Handling new demoralized interns

Hi everyone, I’m a PM at a big startup (~200+ employees).
A Product intern recently joined my team, and I’ve been managing him for 3-4 weeks now (My first time managing someone). He was in a different department previously, so there wasn’t much onboarding to do.
I’ve assigned him a main project to research an important area of the product (interview stakeholders, define problems, and collect insights) before moving to solutions.
I was closely following his progress over 2 weeks and he wasn’t meeting expectation in terms of how fast things are moving forward, I’ve discussed this with him multiple times and nudged him with different ways to think about the task, but things didn’t improve.
In our last one on one, he told me that when the day ends, he doesn’t feel like he achieved much, and I’m concerned this is demoralizing him / I’m not doing my job correctly.
I’d appreciate knowing how more experienced PMs would handle this situation effectively.


I would encourage him. Help him identify what has been accomplished. Inquire on what is preventing him from feeling like he has achieved. It is important take these feeling and try to relate them to obstacles. Once these feelings & obstacles are captured, help him strategize on how to overcome them. The potential scenarios are numerous, however maybe influence above his sphere is needed and he is hesitant to ask for help.


Adding to this. I believe if he could shadow you or someone from your team doing these activities, he ll be able to identify and improve gaps quickly.

I remember reading this somewhere which has stayed with me for a long time. If someone isn’t able to meet your expectations, it is one of three things

  • Expectations aren’t clear
  • Person doesn’t have the right skills
  • Person doesn’t have the right motivation

You need to identify which of these three is this and the plan of action would be very different of each of these


To that list I’d also add workload/working environment.

Even if expectations are clear
(1) they know how to do the work and can do it
(2) and they’re motivated to do it
(3) there may be another factor/blocker preventing them from getting the work done.

This could be any number of things but particularly with more junior members of teams, I’ve seen that that can be the workload/pattern of work whilst they get used to the pace. They’re being pulled in too many directions and can’t focus on doing a smaller number of things well whilst they learn their craft. It’s also something people can be reluctant to acknowledge as they don’t want to admit they can’t handle their boss’s immediate expectations.


You’ll need to identify the root cause, and you can only do that by
(a) creating a safe space for him to share openly,
(b) asking open-ended questions to diagnose the issue.
For example, in your 1-1, when he says “I don’t feel like I’ve achieved much.” You can get curious: “What would you have liked to achieve?” He then might say: “I would’ve liked to have completed XYZ priorities by now.” (here you can assess whether he understands what success looks like and is prioritizing correctly). Assuming he knows the right priorities, you can then ask: “What got in your way? What do you need to remove those obstacles? What support can I provide?” You can also help him see the bigger picture to build more confidence: “I want this internship to be an exceptional learning experience for you. Yes, things might be challenging-- and that’s good! It means you’re stretching yourself and learning. I want to support you in that journey, so tell me: What would help you make this the best learning experience possible?”


I don’t have much context but it feels like it’s this is a fairly large ask for a product intern. Properly conducting customer research and problem identification can be difficult for even experienced PMs. This seems like a high leverage activity, right?
Could you take a step back and approach this task delegation from a different angle? Instead of delegating and monitoring, could you set up the foundation and then closely coach them throughout the process? You could talk about interview techniques and approaches before hand and then have them shadow you for a few of the interviews. Then go to a couple of interviews with them and provide feedback right after.
As a few other mentioned, I would clearly define the requirements and main outcomes and then coach them very closely throughout the process. Make sure to encourage them to ask questions and understand why you are asking certain questions or doing what you’re doing.
It’s going to be more work for you, but consider it an investment. Next time, you can take a step back and coach from a distant. And after that, you can simply delegate and connect afterward.
Lastly, remember to encourage them and remind them that it’s not easy and it’s taken you years to get good at. And don’t be hard on yourself, coaching and people management is hard – that’s why there is a dedicated channel here and even senior leaders are asking for feedback. Good luck!

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Thank you all for such informative inputs and advices. Really appreciate. Your replies have opened up my mind to a great extent. Quite enlightening. Thanks to one and all, once again.

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