How to deal with a former weird intern asking for work.
April 20, 2017 9:39 AM   Subscribe

So this kid interned for me a year ago. There's no nice way to say it but he gave off a real Lenny based Mice and Men vibe. Hulking kid with a stutter who kept a permanent half smile on his face that did not read as a normal. He keeps hitting me up for work and I'm kinda torn on what to tell him.

As background he would always do off putting things like interrupt me while I was giving him instructions (and usually with the wrong interpretation) and listening to phone conversations where my door was open and THEN come in with input about them which was always bad. It was ambition that was entirely unearned and I talked to him about it several times. All that said, he DID try hard. Which I respect. But with a bunch of high profile projects going on, I don't think I could trust hiring him. He decides to start his creepy social climbing with some celebrity and it's all going to be very bad. Or maybe I could hire him and have a really stern talk with him about how badly he was coming off and I'd want him to check all that before he came back in. Except I can't see how that doesn't come off as personally insulting and possibly opens the company up to something bad.

Anyway I'm just wondering what I tell this kid - if anything. Should I try to be the one person who tells him "hey, here's what you did wrong while you were here and that's why I can't hire you" or should I just keep doing the "No, nothing right now. Sorry" as my default? Am I overthinking this because I'm empathetic?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Why on earth would you hire him? I'm not sure if there's a good way to offer him constructive criticism, and you've made him sound like he wouldn't be particularly able to hear it anyway.

Respond with something generic. "I'm not hiring right now. Good luck with your job search." That's all--no "I'm sorry, but..." or other false encouragement. If you liked him and believed he had talent and the social self-awareness to succeed in your industry, if only he had X skill or Y personal quality, perhaps you'd owe him more. But you don't.
posted by tapir-whorf at 9:48 AM on April 20, 2017 [11 favorites]

No real advice except to keep in mind that this kid may be on the spectrum* or have other things going on that are preventing you from knowing what his entire situation is. That won't necessarily change the ultimate outcome of your dealings with this kid, but maybe use that as a way to color your understanding of him. I think being empathetic is a good thing. If you think he might be receptive to kind feedback about his behavior in relation to holding down a job, you might be doing him a service to provide that. You always have to weigh your risk/reward outcomes there, so just know that if you offer employment with this level of mentoring, you're all in for the length of his employment.

*coming from my own personal experiences with this kind of behavior, not meant as a broad generalization
posted by LKWorking at 9:50 AM on April 20, 2017 [14 favorites]

"Am I overthinking this because I'm empathetic?"

I do not think that is your problem.
posted by Evilspork at 9:58 AM on April 20, 2017 [78 favorites]

Don't hire him if you don't want to work with him. Especially if you fantasize about hiring him and telling him what you think is wrong with him.

You don't need to explain why. If you did need to address performance issues, that should have happened when he was there. And when addressing performance issues, ignore the personal, only address the professional.

appearance (stature, smile on face)
disability (stutter-- come on, man! You can't hold stuttering against people!)
creepy vibe (you can address inappropriate behavior, but not "vibes")

actual performance issues (why was the input he gave "bad?" Could you guide him to training or material to assist him in developing better input?)

My heart kinda breaks for this person reading your description-- if that's "empathy" I don't want to read insensitivity!
posted by kapers at 10:03 AM on April 20, 2017 [27 favorites]

First time he gets in touch you write, "Thanks for getting in touch! Nothing available right now. Hope all is well with you." Second time you say, "No positions available." Third + time, no response from you.

Feedback is appropriate when he is actively your intern / employed by you.

And constructively - i.e. not just what you did wrong, but "here are industry standards" or "you're working hard which is great, but not following the correct procedure. this is the correct procedure." or "it's not appropriate to get in touch with [celebrity x] directly."

But with what I perceive as your current relationship, you're not in a position to give feedback, as well-intentioned as it may be.
posted by Uncle Glendinning at 10:05 AM on April 20, 2017 [17 favorites]

No one is entitled to a job that they didn't earn. Just because he tried hard, doesn't mean he gets a participation award in the real world. Half of a job is doing the actual job, the other half is getting along well with the people you work with. He didn't do too well at either when he worked for you, so definitely just give him the generic 'not hiring, good luck' blow-off. It's better that he keep working his way down the line to find a better fit for him, which a position with you is clearly not.
posted by greta simone at 10:05 AM on April 20, 2017 [7 favorites]

As the parent of a young adult with developmental disabilities, my heart aches when I read your question.

This young man is not trying to creep you out with his hulking body, stutter, and half-smile. He is being himself, the only way he can be. It sounds like he tried awfully hard in a work situation that he didn't quite understand and couldn't quite navigate. He doesn't pick up on social cues or have good judgment about workplace boundaries, and he can't help it. Not everyone naturally has the sort of intuition that comes so easily to you and me and most other people. He was born without it. It's not his choice.

Of course you shouldn't hire him if he can't be of help to you. But please try to be more generous in your thinking and characterization of him. Please forgive me if I've misunderstood the situation and imposed my own experience onto yours, but I believe that this young man deserves the same kindness and understanding that I fervently hope my own son finds as I send him out into the world.
posted by MelissaSimon at 10:51 AM on April 20, 2017 [92 favorites]

You are not being empathetic - an empath would never have such an ungenerous read of this situation. You do understand that an empath empathizes with people, right? Which is the opposite of what you're doing?

I felt so terribly for this kid (?) while reading your question. I understand that to you, he gave off weird/creepy vibes. To me it sounds like he didn't understand how to navigate the expectations at work. It sounds like because of the lack of understanding, he tried way too hard, and came across as annoying, eager, and creepy. Gahhhh. I have been this kid. I feel this kid.

Please do not use someone's disability (stuttering) as a negative way to describe them. Just....... 0_o

If I were you, I would not hire him.
posted by the webmistress at 11:54 AM on April 20, 2017 [14 favorites]

NO, do not hire him. He's not owed a position just because he once interned for you.
Holler "Next!"
posted by BostonTerrier at 12:11 PM on April 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

There's no nice way to say it but he gave off a real Lenny based Mice and Men vibe. Hulking kid with a stutter who kept a permanent half smile on his face

There are plenty of nice ways to say it. He may not be the right employee for you but my god please learn to have some understanding and compassion about disability.
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:57 PM on April 20, 2017 [31 favorites]

There's no nice way to say it but

Don't sell yourself short - you could probably find one.

Should I try to be the one person who tells him "hey, here's what you did wrong while you were here and that's why I can't hire you"

I _do_ see that you're being somewhat empathetic. You're just used to expressing yourself directly -- and not being [able to be] direct is the trait that's most bugging you about this kid, so I get that it's important to you and possibly to your profession.

If you want to do something nice for this kid -- and I see that you feel some desire to do that -- maybe think about / ask around about jobs for which he'd be a better fit, jobs where his strengths would be valuable and where his coworkers could be more understanding, then suggest those to him. NOT jobs that you wouldn't want you own brother or son doing, but cool jobs that also meet his own needs.
posted by amtho at 1:19 PM on April 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

Just pleasantly keep saying you have nothing for him.
posted by bearwife at 2:50 PM on April 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

Also, I debated about telling you this because it isn't your question, but I notice quite a few things about your question that bother me. First, this man sounds like he has a disability, and it makes me flinch to read the way you describe him. Second, I think you and your workplace missed the boat when he was there -- surely someone could have provided some helpful social cue information, like you yourself? Third, being ambitious is not a trait one has to "earn"-- it is simply the desire to do better, and it does not make anyone "creepy" or deserving of being labelled that way.

Anyway, at a minimum please just be courteous and respectful by being nice when you keep letting him know you don't have any openings for him.
posted by bearwife at 3:03 PM on April 20, 2017 [10 favorites]

Should I try to be the one person who tells him "hey, here's what you did wrong while you were here and that's why I can't hire you"

You or someone should have done this a year ago and the fact that you didn't means that every other kid should be warned away from ever interning at your place of business. This is actually worse than unpaid internships, and not a lot of things are.

When you have an employee who is unable to understand workplace norms and cannot figure out how to do his job, you let him go and say whatever pro forma bullshit you have to, in order to make him go away and minimize drama. To an intern, though, you have an ethical duty -- they are supposed to be getting something out of this experience that will make them more fit for actual employment. That is the deal. That is why they give up an actual job in order to be an intern: to learn. that is what you -- either you personally, depending on your relationship to him, or your department/company -- owed him and promised him and failed to deliver.

You don't owe him a job, now. You don't owe him an feedback session, now, although you might still give him one while understanding he may be furious that it's coming a year late. but you (or, again, somebody you worked with) owed him honest and constructive feedback a goddamn year ago and it is not his fault he was allowed to leave without being told any of this. it is really terrible. Maybe he is temperamentally unfit for work but your workplace sounds unfit to have interns.
posted by queenofbithynia at 3:13 PM on April 20, 2017 [28 favorites]

I'm really disturbed that you seem to be holding things that this kid literally cannot control against him -- his "hulking" stature (what does that mean? He's tall? Tall and heavyset? Muscular?) and his stutter (you're holding a disability against him?!) are not things he can control, and honestly, have nothing to do with his ability to work. If his listening to and giving input on phone calls was inappropriate, then yes, that needed to be addressed at the time. Same with the interrupting -- but again, if he's on the spectrum, he may not know that it's the wrong thing to do. Your attitude toward him is not in the least bit empathetic.
posted by sarcasticah at 3:44 PM on April 20, 2017 [5 favorites]

I just have to say that I disagree with some of the above comments about your degree of empathy. Your ways of framing this question are not the gentlest, but the fact that you are even asking this question indicates that you do care about this person, and about doing the right thing.

I think people are reacting strongly because there may be cultural differences here. You may come from a culture (an American culture), like I do, that tends to have less understanding about personal differences such as those of this intern. That understanding comes from being given information about and acclimatization to different kinds of people, and in-depth information about what causes this kind of behavior and how much control people actually have of it.

Some cultures tend to blame people like this much more. If you are used to being around people who blame individuals for things beyond their real control, then you're naturally going to use those kinds of phrases to talk about those issues even as you grapple with doing the right thing.

Anyway, good on you for reaching out for more information and trying to do better, instead of just ignoring the young man or saying rude or dismissive things to him.

If you want to learn how to talk about things like this in a way that won't trigger people to be so harsh and protective, maybe pay special attention to the way issues like this are discussed in very mainstream media and even in the better-received questions on Metafilter.
posted by amtho at 4:43 PM on April 20, 2017 [12 favorites]

I'm against this pile-on. Intern was just not the right fit for the job requirements.
Having empathy is nice, but it doesn't function in this context.
posted by ovvl at 6:17 PM on April 20, 2017 [7 favorites]

Do not hire him. He might need to hear some of these things (listening in on phone calls, for example) to improve as an employee, but based on your unnecessarily detailed and insulting question here, and the fact that the appropriate time for you or anyone at your job to address these issues with him was back when he was employed and actively doing them, he should not hear them from you.
posted by blackzinfandel at 5:14 AM on April 21, 2017

Like queenofbithynia said above, you kinda effed this up in not telling this kid what he was doing that wasn't working when he was an intern. Now, an option is that you hire this kid and going forward, you do right by him and give constructive feedback and help give this kid a chance to develop professional behavior and boundaries. (Of course, like any employee, if that doesn't work after repeated opportunities and guidance, you'd let him go). If you're not interested in taking that on, don't give him a job, don't give him feedback on the past, and continue telling him nothing's available.
posted by vivzan at 8:52 AM on April 21, 2017

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