Treat your interns well, they may hire you someday

BlogHer Original Post

I’ve recently been in the position of having two former interns hire me for on-going projects. A friend and contemporary of my daughter’s has hired me to write grants for his new non-profit. I’ve also had a former secretary give me a great lead for another project. Yet another former secretary/protégé is ascending the corporate ladder and I fully expect her to hire me to do something one day. (I encouraged her to attend her first college course, gave her time off to do so, and she has now graduated.)

This is a fabulous and unexpected benefit of reaching middle age. You get to see former students, staff members, family friends, your children's playmates become adults. Reaping the benefits of their growth is wonderful. A kind of generational dance has begun – where we move forward, backward, and sometimes change places.

The boy who was a young bully has grown into a thoughtful young man and has a successful business. The intern who was so quiet you thought she was terminally shy, has discovered her voice – and it is sometimes loud! She is both paying “it” forward and paying you back for your mentorship.

Some of these young ones now call you by your first names because you have become peers. Others of them still insist on calling you Ms. Silva because that’s what they grew up calling you and to do otherwise doesn’t feel right. As regards work relationships, you encourage them to call you by your first name and you treat them with the same respect you would give any other client.

When working with these former interns, kids of friends, and friends of your kids – you try to show respect by listening to them and not going into coaching mode – something it is easy to slip-up and do. Being supervised by people decades younger can be liberating or problematic. Working with familiars (if not exactly friends) requires delicate strategy.

In a post “Delegation Happens: Working with Friends Can be Dangerous,” Liz Strauss advises:

“Define the relationship as you would with a new client or a new employee. When we’re delegating to a friend, communication can complicate itself. Friendship filters can recast everything that’s said. State your expectations. Write out guidelines and share them.”

Working for someone significantly younger can have significant tensions.

“I got the job because I wasn't a novice. I was an award-winning script writer with over 20 years experience. But in the end it was my experience that tripped me up.” So wrote Elana Centor in her post about working for a client/boss 15 years younger - “A Relationship Wrought with Tension: Younger Boss – Older Employee.”

The reality is that there are four generations now in the workforce. In “Working for a Younger Boss” Mary Lou Quinlin writes:

“Americans are getting healthier and living longer. Labor is scarce, the retirement age is rising, and public policy favors keeping older workers active in the workplace. Nevertheless, old ideas about work and age die hard. Young managers fall prey to outdated prejudices, particularly when older workers encourage the prejudice by trying to be something they cannot be. Younger bosses make a place for older workers when the workers guide them in the ways of doing it. In fact, when each party can present him or herself without pretense or apology working out an appropriate role in the workplace can sometimes be as easy as just not taking oneself too seriously.”

Both because I’m older and because of the economy, I have found myself hesitant to be anything but grateful when a paying project comes along. This attitude is a mistake. Kim Clark advises that “Job seekers don’t realize they can ask for more,” and gives specific strategies on how to negotiate.

Adjusting to being mid-life and having others see you in that way (and sometimes only in that way) makes me uncomfortable. As in all things I do, I’m trying to pick-up-my-power-and-use-it. I must admit that I had a bit of internal turmoil and dialogue when I left my last position of authority. I have had to learn how to do some of the technical processes I used to have a secretary and other staff members do. I am remembering how to sell myself educating people who don’t remember me from former jobs or triumphs that I am active, looking for work and not retired (don’t know how that rumor got started). I have to wrestle with defining myself despite how others might define me. This was as true when I was younger as it is now that I am older.

By design, I have treated people well – even when my demands were high and so these younger people have been willing to hire and/or advocate for me. It has been quite a joy to work with them where age has turned out not to be what matters. What has mattered is alignment of purpose, skills, and flexibility.

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