business are being ignored. Given that I'm leaving at the end of the summer should I:

  • Push harder as I know some of their practices are bad and cost them lots of time and money
  • Try to reserve some time at the end of the summer to write down everything I observed and give a copy to the relevant people (whether they read it or not)
  • Mind my own business and just do my best - I tried, it's their problem now
  • Instead of talking about technical merits with the other engineers go to the bigger boss and switch to money talk on how these practices are costing him.

closed as too broad by Jim G., bethlakshmi, gnat, jcmeloni, IDrinkandIKnowThings Aug 15 '14 at 16:43

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • Be professional about it - I wouldn't "push" anything, but instead crunch the numbers, allow them to make a choice, and accept it. Perhaps later (not immediately), ask if they could explain their choice to you - but do not demand it. Waiting until it's over or doing nothing is not a good idea, and neither is going above your boss behind his back. – user2813274 Aug 13 '14 at 20:35
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    There's a huge range of potential issues and resolution options here. How you are communicating, who you are communicating with, what you are trying to change, and the difficulty vs. benefit of that change are all big parts of the success of making recommendations. I'd suggest editing the question to give some cases, or to identify a common thread among the general types of recommendations you are making and how you know you are being ignored. – bethlakshmi Aug 13 '14 at 20:59
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Honestly - you're an intern. I don't doubt that you understand a great many things, but there are two dominant factors in play here:

  • You probably aren't familiar with the more subtle aspects of the business (politics, legacy support, contractual issues) and the 'obvious' thing to do might well contradict a lesson learned by people who've been around longer than you have;
  • It may well be that your colleagues are disinclined to listen to 'the intern'.

There's not a lot you can do about the first except listen and ask questions.

For the other one, follow the path of least resistance. That may mean still asking questions, but ones with a very specific intent in mind - open questions that lead the other party to realise the same thing that is obvious to you. Suppose that something is done in a way that to you seems inefficient, wasteful or prone to error. Rather than pointing out this 'obvious' problem, instead ask the people doing it why it is done this way. By understanding what they think of the situation as it stands, you can target your arguments to the most persuasive course.

  • I like the idea of asking them into a corner instead of talking them into a corner. My colleagues having their habits criticized might be less defensive if the recommendations are disguised as questions, plus I might find out I was wrong too. – Asics Aug 14 '14 at 1:21
  • Yes, if you bear in mind that you might be wrong, or that you might not have all the pertinent information, then that is a good approach to take and will help maximise the potential for a constructive interaction. – Alnitak Aug 14 '14 at 9:26
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Well, why don't they take you seriously? Did you ask your boss during your one on one (you have them, right?)?

There may be entirely justifiable reasons that the company is spending time and money, that seems wasteful to you from your perspective. There may be a false perception on your end, and people are talking about your ideas in other meetings a lot. It may be that people are ignoring you because "I've been doing this forever, so I must be right" or because "change is scary".

It will likely be worthwhile to you to ask for that feedback to adjust your perceptions, but if you're leaving in a few weeks I would recommend that you not press the matter. If people didn't listen before, they won't listen to a lame duck.

  • Or it might just be that change is costly and there is no one willing to pay for the change (this i especially true if the work is funded by clients not the organization itself) and the resultant QA. Further large scale changes can introduce new bugs and clients hate that! – HLGEM Aug 13 '14 at 21:17
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I feel I should weigh in on this topic as I was in the exact situation you were in until I managed to make my voice heard. I had a recommendation for company wide software engineering practices. Obviously beyond the scope of what you'd expect an intern to advise, but nevertheless scientifically demonstrated as necessary. Fortunately, we were expected to make an end-of-summer intern presentation

I poured my heart and soul into the presentation. It was concise, it was backed by evidence, it was hilarious. People started asking me to give my presentation just for entertainment value. Our intern committee invented an award to give me for my presentation. Of course, there was just this little teensy slide toward the end of my presentation that talked about how powerful this change could be. And eventually, as more and more people started seeing and talking about my presentation, I started to get questions.

"Hey Calvin, what's x do?"

"Have you gotten x to work yet?"

"Wow, sounds like x has been used on a lot of exciting projects."

Of course, most leadership structures respond to what people are talking about. In big companies, changes can take ages, even just in little projects. But I can leave my company now, at the end of the summer, not worried that my idea will fall through the cracks. Because people are talking about it, and it makes their job easier, and we all know it makes our jobs easier. And there's a lot to be said for that.

So:

  1. Don't appeal to traditional leadership hierarchy.

  2. Don't follow standard practice.

  3. Do get the word out.

  4. Do be likable.

  5. Don't be confrontational.

  6. Don't give up.

  7. Do model personal excellence.

Will it always work? No, but you're probably going to have to canvas the entire company for someone that will listen to an intern, and then canvas it again for someone who is actually will to change. This worked for me, and got me a job offer at the end of the summer. I wouldn't be surprised if it does for you too.

Best of luck!

  • I'll ask for a end-of-summer presentation, good advice. And they already offered me a job while I finish my degree so yes taking it a step further and trying to improve things instead of just "doing what you're asked" yields results if done properly and politely ;) – Asics Aug 14 '14 at 1:19
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The trick here is to remember that, while you are a college intern, they are still working hard to develop you as a potential future employee. Where I work, we strongly encourage our interns to show us what they are capable of doing. The company you're interning with clearly takes this approach because they gave you a project to run during the summer.

You can leverage this, and the next time you and your boss go to lunch, talk about it. Remember to keep your sales-pitch small and impactful, and be prepared to talk numbers (resource hours, license costs, hardware, connectivity, etc.

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