Part 2: Managing Summer Interns: Dos & Don’ts

Managing (5)

We’ve been talking this week about best practices for managing summer interns. If you missed Part 1 of this topic, catch it here.

Many companies have a love/hate relationship with the idea of offering internships. It seems like a nice idea: fresh, eager talent temporarily focused on a special initiative within your company. But sometimes the reality can look more like: inexperienced kids who spend their summer making coffee and filing papers, or twiddling their thumbs with no real work to do.

So how do you create a positive experience for your company and for the interns you bring into your office for the summer? How do you create a pipeline of quality, full-time applicants, build a strong relationship with your local university, and send out brand ambassadors who will tell their friends and future employers about their positive experience with your company?

Here are five more Dos and Don’ts to relay to your management team as they prepare to oversee this summer’s intern team:


DO: Talk daily & provide feedback

As we know, Millennials love continuous and immediate feedback. It’s not enough to have a meeting on Monday morning, assign a week’s worth of work, and check in the following Monday. If you rely on a once-a-week checkpoint, you may find that your intern spent 4.5 of 5 days last week working diligently in the wrong direction, or perhaps not working very much at all, waiting until the final hour to throw together an update. As we spoke about in Part 1 with setting expectations, interns do best with clear direction and coaching, and most of those opportunities come up while working through questions or obstacles on a daily basis.

Continuous communication also stems intern anxiety from not knowing where they stand. Keep in mind that if your intern is a student or recent grad, they’re used to getting constant feedback in the form of grades. Questions like, “Am I doing this right?” and “Are they happy with my performance?” are common among interns and if left unanswered by you (even if not explicitly asked by them), can lead to disengagement on their end. Further, if they’re not, in fact, doing it right and you’re not happy with them, your frustration can lead to disengagement on your end. Disengagement does not lead to a healthy pipeline of potential hires or a positive brand impression with a budding professional. So, talk daily.


DON’T: Abuse their time outside of working hours

It might be commonplace at your company for employees to work outside of official company hours, on weekends or evenings, to finish a presentation or proposal. If your workday ends at 5:00 pm but a client meeting is still going strong at 5:15 pm, it’s probably just expected that your staff will stick around until it wraps up. However, working hours need to stick firmly when it comes to interns in the same way they would with an hourly employee, even if your interns are paid with a stipend, rather than by an hourly time clock. Interns often have obligations outside their position with your company that aren’t flexible, such as classes, homework, or a second job. Asking them to put in extra hours outside those they agreed to for the internship puts them in an awkward and potentially damaging position with their other responsibilities.

Further, interns are less experienced than full-time employees with setting boundaries with their employer and may feel more pressure to “earn” favor at the expense of other responsibilities. Companies who pressure interns to put in extra hours or pit interns against each other in a competition to “prove” how much they care by logging more hours than their peers take advantage of interns’ inexperience and eagerness to please.

It’s your job to anticipate the number of hours you’ll need per week per intern and assign projects that fit within that constraint before you launch your internship program. If you underestimated those hours, then it’s your responsibility to scale back the project or add additional resources.


DO: Pay them

Besides being a major legal risk, not paying your interns is just a bad idea (not to mention bad juju). Susan Adams of Forbes advises, “Unpaid positions exploit workers, take jobs from would be entry-level employees, favor the privileged who can afford to make no money, and perhaps most importantly, break longstanding labor laws.” If interns are adding any value to your company whatsoever, you should and need to compensate them. If they’re not adding value, why are they there? Is the problem an absence of meaningful work or are they just not performing?

Beyond the moral and legal risks, not paying your interns (ironically) creates a profitability risk for your company. As we’ve covered in this article series, preparing for, training, and managing interns is time consuming and requires many hours of investment from some of the most expensive members of your staff: your management team. However, with no incentive or “skin in the game,” unpaid interns have no reason to perform. They’ll see the way that you value their work and they’ll value it the same way. You’ll get what you paid for during their time with you. Avoid this profitability problem (and sleep better at night) by paying your interns!


DON’T: Hire the boss’s friend’s daughter

Have you ever noticed how many high school- and college-aged children your executive team suddenly has as soon as intern season rolls around? As soon as you post a job description for a summer internship, resumes from your boss’s friends’ kids suddenly start piling up on your desk–even if their college major has nothing to do with the open position. You’re not alone; many HR managers struggle with requests from their superiors to “do a favor” and hire their kid or their friend’s kid to be your summer intern. While it may seem like a nice gesture to please the boss, or an easy way to fill the role, you’ll regret your decision if the candidate isn’t the best fit for the job.

Would you hire this person based on their education, relevant experience, or interview performance if you received their application through your website like the other candidates? Is it worth the risk that you may spend your summer babysitting an unqualified, disinterested–and perhaps entitled–intern simply because your boss wants to pay a favor to a friend?

You know your company politics and have probably learned the best way to navigate them, so use your best judgement. Just take a moment to think before amending your nepotism policy for an intern hire. You are hiring them to be a part of your team, albeit temporarily, and there’s a good reason why your hiring processes exist for other employees. Are interns really that different?


DO: Invite their fresh perspective

One of the biggest advantages to inviting interns to work alongside your team is they really do bring a fresh perspective to the longstanding processes and challenges at your company. They are coming directly from an innovative, creative learning environment that empowers them to problem-solve in new ways and apply academic solutions to real world problems.

They’re not yet disillusioned by the reality of business, they haven’t endured years of frustration trying to push an initiative through a committee, and they haven’t run out of new ideas for the marketing program. Feed off their excitement and positivity. Let their idealism slip into your perspective, too. Sure, their ideas may seem a little idealistic or off-the-wall, but try to consider their suggested solutions with an open mind. Often times it’s those out-of-the-box ideas that spur new product features, company protocols, and sales strategies. Have fun with your interns and let them breathe some new life into your establishment.


So there you have it,’s 10 Dos and Don’ts (find the first five here) for managing interns. What did we miss? Has your company learned any best practices for managing interns that we forgot? Add yours in the comments below. Happy hiring!


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