am I sabotaging my former intern’s job prospects? — Ask a Manager

here are the 10 best questions to ask your job interviewer — Ask a Manager

A reader writes:

A while back, I supervised an intern for the first time. She produced good results and was eager to learn, but she worked slowly, needed a lot of coaching, had little initiative, and there were complaints about finding her asleep or on personal calls. However, because we were close in age and she my first intern, we bonded, which led to me not being an effective manager and not addressing her performance issues. I know now that this was a great disservice to her, although at the time I thought I was being kind.

She stayed on as a volunteer after her internship ended (we’re a nonprofit, and volunteers are common in our field). I wanted to give her something she could list as an accomplishment on her resume, so I gave her some authority over a new project I was designing. (I had done something similar at an internship I had, and it really benefited me.) However, showed up three hours late to a four-hour shift, spent her time on personal calls, or just didn’t show up at all. I ended up having to end her volunteering with the organization.

Fast forward two years, and we were hiring for my replacement. She applied, but did not mention her experience as an intern with us. Based on my feedback, she was rejected without an interview. I felt some misgivings — it had been two years and she could have gotten her act together — but mostly I was glad that the organization would find a good person for my role.

Well, recently, her name came up again when a colleague at a different organization asked if I knew her. I briefly explained that she had been my intern and I wasn’t super impressed with her performance, though I stressed that she could have grown a lot since then. My colleague rejected her application without an interview.

Have I been sabotaging her chances at jobs? This is now two jobs that she has been rejected for, just based on my word. I have worked hard to become respected in my field, and I don’t want to vouch for her, but I also don’t want to keep her from jobs. Should I have not said anything?

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

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