If your organization is like most, you probably have interns at some point during the year. They arrive in your workplace with enthusiasm (perhaps, some nervousness too) and the realization that, hey, it’s not my professors that I have to impress anymore . . . it’s the exec whose office is 10 feet from my desk and who’s always calling staff in and shutting the door. Oh oh.
What happens next is key to your intern gaining valuable experience that will serve them well no matter where they end up in their future career path.
Here are 10 ways to ensure your intern(s) have a rewarding experience:
1. Prepare a roadmap: Sure, you probably covered this territory during the intern’s job interview, but now that he/she has the internship, it’s worth discussing goals and expectations again. He/she probably feels more relaxed and you both now share a partnership so prepare a roadmap for what you both hope to achieve. In other words, talk about expected results.
2. Remember it’s a learning experience: There may be mistakes. There may be issues with work expectations. There may be insufficient performance, at first. That’s the key phrase . . . at first. The sooner you begin mentoring, establishing standards, the quicker issues will be addressed and hopefully solved. If you’re still complaining about the same issues three months into the internship, you have to ask yourself: Have I really addressed these topics with the intern? Or have I just talked about them with everybody but the intern
3. Feedback, feedback, feedback: Yes, it’s another no brainer, but don’t wait until July to sit down with your intern and say “Hey, I’ve gone over your work and I think you really need to work on fixing. . .” If you are taking this approach, you’ve wasted three months of the intern’s time to grow his/her skills. Never, ever assign work and then forget about your intern (hey, I’ve seen it happen) until the internship is almost done.
4. Involve the whole workplace: One-on-one conversations at an intern’s desk about ideas, potential angles or approaches to a task can be turned into effective mentoring opportunities by including other staff in the conversation. Ask a staffer at a nearby desk to join the conversation and share their thoughts and experiences. Mentoring isn’t just about a boss and intern. It’s about existing boots and shoes on the floor and the intern too. In fact, if you can successfully involve your staff in the mentoring process, their on-the-fly advice during a workday can be just as valuable as your guidance.
5. Create a challenge: Once you evaluate the skill level of your intern, hand him/her an assignment that will take them outside their comfort zone so they can grow. Interns may be unsure of certain abilities in a new environment, but within a week or two, you should have a general idea of the skill level. If you have confidence in your intern, show it. Challenge him/her. The reward is seeing them beaming afterwards at the results.
6. Discover their interests: Perhaps, we don’t do this enough; Learn more about the interests of our interns and try to apply those interests to work assignments. It’s one of the quickest ways to get young interns (or any worker, for that matter) motivated and off and running. It’s also a sure-fire way to eliminate the first-week jitters.
7. Enhance the tag along: Don’t just tell your interns to tag along with a staffer. Talk to your intern and your staffer about having the intern do a certain job to contribute to the process. Turn the intern into more than an observer when they tag along.
8. Coach, coach, coach: Coaching an intern is about more than talking before or after a work assignment and giving feedback (see #3). Check in with interns regularly. Ask for a draft or summary of what he/she has so far so both of you — that’s a key: so both of you — can go over what has been done so far. Ask key leading questions: How do you feel about what you’ve got so far? What’s the most interesting thing you’ve found out so far? Who else do you need to talk to? What’s missing? How do you want to wrap this up? Each of these questions empowers the intern to think about solutions.
9. Avoid gopher syndrome: Some staffers look forward to the arrival of interns because it means that some of the less popular tasks will be shifted off their desks for the summer. But honestly, is that what an internship is about? Doing the things all the others hate to do the rest of year? You can set the tone early: An intern is a key member of the workplace, not a gopher. An internship is about compiling a diverse portfolio while gaining valuable experience. Surely, existing staffers in your workplace can remember the value of that.
10. Have an exit chat: No, we’re not talking about the dreaded exit interview, that probing ‘interview’ conducted by an HR official and usually reserved for employees who are leaving for another job elsewhere. No, we’re talking about an exit chat. Most ‘exit chats’ consists of this approach: everyone gathers around a cake, and a boss delivers a speech that includes, “Well, we’ve really enjoyed having you Sarah and we’re going to miss you!” That’s great, but it does nothing to help the intern. Meet privately with the intern. Talk about the experience. Talk about the career path ahead. I’ve even asked interns to put their thoughts on paper too and send me a letter after they’ve had time to reflect.
Here’s my final thought: Every internship is an amazing career development opportunity for managers supervisors and staffers. Use these experiences to grow your own coaching skills. Nothing helps this more than working with raw talent. Enjoy!