columnist Alison Green answers questions about workplace and management issues--everything from how to deal with a micromanaging boss to how to talk to someone on your team about body odor.

Here's a roundup of answers to five questions from readers.

1. How to give feedback to a rude intern

I am a relatively new manager who is having an odd issue with my intern. He has been with us for about two months, and in that time, I have noticed that his basic professional manners are incredibly lacking--much more than I might reasonably expect for someone just out of college who has never worked in an office before. He is very abrupt in his questions and requests, especially over email; he never says (or implies) "please," rarely says "thank you," and does not apologize if he inconveniences me or anyone else on our team. He does this most pointedly with our most junior full-time staff member; for example, instead of politely asking her to print a non-urgent document from her machine when his connection to the printer suddenly went down, he recently sent her an email from across the room saying only "Print this."

His hard skills are fine; he does a decent job on the tasks that we give him, but his tone ranges from a bit to incredibly snotty (a second example: When I asked him what he thought of a senior board member's recent presentation, he told me only that he thought it could have been shorter). I definitely appreciate that managing interns is part manager, part professional etiquette instructor, but I never thought that "please," "thank you," and not barking orders to colleagues (especially those senior to you) would have to be part of this. How can I bring this up to him?

Green responds:

You're not wrong to be taken aback by this guy's manners and you'd be doing him--and his future employers--a huge favor if you addressed it with him.

I'd sit him down and start the conversation this way: "One of the biggest benefits of internships is that you learn a lot about how offices operate and how to get things done in them. I want to talk with you about some things I've noticed about your approach with me and other co-workers. I'm sure you don't intend this, but you're often coming across as very abrupt in your questions and requests. Saying please and thank you and acknowledging when you're asking someone to do you a favor or to do something that might be inconvenient will make people a lot more receptive to you. For example, when you asked Jane to print a document for you, you sent her a message that simply said, 'print this.' Most people don't like that level of abruptness even from their boss, and you definitely can't do that when you're dealing with a peer, let alone someone senior to you."

You can also point out that these are things that will really hold him back in future jobs, but they're also easily fixable.

After you more clearly lay out how you expect him to operate, hold him to that. If the problems continue, you should have a more serious conversation where you make it clear courtesy isn't negotiable if he wants to remain in the internship and leave with a positive reference from you.

2. I look young, and it's affecting me professionally

I am a female third-year associate at a small law firm. I know I look young for my age (I'm 30 but at bar events for students I'm often asked if I am pre-law). I am getting increasingly frustrated with vendors and opposing counsel assuming I am a secretary or paralegal. One even went so far as to send flowers for my birthday, informing me that they do this for all the secretaries at the firms who use them, despite being told repeatedly that I am not the partner's assistant (when they called to ask my birthday for this purpose).

I dress in suits every day, my email signature states that I am an associate, and I sign most of the pleadings that vendors and opposing counsel see. I'm not sure what else I can do to alleviate this problem (aside from not using vendors who refuse to acknowledge that a young woman can be an attorney). In some ways, this is not a big deal, but there are portions of my job where it matters and the constant repetition of the problem is getting annoying. Is there something more I can do to help vendors and counsel accept that I am an attorney? If not, what is the appropriate response? Should I correct them every time or only when it matters for the task at hand?

Green responds:

With opposing counsel, it might be satisfying to just call it out: "Excuse me, do you think I'm a secretary?" If they try to joke it off, stay stony-faced, correct them, and move on. They'll get it pretty quickly. (And it's not that there's anything wrong with being a secretary; it's that people's assumptions appear to be rooted in stereotypes, and that's the piece that's insulting.)

Vendors you have some power over, so the next time it happens, I'd say, "I'm sure you don't intend to signal that you see all women as secretaries. Can you please ensure that your records are updated to get my position correct? Thank you." And then if it happens again, I might say, "Is there some reason you continue to assume I'm a secretary, despite being told otherwise?" Make them uncomfortable; it might help. But also, yes, stop working with them if it's anything other than a one-time honest mistake (and if you have that power).

3. Turning down an internal promotion

I have been with my company four years. I am a senior admin to a VP and director supporting 40 people involved in more than the traditional admin duties. I applied for a pricing analyst role in the same department. After three months of interviewing, I was just told I got it. I received the offer letter. I spoke with my current boss and to-be new boss saying this is great, but now I do not want the job and want to stay in my current job. I just do not feel that job is where I want to go long term. Is it too late to decline? Will I be blacklisted and lose respect and chances of raises or future promotions?

I only received the offer letter but have not signed anything saying I accept. There was only a verbal conversation. I said I think I will take it. But after thinking this over, I do not want to take it and want to stay where I am presently. I am fearful that by declining I am setting myself up for disaster.

Green responds:

This is tricky. Rightly or wrongly, if you proactively apply for an internal promotion, it's usually assumed that you want it and will take it if offered, as long as you can come to terms on salary and other details. They'll assume that as an insider you know enough about the culture and the role that you wouldn't be going after it if you didn't really want it.

That doesn't mean that you're stuck taking this job, but it does mean that you should be prepared to talk about what changed your mind and how you see your future there. It's possible that it will change the way you're seen and/or what opportunities you're offered there in the future, but it's hard to say that for sure without knowing more about what your reasons are, and why things played out the way they did (i.e., why you didn't realize you didn't want the job until now).

4. New company wants me to start earlier than I want to start

I've got a job offer from a new company, and they are requesting that I start one month earlier. The notice period in my current company is two months, but the new employer is asking me to serve one-month notice and saying that they will buy me out for the second month. How can I politely tell them that I would like to stay and serve the two months' notice to complete my job handover and responsibilities?

Green responds:

"My company requests two months' notice from employers, and I'd like to comply, both in order to preserve a good relationship with them and because they've always treated me well."

That said, for some roles (especially more junior ones), asking to push your start date to two months away can be a hard sell. If it's a deal-breaker for the new company, you'll need to decide if it's a deal-breaker for you.

5. Should I share a referral bonus with a friend?

I recently referred a friend for an opening where I work. Her phone/first interview went well and they now want to have her come in for a face-to-face. We get a pretty generous finder's fee for referring someone, which she will find out upon getting hired and reading all her new hire paperwork. I told my boyfriend and another close friend that, if she gets hired and I receive the sum of money, I'd like to treat her and her husband to a nice dinner, since I know she desperately needs the job and they've been having hard financial times. Both of them told me that she is actually the one who should treat me to lunch or something for getting her the job. I'd feel sort of selfish, however, not sharing the wealth at least a little and she'll know I got this money. What is your take on this?


No one here needs to treat anyone. You did your employer a favor by helping to connect it with a good employee; it wasn't an act of charity toward your friend, so she doesn't need to treat you. And your employer gave you a finder's fee because it wants good referrals; you're not obligated to share the cash. That said, if you'd like to take your friend out to celebrate--totally separate from the referral bonus--by all means do!

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