Companies often love to hire interns, allowing them to accomplish more projects with the extra help. Having an internship program offers several benefits to a company, including discovering new talent, spreading out the workload of your employees, and a cost effective way of completing project work. But, like most employees, managers are consistently consumed in their work, meetings, or phone calls, which can lead to a lack of supervision over their interns. It is important to remember that interns are on your team to not only help with the work load, but to also learn more about the company, the industry, and potential careers. If you do not take the proper amount of time to establish a mentoring relationship with your intern, then you are not maximizing the gains for both you (and your company) and the intern.
Don't panic! This guide covers how to manage an intern in order to get the most value for your company, and give the most value to a motivated Career Launcher.
Running an Intern Orientation
The most critical factor to an intern’s success is offering an orientation. A proper orientation will allow your intern to get off to the right start by gaining familiarity with the company, the intern’s role, and key people to connect with. Orientation should be held on the intern’s first day and should be made mandatory for all interns. One consideration companies should keep in mind is to hold more than one orientation to accommodate scattered start dates. By doing this, a company ensures that each new wave of interns is onboarded immediately, ensuring their comfort in a new environment. This is also a good way for interns to meet other interns, which will also help them feel more relaxed in an unfamiliar setting.
As a manager, you set the tone for your interns on the first day. It is important that you discuss acceptable work hours, the company dress code, resources available to the interns, and the behavior you expect. Something else to consider is that many interns have no experience being within a multi-generational workplace. As a supervisor, it is your job to help them understand how to work with older generations – one option would be to provide a panel discussion focused on this topic. Such a panel should consist of management from various age groups. Some topics that can be discussed in a panel like this include:
- Be clear that having different points of view is okay.
- Talk about the different cultural norms of the generational staff doing the work. For example, have the panel share what motivates them now and earlier in their career.
- Present interns with the opportunity to work with staff from different generational groups when executing project work.
- Take the time to listen to what your staff of all ages wants from the company and its leaders and what they want for themselves.
- Communicate how your organization’s brand and mission strongly influences who your employees will be and why they are with you.
- Explain the value that employees from all different age groups can bring to your organization; encourage interns to be open to various age groups’ views.
Another great way to help interns acclimate to the organization and its culture, as well as the expectations and what it takes during the internship to be considered a candidate for a full-time position, is to have employee resource groups and/or former interns offer tips. A great way to provide these tips is during onboarding. You could also make a list of these tips available to your interns (either online or on paper) for them to reference during the duration of their internship. It would be beneficial to have interns offer tips about things they wish they had done differently during their internship, how they adjusted to working in an office setting, and how they interacted with others around them. As a manager, you want to make your interns feel comfortable around you from day one, paving the path for an easier working relationship down the road.
Dig deeper on this topic by reading Internships 101 for Employers
How to Train Interns on Key Skills
There are a number of skills that all employers should help their interns to build during the student’s internships. There are five competencies that have been consistently identified for an intern to possess:
- information processing,
- decision making/problem solving, and
- verbal communication.
Research conducted by the Center for Career and Experiential Education at the University of Rhode Island (URI) found that students rated their soft-skill abilities significantly higher in four domains—communication skills, initiative, teamwork, and analytical skills—at the end of the internship compared to the beginning of the internship. Results were also similar for supervisors. What this means is that the role of a supervisor helps both the interns and the supervisor develop these core skills that are so crucial to the workforce.
How does a supervisor help an intern grow and learn these skills?
There are a number of ways to do this. First is to determine what the best method of communication to stay in contact is – this could be email, phone, one-on-one meetings, etc. – that way an open line of communication is established. It is also a good practice to have the intern tasks or projects ready when they start so that their role feels important. Determine what the interns are going to work on and make sure it is meaningful, this way they feel like they are learning and improving their skills. Make sure your interns understand how to complete each task that they are assigned. If this is your intern’s first exposure to the industry, it may be wise to consider explaining industry-specific terms or giving step-by-step instructions on processes. By giving your intern some leeway and independence with their work, you are able to still monitor the intern, but also allow them to think and develop on their own. A mix of interaction with upper management and independent problem solving yields the greatest potential results for learning for interns.
Delivering Feedback to an Intern
While you are managing an intern, it is important to offer them continuous feedback so they know what areas they are doing well with and where improvement may be needed. As a supervisor, you need to plan for time to supervise your interns. An intern is no solution to your work overload if you don't have the time and energy to oversee the work that a successful internship requires. If you do not plan time to supervise your interns, they will be unsure of what direction to take their project. Objectives will be unclear, progress may be stunted by a lack of understanding certain programs, and the end result will lack quality. Interns need guidance from their supervisor so that they know what is expected of them. Interns cannot reach their full potential on their own – hence why ongoing feedback is so important.
Providing feedback improves the productivity of the intern, helps foster a stronger relationship between the supervisor and the intern, keeps the intern engaged and actively asking questions, helps interns learn new skills, and encourages interns to interact with a member of upper management. As a manager, you should set aside time to provide ongoing feedback and to conduct a formal performance review. Schedule ongoing weekly meetings for 30-45 minutes to discuss the progress on any projects, and then conclude by asking if there is anything your intern needs. A formal performance review provides benefits such as discussing strengths and weaknesses of the intern’s skills, areas for growth and development, clarification of expectations, and offering encouragement and support. It would be ideal to have some sort of formal evaluation of the intern’s performance around the midpoint of his or her internship. Other things to consider talking about during this evaluation are the growth and timeliness of the work produced to date, ability to take and follow direction, and work habits. Allot an hour for the supervisor to conduct a formal performance review at the conclusion of the internship, asking about the intern’s experiences and feelings about the work they performed and then review the intern’s performance based on the supervisor’s opinions as well as other coworkers. Another idea is to have your intern create a formal presentation to present to your department and manager showcasing their internship experiences. To sum, feedback is the absolute most critical practice a supervisor needs to have with an intern, as it maintains an open communications channel and keeps the intern constantly learning what he or she can improve upon.
Supervising Virtual Interns
One interesting scenario you may encounter is having to supervise an intern who works remotely. This is especially common for Micro-Internships as well as for companies invested in diversity and inclusion. If your organization allows interns to work from home or from their college campus, these are some steps that you may find helpful. The most basic action a company can take is to have a “Student Remote Work Standards” agreement that both the intern and his or her manager are required to sign. This agreement would set forth the basic expectations and rules for working remotely. One professional says that his organization, which allows interns to work remotely, manages its employees by outcomes rather than process, and they are more concerned about the quantity and quality of projects and other tasks they complete than the amount of hours they log. What this means is that as long as your intern is producing the quantity and quality results that your company is looking for, in a timely manner, then they are being honest with their hours. Routine checkups and weekly progress calls are good methods to use to stay in touch with your intern while they work remotely. While supervising virtual interns can prove challenging, the benefits are worth the effort because the company can obtain talent that is nontraditional and diverse, including students who are taking classes full time and working a part time internship. It is possible that a “work from home” arrangement may not work for some companies – as they may feel that a remote intern would not get a truly immersive experience of the company culture and what a career could look like as opposed to an intern working in an office setting. If it fits the style of your company, allowing an intern to work remotely can certainly prove beneficial if they are trustworthy and supervised properly.
Best Practices for Supervising Interns
As a supervisor, it is crucial to maintain an open channel of communication with the intern using formal and informal meetings. Keep the interns busy and directed towards their learning objectives so that they do not become bored and disengaged. Students will rarely complain of being overworked, but they will complain if they are not challenged. Give interns meaningful projects and the necessary resources and supervision, but also provide them some independence, allowing them to solve any challenges that may arise on their own. As the duration of the internship progresses, try to provide opportunities for interns to increase their responsibility – either by giving them a bigger project or a bigger role within a team. To help with the overall education and learning aspect for your interns, encourage professionalism by assisting the interns in developing human relations skills, decision-making abilities, and other crucial skills as mentioned above. Lastly, and most importantly, remember that you are a role model; model not only the skills and competencies, but also the ethics you value, to your interns. Following these best practices and tips will allow for an optimized internship experience for you and the interns.