I work with an individual who completed a 6 month internship his senior year of college on my team, he then started on full-time on the team. It's been now a few years since he started full time. Our team is pretty small (9 people). Traditionally we have always hired more seasoned people, but due to the market and such, we focused on hiring more junior people so we can train and grow them. During team meetings and such, when our boss talks about growing the team, our boss would say something along the lines of "we'll be able to grow and hire more college grads", and nod towards my colleague. Like I said, he's been here a few years now, produces good work, has learned a lot, and has taken leadership on some new initiatives, and has overall contributed a lot to the team. He could easily go to another company and be in a more senior position. But sometimes I can't help but still treat him like an intern (or a fresh college grad). Any advice on how to approach this? Is this something that needs to start with me, or the team culture?

He has also expressed to me that he wishes our boss would stop nodding at him every time he talks about hiring new talent from college. So it leads me to believe that he still feels like people treat him like an intern. Should he just suck it up? Or perhaps move on, as the world is much bigger than just his current position.

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    In your case you can change your mind and not think of him like that, by refraining from references of grads and similar attitudes. Now, regarding your boss and coworkers, I consider your mentioned colleague should take action on this matter. He should speak to his boss if the nodding makes him feel bad. He should also "take ownership" of all he has done in the company and don't consider himself as still an intern (maybe he is not confident enough in his skills)
    – DarkCygnus
    Commented Aug 18, 2017 at 22:33
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    is the reference to his intern history or simply his degree? In other words, is he the only one / newest on the team w/ a degree? Maybe the boss literally means what he is saying and isn't making any other implications
    – NKCampbell
    Commented Aug 18, 2017 at 22:42
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    @NKCampbell He is the newest person and the first intern/junior level developer we have ever hired.
    – Michael
    Commented Aug 18, 2017 at 22:43
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    but is he the only college graduate?
    – NKCampbell
    Commented Aug 18, 2017 at 23:02
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    @NKCampbell No. Everyone on the team has a college degree, some have more advance degree.
    – Michael
    Commented Aug 18, 2017 at 23:05

3 Answers 3


TLDR: Your boss is not wrong, he is actually complimenting your colleague. You can change the narrative and perception of your colleague by pointing out his/her accomplishments. Now instead of shame, your colleague would see the call-out as a badge of honor.

Great question I think considering that I am in similar waters myself. Although I haven't been in my role for a few years, my opinion on the matter is that at the end of the day, my work will demonstrate my value and expertise to the table topic at hand. When your boss references your colleague:

"we'll be able to grow and hire more college grads", and nod towards my colleague

Your boss is employing a heuristic:

  1. Talk about hiring
  2. Think of last (and perhaps best?) hire.
  3. Acknowledge colleague in question by nodding head.

I don't see that as a put down, but rather an acknowledgement of success and worth when you think about the silver lining.

Now moving forward, there are a number of ways you can change the narrative: point out the accomplishments your colleague has made in recent years, how he/she has generated innovation within your team, and contributed to the overall objectives. This way, the perception will shift from "our colleague is our most junior" to "our colleague is our most junior, but he/she is damn smart, here is why".

Now as for what this will translate to: a promotion, title change, more responsibilities, increase in compensation, I don't know. But a few kind words will go a long ways in ensuring loyalty and continued success of your team.


Encourage the intern to leave the company

Let me justfiy my propsal with an anectode, that a good friend of mine told me (we both live in Austria). He absolved a cook apprenticeship and is a passionate, seasoned chef. The latter he told me would not have been possible if he stayed in the restaurant where he did his apprenticeship. He said, if you as an apprentice stay working in the site where you absolved your apprenticeship, you'll be the eternal apprentice there.

In your situation, the intern is the apprentice. I assume that his internship was the first major opportunity to gain experience in the branch/field. If he stays here in your company, he will always be regarded condescendingly like you have described it and that corresponds to the pattern my friend tried to express with the mentioned anectode.

How to encourage him?

Have a confidential talk with him: "Look, I know about your tremendous talent and sensed your dissatisfaction because you do not get the respect that equates to your skills. I suggest you seek for another company in which you can unfold your current potential much better. Please be understanding with our senior staff, they are not used to this situation having fresh college grads. I hope you feel not patronized as this is something they really want to avoid."

He can return a few years later if he wants

If the intern basically likes the field in which your company is operating, the option to return should remain open to him, this must be communicated to him also. He will work a few years in another company (or other companies) and will be then more seasoned - if he returns, he will be then a more valuable asset as he ever have could been if he stays now in your company for years.

Btw, I follow the advice of my friend too

Currently I worked for around 2 years part-time next to my bachelor programme in a mid-sized Software Developing Company (not as developer, in a more auxilliary department in which I can code too) and I decided to stay for another year. Those years are my first long-term experience that is field-related, I regard this as my apprenticeship. I often got asked, both by company-internal and company-external people, if I wan't to stay there for longer. I strictly refuse this. Not only the options there do not equate to my interest, it is also that exactly know that I will be regarded always as the student, may I work full-time or not.

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    I see what you mean. It's similar to how PhD students normally go to another institution after they obtain their PhDs.
    – Michael
    Commented Aug 19, 2017 at 12:51
  • @Michael C I don't know if in unisversity faculties the "apprentices" (the PhD students) are subject to subliminal patronizing behaviour like your intern but I guess so, since I can't imagine that a Professor, who has supervised the thesis of student, will ever regard the PhD freshman as fully capable to do research without the Professor "parenting" him like in the thesis. I see the benefit for switching the institution after the PhD in gaining new experiences & impressions and thus avoiding the "incest" in academia that causes institutions focussing more on themself than the scientific field. Commented Aug 19, 2017 at 15:44

There are 2 easy ways to do this: first is to get a new intern, and the pecking order of your hierarchy changes, boss nods at the new guy instead of the old one. Easy!

The 2nd way is to ensure he gets a chance to rebase his position in the company so it becomes the new focus. You said he has had leadership in areas, so why not make him the project manager/scrum master/etc for a project - he can't be seen as the intern if he's performing the work of the boss.

But generally, yes, he should suck it up unless its actively demeaning or patronising (which it seems it isn't) then its just normal human interaction. I've been in companies where a hire came from a competitor as was forever referred to as the 'guy we poached from evil company x' well after it no longer mattered.

I suppose it a case of (metaphorical) hats, you are known by the hat you wear until such time as you change it for a new one. You have to make an effort to get that hat changed.

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