Saturday, August 7, 2021

Intern-al Fortitude

 Here's a story from real life.

We have a big crop of interns at my office this summer. This is actually the first company I've ever worked for that has an intern program, and it's substantial. Every year our HR department recruits heavily from colleges in and around Texas. They vet these kids almost as stringently as regular hires and pay them well. As a result, many of them end up doing multiple internship stints with us while they're in school and joining the company full-time when they graduate.

Allow me a middle-aged lady moment: Every year these damn kids get younger and younger.

Coming soon: This.

I mean, this is objectively true. Earlier this year, I onboarded our first recently graduated full-time hire who was born the same year as my Precocious Daughter (who is a college senior but a late-month baby). Within a year some of our new hires are guaranteed to be younger than she is. And these college interns obviously are even more embryonic than that.

OK, so they're not getting younger. The gap in our ages is widening because I'm getting older. There, I said it. Shut up.

Anyway, we have a bunch of interns roaming around the office this summer, and to me they're mostly indistinguishable white boys of medium height with brown hair. Half the time I have to literally stop and check myself before I speak to them to make sure I'm calling them by the right name. I have the same issue with our African-American interns. We only have one female intern this year, so to amuse itself my brain gets her confused with all the other young women on the team she's assigned to.

How God created Gen Z, probably.

Again, this is not a "they all look alike" thing. This is a "they all look alike to me because my aging brain increasingly classifies people not by race or ethnicity but by whether they're old enough to remember when MTV played music videos" thing.

MTV, by the way, turned 40 last weekend and I didn't write about it because everyone else was writing about it and also it's depressing as shit.

And really it's just time to move on. 
Sorry, 1980s.

As I said, the best of these kids will leave us next week with job offers in hand, or with invitations to return as interns if they're not seniors. Some will accept, some will decline or say they'd like to think about it. If you haven't heard, the labor market is tighter than a Kardashian's forehead right now, and all the leverage is on the candidates' side, especially in my industry. As my boss likes to point out, today's young adults were in grade school the last time we had a major recession. They think having a plethora of opportunities is the norm. They'll inevitably find out differently, but for now they're riding high on feeling wanted and needed.

I give you the next generation, marching
confidently into the workforce.

I'm not usually privy to which interns are being tendered job offers until after the fact. My job begins when they show up for their first day of work. So I was a little surprised when my boss gave me a heads-up that the company had taken the unusual step of explicitly telling one of the interns that he was not being offered a job. Because this kid - we'll call him Ian - had taken the news badly, and my boss wanted me to keep an eye on him for the duration of his tenure with us.

Ian is a nice guy. All of the interns are nice, good people, or at least do a convincing job of acting that way to leave a positive impression. That's kind of a no-brainer. But Ian is a chronic Mansplainer Junior Grade. He compulsively inserts himself into every conversation to drop knowledge on whatever the subject is, usually conversations he's not even a part of. It's not done with any particular malice or arrogance, he's just reflexively young and stupid, which is why he's only a junior grade.

My interactions with Ian are all on a personal level, because we don't do the same job. So I can easily figuratively pat him on the head and ignore his interjections. But apparently he's taken the same know-it-all approach to his work. That hasn't gone over well with the older and more experienced team members who have done their best to mentor and coach him this summer. I guess "mansplainer" is a misnomer - there aren't even any women on his team. He talks this way to everybody.

If Ian were a New Yorker cartoon.

And when the hiring powers-that-be went looking for input on how the interns were performing, his team didn't hold back. It wasn't that Ian was chronically blunt and tactless. It wasn't that he didn't listen to instructions. It wasn't that he always claimed to know a better way of doing things than anybody had ever thought of. It was that he was the complete package of insufferability, and no one wanted to work with him.

Now my boss is, let's say, not a passive person. He is proactive and straightforward in a way I will never be, which is why he probably makes more each quarter than I make in a year. He earns it. So he didn't simply take the words of Ian's team under advisement and quietly strike him off the job-offer list. He sat Ian down and told him exactly why he wasn't being asked to return after graduation. It was the kindest possible thing my boss could have done. But I'm cringing down to my last non-confrontational neuron just thinking of that conversation.

Not many people know I was the model
for this emoji.

Ian, as I said, didn't take it well. My boss gave him honest, specific critiques of his work style, and Ian flat-out refused to accept them. He - talk about cringey behavior - he called HR demanding to know the real reason he wasn't being offered a job. HR called my boss and said, basically, "WTF with this kid?" So my boss sat him down again and explained how things were. Same conversation, same reaction. That's when my boss asked me to keep an eye on Ian. Not that he thought the kid was going to go postal or anything (although today, who knows?), but it would be in keeping with Ian's personality to badger every member of his team into revealing who ratted him out. Of course, "who" was everyone and "ratted him out" was reporting the obvious when asked. But you couldn't tell him that.

We don't need that kind of energy at work, especially not from a twenty-something bigmouth with no self-awareness.


So I've been observing. Ian did in fact seem somewhat mollified. He was quiet and kept to himself. This lasted about a day. Then, his self-imposed period of reflection apparently completed to his satisfaction, he went right back to internsplaining to everyone around him. And as soon as he did, he seemed much happier. That is dedication to your limitations right there.

I hope that in a year, or five years, or even further down the road, Ian will look back and realize that, as humiliating as it was at the time, his rejection was the best thing that could have happened to him. That it made him more humble and mature and helped him find his ultimate path. I wouldn't place a bet on it, however. 

There's no real moral to this story, or advice, or even a clever ending. You guys should be used to that by now. I just wanted to share a tale of observing a mediocre white man in his larval stage. They apparently are nowhere near extinction.

1 comment:

  1. hat doe MTv play now? I haven't watched television since circa 2005.


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