Part 1: Managing Summer Interns: Dos & Don’ts

Managing (1)

With summer break around the corner for students, you’re probably in the midst of internship hiring and preparation. Providing internships to college students and recent grads is a wonderful win-win opportunity for your company to benefit from eager, affordable talent and for young pre-professionals to gain hands on “real world” experience.

So why do many HR professionals face the challenge of a grumbling management team when the topic of interns comes up? Why is it harder to find someone on your own team willing to train and manage an intern than it is to fill the intern herself? Interns’ lack of work experience, their temporary status, and the unfortunate cultural message that they should stick to filing papers and making coffee probably contributes to your internal employees’ hesitation.

Since interns are paid and utilized differently than full time employees, it’s helpful to equip your staff with the best practices for managing them. Ensure a positive internship experience for your interns and your team by incorporating these dos and don’ts this summer:


DON’T: Make up a plan as you go

Just because interns are pre-professionals, and probably don’t have the type of work experience or degree that you would expect for an full time hire, doesn’t mean that your management team should make up a plan for them on the fly.

I personally have endured more than one internship where it seemed like my manager didn’t know I was joining the team, albeit temporarily, until I showed up on my first day. It was immediately apparent that there was no plan for my time, where I would sit, who I would report to, or what my objectives would be for the next three months. “Um…I guess you can staple those papers and put them in a pile,” was the type of response I got during my first week when I’d tell my manager I was ready for more work. Fifteen minutes later I was ready for a new task. Not only did I feel uncomfortable and disappointed with the situation, but my manager felt burdened with finding menial work for me to occupy the hours.

If you don’t have a clear project or role for a summer intern at your company, you should ask yourself and your team whether hiring one is in anyone’s best interest. If you do see a need, spend time (at least 6-8 hours) prior to the start date to:


DO: Set clear expectations

Now that you have a clear and articulated plan for your intern’s time, set clear expectations for everything. Be patient with these younger, less experienced workers as this internship is likely their first time working in a professional setting. Just think–you have the opportunity to invaluably impact their future career by teaching them the etiquette, professionalism, and common practices that they need to know, no matter where they work.

You may think, “No one ever had to teach me to be on time for work,” or “I never had to learn to come to a meeting with a notebook and pen.” That may be true, but there certainly were plenty of things you needed to learn as a young professional, and hopefully you had someone patient to get you up to speed quickly!

If your intern is not meeting your expectations, perhaps you did not articulate them clearly and you need to do so now. If you see larger, systemic issues, arrange a sit-down meeting to cover expectations in-depth. If your intern simply needs guidance on one or two behaviors, mention something in passing like, “When I email you with a request, please send a quick reply so I know you’re working on it.” They’ll appreciate the clear direction and you’ll be pleased with their contribution, not annoyed with their naivete.


DON’T: Give them grunt work

An internship shouldn’t consist of making coffee and filing papers; rather, it should be a hands-on preview of what it’s like to work for your company, or a similar company, to a pre-professional considering his or her career options. At the same time, it should be an opportunity for your team to put some eager, fresh, (and inexpensive!) manpower behind a special project or initiative. You know those items on your management team’s to-do list that they never have the bandwidth to tackle? Perhaps it’s conducting customer satisfaction interviews and compiling a report for the board, or maybe it’s comparing a few options for a new CRM solution. Use your intern’s time and intellect to knock some of those items out!

If you do your hiring right, you should find smart and talented students eager to use their fresh classroom knowledge to solve your company’s needs. Take advantage of the capacity that interns bring to the table. If you need your filing cabinet organized, hire a temp worker. Interns should bring real value to your company and should take real, relevant experience away from their time with you.


DO: Include them in daily activities & meetings

Some of the most valuable time an intern will spend with your company is tagging along to the meetings and daily activities that you and your team conduct regularly. Even if the meeting doesn’t directly relate to a project they’re doing, shadowing you and your team can be very helpful as they learn about your company, your clients or customers, and your internal process.

Think of it like a high school “Intro to Spanish” teacher instructing her students to watch Univision for an hour a day. She knows her students won’t understand 99% of the words, but listening and watching helps them learn faster than just studying their text books. The same emersion principle applies to your interns. Watching you navigate problems that arise with project timelines, prepare for client presentations with your internal team, and communicate with your peers is immensely valuable and isn’t any extra training effort on your part–simply invite them to show up!


DON’T: Make them a shared office resource

What do you think would happen if you purchased just one iPad or one high-res webcam and set it in the middle of your office for anyone to use whenever they wanted? Or maybe you already have a situation like this where one valuable resource is open and available to your entire staff? If your office is anything like the rest of ours, that resource would be hogged by one or two people who have a much better sense of what’s good for their personal agenda than what’s best for the company at large.

If you stick an intern in the middle of your office and make their time accessible to your entire team, you’ll have the same issues. Each person on your staff will have different ideas about what responsibilities or projects they can hand over to the intern and, no matter how great these individual tasks may be, your intern will be thrust into the stressful and chaotic position of trying to manage and prioritize a slew of unrelated requests.

Do yourself, your team, and your intern a favor: create and enforce boundaries about which person (yes, one person) can assign work to your intern. All requests should filter through this single manager and the intern should refer anyone who approaches them directly to bring up assignments or requests with that person.

Hiring and managing interns can be a great experience for you and your company, and can provide a quality pipeline of candidates for full time positions, as well as positively impact your brand as interns move on to other companies and spread the word about their great experience.


Stay tuned later this week for Part 2 of Managing Summer Interns: Dos & Don’ts…!


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