Can interns manage their manager?
Today’s post is on mentors, mentee’s and all of the feel-good that surrounds what is right about these relationships. If you have read this blog for any amount of time, you know I am a big proponent of mentors and I believe they can make one of THE LARGEST DIFFERENCES in a career. As I look back on my career, I absolutely know that I would not be where I am today if it weren’t for a number of individuals I call mentors both professionally and personally. I am sure that if you were to ask them, they would say they were not my mentors, but this is the very nature of most mentors. They are humble and allow the mentee to take credit for the wins. After 20 plus years in HR, I still have an HR mentor and would be lost without her. When she speaks, the hills are alive with the sounds of music. I wish I figured out the mentoring game when I was much younger. How young? Read on about someone I know that is a fast track flyer.
A few months ago, a daughter of a very close friend and CEO of a tech company left to attend college out-of-state. I had watched her grow up for the past number of years, occasionally helped her with her interview skills, and watched her land a number of jobs through high school. In all honesty, I wasn’t expecting to see her for the next four years as the entire family moved out-of-state as well. A month ago, she reached out via phone and asked if we could set up a weekly call and yes, she used the word “mentor” a number of times. We agreed to keep the relationship going after we established a few ground rules.
- We re-established that we are colleagues who will exchange ideas and work together vs. mentor and mentee, which for me implies a Sr. and a Junior.
- This wouldn’t be a relationship where she asks questions and I would give her the easy answer. We would collaborate on solutions.
- We wouldn’t introduce each other as mentor and mentee in public. We are equals, we just have different experiences.
Needless to say, I was flattered. Not only to keep in contact, but it meant a lot to me that she valued what I had to say and wanted to keep connected. Her father is a very well-connected individual and although I am sure she is having a number of these types of calls I was excited to be on the list. She is a fast and thoughtful study and it always brings a warm feeling to my heart when I hear about her wins both professionally and personally.
As promised, she set up the call and we spoke the last weekend. She is taking a full load of college classes, is on the college cheer squad, and has an internship. All this as a freshman. Oy vey! Whoever said millennial’s are lazy haven’t met this high flyer.
Of course, she came prepared. We caught up with some chitchat and then got down to business. She had 3 asks for the call.
Her new job treats her like a stereotypical intern. They pay no attention to her and her single assignment is endless data entry. She doesn’t feel respected and her manager doesn’t have time for her. How does she get noticed?
I asked a few probing questions:
- What is the CEO/culture like?
- How old is the manager/Do you think this is the manager’s first job?
- Are there other interns and are they doing the same type of work? Are they treated any differently?
It was determined this was the manager’s first job, all interns are treated the same and the CEO was compared to The Devil Wears Prada.
Together, as colleagues, we came to a couple of assumptions to establish a baseline:
- The company is not looking to develop talent to be recruited come the intern’s graduation. The company is using interns for the menial tasks so that more expensive talent is freed up for time to think strategically. If they wanted to form a recruiting program for future full-time hires they wouldn’t hire freshman, they would hire juniors and seniors. Although not optimum, this is completely OK for us. We are not wearing a hair net and a name tag (which she did in high school and wants to move forward). We want a job, we want to be paid and we want tech company experience. Check, check and check.
- They treat all interns this way so we shouldn’t take it personally. (Easier said than done, but we need to keep reminding ourselves it isn’t just us.)
- Her immediate manager’s biggest concern is not the interns but being chastised by the Prada fan. AKA, don’t take our managers lack of interest personally.
- Her immediate manager has had no management training. This is the manager’s first job in a leadership position and our Prada wearing devil probably isn’t helping her become a better manager or investing in the people.
- Prada may not know the intern exists, but this is a good thing. We are not prepared for interactions or questions from this level of experience just yet.
I think this in itself was a big relief for our high flyer. My young colleague manages her parents, manages her boyfriends and now she just needs to manage her manager. At first glance, we were dealt a shitty set of cards, but in the grand scheme of things, our needs are being met. We can still win this hand.
Together we came up with the following way to get noticed:
Send the immediate manager a short email that gives a progress report on what we are working on. It would read something like the below:
I am still enjoying the job and learning a ton every day, thanks for the opportunity. I just wanted to give you a quick update on my progress regarding the data entry input. For the past few weeks, I have input on average about 6 projects a week totaling about $230,000.00 worth of inventory. At this rate, I think I will be done in about 4 weeks. I don’t anticipate any hiccups. If anything out of the ordinary comes up, I will give you a heads up. If I can provide more clarity on anything, please don’t hesitate to ask.
This email accomplishes a few critical things:
- Lets the manager know our intern flyer is excited and engaged. No drama here.
- Gives the manager (with no training) an update. If The Devil asks the manager for a progress report, the answer will be “I am not sure when the interns will be done with the project, but I know that Ms. Smith will be done with her portion in 4 weeks. I will find out where the others are.”
- We can almost guarantee that the other interns are NOT providing this kind of update to the manager, so the intern will look proactive. Since the manager isn’t asking for an update, she either doesn’t have time OR doesn’t know to provide updates to the Prada wearing devil.
She wanted some advice. Specifically, she asked if there was anything else she should be doing this quarter to get ahead of the game. Get ahead of the game? Are you shitting me? Sports, full academic load, and an internship? If anything, I would recommend to back off and do a few things really well vs. going for broke. I was specific and explained that I am confident her father would say, “Don’t listen to that pansie, HRNasty. When you can succeed at these activities than you know you can accomplish anything moving forward!” “That which does not kill us, only makes us stronger.” He is a bit more aggressive than this HR guy because I like to set folks up for success on their first foray into anything. I let her know I was really proud of everything she has accomplished and I couldn’t think of anything else she should tackle her first quarter.
Thing 3: She wanted to recommend a book to me and wanted to ask if I knew of any books she should be reading. If you have read this blog you know that I believe we can all bring something to the table. Even when working with someone who has more experience than us, we can at least offer to return the favor and add value.
Of course, our flyer brought something to the table. She recommended a book to me I have to say I was intrigued. The book she recommended is, The Hotel On the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. As she described the book, I could clearly see where she thought I would be interested and yes, it has been downloaded to the Kindle app. I recommended two books. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, by Goldsmith And Work Rules by Lazlo Bock. The first is probably more appropriate for her particular situation and I am currently re-reading the second.
Per the linked blog post, a few days later I received a screenshot of her email exchange. She had sent the update to her manager, the manager had responded and wanted to start meeting on a weekly basis. The manager is also asking all of the interns for a weekly update. Boom! I love it when it all comes together.
In my mind, this young flyer is doing it right. I wish I had the foresight and courage to ask for advice from those that had been there and done that when I was early in my career or in college. Which is why I wanted to share this story with you. If this young flyer can manage her schedule and still fit in a weekly call, than any of us can. You go High Flyer!
Be inspired and we will see you at the after party,
nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.