Recently I wrote about how interns can make their summer experiences meaningful. As many of us manage interns these days, it’s also important to know how to do that in a way that makes the internship worthwhile for your intern, you, and your company.
Before hiring someone, decide why you need an intern. Just having too much work isn’t a good reason to hire an intern, nor is wanting an intern “to help out” without a plan. Internships should be projects that need to be accomplished that have actual goals, albeit short-term ones, that the intern can do with his skill set and in which he can learn. Moving your office and need someone to do a lot of filing, sorting and packing? Hire a temp instead. Before the intern starts, create a structured work plan for him. What will his job be? What are the short term, medium term and long term goals? How will he be evaluated? No matter how well it is structured, an internship can end up having a lot of grunt work, but resist the urge to have your intern doing random tasks as they come up instead of sticking to the plan.
Start off strong. Beyond a genuine need for an intern, the other thing you really need is the time to manage the internship. You’re going to be both a boss and a mentor, so in the first few days, expect to spend a substantial amount of time with your intern. She’ll need more than just an introduction to the job at hand. Sit down and talk about the industry you’re in, your company in general and what the internship itself entails. Find out what her interests are and what she hopes to get from the internship. Be clear and be repetitive. Don’t assume she knows anything about the job. Let her know at the end of the day what the next day will hold. And at the start of the next day, talk about what her day is going to look like. As time goes on, you should check in once a day and have a more formal conversation once a week to make sure she is on track with work, answer questions and make her feel like part of the team.
Make sure the work itself is meaningful for the company and the intern. When it’s possible, have him doing work that is related to his goals and strengths and/or provides an opportunity to learn something new. That something new can be as concrete as learning new software or something like learning how to contribute as a part of a team, but substantive tasks that empower your intern will bring out his best. You can also learn from him. Interns may have a fresh perspective on how processes work and how they could be more efficient. Don’t just teach, listen as well.
Give significant feedback. Be the person you would have wanted for a mentor. Let her know when things are going well and when things need to be improved or changed. If there are meetings that would be helpful for her to attend, bring her along. If there are more informal learning opportunities that she would find interesting, let her know about it. The more engaged the intern is, the better that is for both of you. And you never know, you could end up with your best trained employee yet in a few years.