12 Tips to Successfully Manage Your Intern
By Melinda McCorkle Brunell
With summer approaching, do you look at the coming onslaught of interns with both anticipation and dread? For every intern who worked out so well we hired them, many of us recall others who produced little of value or needed so much hand-holding that we’d have been better off doing all of the work ourselves.
It’s tempting to blame the intern. But, in truth, most of the difference lies with us – and the amount of work we put into thoughtful planning and management of our internship program. It’s not quick or easy, but it can be well worth it. Great interns don’t just help ease the workload – they bring energy, new insights and a different attitude. And we can gain satisfaction from helping a young professional build the skills they need to get started in their careers.
These 12 tips can help create a win-win-win for you, your company and your intern:
- Decide what you need.
Are you looking for help with a specific project, or to create pipeline of candidates for entry-level positions? Match your needs to the education and skill level of the intern. Hiring a grad student to re-organize your filing system or a high school sophomore to do in-depth research is a recipe for disaster.
- Create a pipeline of qualified candidates.
Form an ongoing relationship with a local university program you admire. Work with the advisor to identify students who have what it takes to be successful in your internship program. The longer you work together, the more easily the advisor can identify the candidates with the best fit – and the more likely they will be to send the cream of the crop your way.
- Ask the right questions.
If your usual interview questions are about past work experience, you’ll need to change your approach for intern candidates. Focus on goals, motivation and strengths. My two go-to questions are:
- How did you come to study (their major) and what kind of work do you hope to do when you graduate?
- Think about the projects you’ve done in college, whether in class or extracurricular – which have been your favorites, and why?
The answers help you tell if the candidate is a good fit and, if they are, how to tailor assignments to their interests and goals.
- Trust your intern to deliver value.
Interns aren’t giving up their time to get coffee and make photocopies; they’re with you to learn. Give your intern real projects with real deadlines. If possible, identify one major project the intern can own. Create an assignment that fits their interests and your needs. Then, fit in other, smaller projects that make sense.
- Get off on the right foot.
Since they’re over in just two or three short months, internships must be tightly managed to deliver results. Hit the ground running: schedule all of the basics needed for any new employee — computer, email and voicemail set-up, phone training, facilities tour and an orientation session with HR – in the first day. Give the intern a chance to know the team through a “get to know you” lunch or other informal setting, and introduce them around the company.
- Set clear expectations.
Go over assignments and goals on the first day. Make sure this is a two-sided discussion, with opportunity for feedback and questions. Be clear on objectives and how you’ll discuss performance. Identify competencies the intern (or their school) wants to develop and set learning goals. Set dates for mid-internship and final progress discussions, so these important steps don’t get lost in the shuffle.
- Provide context.
Be sure to set aside time early on to share the big picture – your company’s history, current situation and how your department contributes to the company’s success.
- Don’t breathe down their necks or go MIA.
Don’t monitor every move your intern makes, or assign a project due in a month and disappear. Break assignments into smaller, manageable steps with clear timelines, and review drafts early. Interim or weekly check-ins allow the intern time to figure things out while allowing for course corrections before they get too far down the wrong road.
- Encourage questions.
Interns often hesitate to ask questions, believing they should already know the answers or can figure them out. Let them know that you welcome questions because they can save time in the long run.
- Plan for downtime, especially early on.
Inevitably, interns will have downtime, especially during early days. And nothing makes a person feel more expendable than having nothing to do. Provide background reading material and create “evergreen” assignments (for example, nice-to-have research) that the intern can work on without specific deadlines.
- Provide informal learning opportunities.
Think about job-related activities that you might take for granted—attending a client meeting, participating in a webinar, going on a site visit — that could expand the learning experience for your intern. Invite them to join in whenever possible.
- Create a network of support.
Your role as a manager will be easier, and your intern’s learning experience will be richer, if your intern has a network of people to turn to for answers and advice. Consider assigning both a buddy and a mentor. The buddy is junior-level employee who can answer questions the intern might be embarrassed to ask others, and who can explain the “unwritten rules” of the organization. The mentor usually is a mid-level manager, someone with a similar background to the intern or someone whose role the intern finds intriguing. The mentor can discuss the intern’s career aspirations and provide advice on steps for a successful career.
Use these tips to develop a process to effectively manage your interns and you’ll get more value from your program – while your interns are with you and after they have entered their careers.
Article originally appeared on LinkedIn.