Interns are a mystery zone for many organizations. How do you utilize them? Are they worth the effort? Will they expect to have ice cream and pony rides at lunch every day? (Go ahead and admit it, that was definitely a question at the top of your list.)
Recently, I was asked by a friend if I had a list of tips for his first experience hosting an intern.
Why yes, in fact, I do have a list. Thanks for asking! More than just utilizing them, this is my general “best practices” advice. Small business owners, those just starting an internship program, hiring managers and HR coordinators – let’s talk shop.
10. STRUCTURE IS KEY.
Structure is different than micro-managing. Start off with a lot of structure, you’ll be able to lax on it toward the end. Don’t do it the other way around – it won’t work!
9. DEFINE SUCCESS. MAKE IT MEASURABLE. THINK OF THE END IN THE BEGINNING.
This helps both you and the intern from the start have a clear idea of what you’re going toward. Don’t rely on your personalities to just fit. Make sure from the start that you each have a clear measuring stick of whether or not they were successful. It helps you both feel proud in the end.
8. CLEAR EXPECTATIONS RIGHT FROM THE START.
You want them there at 9am sharp? Make it known. You don’t care what time they are there as long as the job gets done? Make it known. Customer service and a relational approach is key to you in all things? Make it known.
7. EXPECT MISTAKES. MOVE ON. SET THEM UP FOR SUCCESS.
Interns aren’t going to be perfect. They are there to learn. So set them up on projects you can hand off with confidence.
6. HAVE REGULAR MEETINGS.
Pure and simple. It’s easy to run around, feeling like there are more urgent things to do, and the intern is the last person to receive your attention. Bad move. What creates a successful internship is a regular meeting for both the intern to discuss what they are experiencing, and also for you to give honest feedback. Both the good and the points for improvement. I suggest a half hour weekly.
I can’t tell you how many times I talk with internship supervisors who need to address an issue with an intern but aren’t sure of the best approach. Often, students don’t know what needs improved unless you tell them! Midway checks are a great way to do this in a disarming, non-defensive way. It’s just part of the process. Plus – it gives you an opportunity to give praise freely, which is just as key for success. Many interns see a performance review as positive experience as they prepare for the workforce.
4. LEARNING, NOT FREE LABOR.
An intern is a learner first. A worker second ( though when leveraged, can result in high yield for your organization or company!) That being said, ask them what they want to learn from the start. Identify some learning goals for them before even beginning.
3. LISTEN. WATCH. TRY. GO.
This is a good pattern for training. Have them listen ( or look, some learners are visual!) to the usual approach. Have them watch you do it several times. Give them a shot without hovering too much. And then let them do it! Get out of the way!
It may be hard to hear, but a fresh perspective can be enlightening. Instead of dismissing their questions as ignorant, count it as an opportunity to evaluate the complexities of your company and your organizational flow. Where can things be simpler? Interns are great for spotting this.
1. WE ALL NEED A LITTLE FUN IN OUR LIVES.
Go to lunch together sometimes. Let them slow you down. Play some music. Engage their story. We all need some fun in our lives. And chances are, if you have a millennial intern, they are going to have their fun radar up. In other words, they will be asking themselves… is this fulfilling? Do I enjoy this? Is this hard work that I could picture myself fitting into long term? Do I fit with the culture of this work environment? Engage the “fun” they crave and you may find yourself retaining and creating a solid applicant pool.
(And wondering about the unpaid vs. paid thing? Check out this important guide.