Q. When there are issues with an intern’s performance, how should I handle the intern’s request for a reference?

July 20, 2010 at 11:02 am Leave a comment

by the Intern Coach

A. That’s a sensitive issue. You want to be honest but not damage the intern’s future prospects. You might want to do some research before you make your decision since each case is different, depending on the individual and the situation. Here are a few points to ponder:

  • Review the job expectations as explained before the internship began, making sure that the company didn’t change the internship descriptions in the course of the internship period. Other areas in which the intern could fault the company rather than himself/herself would be if there was an unexpected change in intern supervisors or other compromising situations. Find out if your employees tried to help the intern improve his/her performance or were co-workers too busy to bother.
  • Ask the intern’s supervisor and co-workers for their evaluations. You could discover that the intern actually performed well in one area, so you might be able to at least offer one positive comment on the reference. Then, you could abstain from commenting on the negative aspects of the intern’s performance. However, if the intern committed unpardonable acts, such as stealing from the company or disappearing from the internship site without explanation, then you would have to consider refusing to write a reference letter.
  • Meet with the intern to discuss the issues. You might find out that the intern had personal problems or issues that impacted his/her ability to perform up to expectations. Then, you’d have to use your own personal judgment to decide what to include in the reference letter. Keep in mind that a positive reference letter could open new doors for a young person, but a poor one can close doors for a long time, especially in a weak economy.
  • Consult with the school’s career center about your conundrum. The staff may have a solution or be able to cast more light on the situation. You want to safeguard your relationship with the school in order to get future interns that will add value to your company. If you and the school counselor—together—conclude that the student did a poor job and does not deserve a good reference, then you can advise the student that it’s a joint decision, limiting your culpability. Then, you might be doing the student a favor because he/she will strive for improved performance in the future, resulting in excellent reference letters.

Entry filed under: intern evaluation, Internship wrap-up. Tags: , , , .

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This blog is dedicated to employers with a focus on how to hire and manage interns effectively. We will have a variety of experts who will share helpful ideas, tips and more. We invite you to comment, ask questions and share your experiences. You are also welcome to submit written contributions to this blog.

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