Here's How to Handle an Intern Who's Older Than You
Career Growth

Here's How to Handle an Intern Who's Older Than You

by Griffin Hill
Photos Joanne Pio | September 28, 2015

AN AGE DIFFERENCE CAN COMPLICATE THE DYNAMIC BETWEEN EMPLOYER AND INTERN. OVERCOME THIS HURDLE BY FOCUSING ON RESPECT AND COMMUNICATION.

You’ve just been assigned an intern to help with your workload, but there’s a catch: she’s older than you. For most of us, it goes against our upbringing to direct someone who we see as our senior, making this situation ripe for feelings of nervousness and insecurity. Let’s take this opportunity to reframe the situation.

The workplace is a tough arena already and the added presence of a hierarchy can make it even worse. That’s true for you, but also for your intern. Take a breath, get to know them, and make a game plan. You’ve got this—age is nothing but a number, right?

STAY ORGANIZED

If you’re concerned about your intern feeling skeptical about your age, don’t give them a reason to criticize your ability. You’ve been assigned an intern because you obviously know the ropes and the job at hand. Act the part by putting in the effort. Come to the office with an organized plan for yourself and your new intern. Start by holding yourself accountable and stay accountable.

If you’re concerned about your intern feeling skeptical about your age, don’t give them a reason to criticize your ability. 

SHOW RESPECT

Respect begets respect, no matter the age. No one wants a supervisor who is keen to assert their dominance and bark orders at them. Be respectful, show an interest in who the intern is and what their goals are, and try to help them succeed.

Remember the age discrepancy also means your intern probably has some great life experience to share. Listen to them and let yourself learn from their suggestions or feedback.

DON’T SHY AWAY FROM CONFRONTATION

Maybe your intern makes a huge mistake, or they have an attitude problem because they resent your age. Don’t be afraid to have the tough conversations and establish open communication together. If they think they can get away with poor work, there’s no motivation for change. You don’t want miscommunication to hinder your relationship.

PRAISE THEIR WORK

Be quick to compliment. Every time they do something well, make sure you follow up with praise, and be sincere. No one, no matter their age, is immune to being complimented. This will help establish trust and make them feel valued. {Click to Tweet}

1. Ask questions

In any coworking relationship, take the time to collaborate. Ask questions and take your interns ideas seriously. There may be an opportunity to join forces and learn something new. Often, bouncing ideas off someone with a different background (thanks to age differences or otherwise) leads to the most innovative outcome.

In any coworking relationship, take the time to collaborate. Ask questions and take your interns ideas seriously. 

2. Outline clear responsibilities

Know your role, know their role, understand each other’s roles. Make sure you both have clear job responsibilities and stick to them. This cuts down on confusion, ensuring no projects or tasks get lost. And if anyone oversteps bounds or questions their responsibilities, you can refer back to a clear outline of who owns what.

People are people, no matter their age, and basic rules of human decency always apply. Let go of that awkwardness, embrace your newfound responsibility and make the most of it. After all, it could be an incredible learning opportunity for you both.

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Have you ever dealt with an age gap? Did it cause issues? Tell us about it in the comments.