I’ve been on both sides of the internship coin: I’ve been an intern, and I’ve been one of the people on a team responsible for an intern. Since we talked about making the most of a PR internship earlier this week, let’s talk about the best ways to manage an intern to make the most of the experience for both of you.
Know what you need your intern to do
Before your intern shows up, take a few minutes to write an outline of his or her duties. What do you want them to do, and what did they show interest in learning? Most interns are eager from the outset, so don’t let that eagerness fade; providing them with a list of things for them to do each day or week keeps them busy, but don’t forget to schedule in some time for them to observe you or other office mates in action, so they feel like they’re participating and learning.
Invest time up front
I was put “in charge of the intern” a few times when I worked as an editor at a magazine, and it seemed like of a chore, since it ate into time I spent on my assignments. But I realized that in the past, we had a hard time making the most of the talented interns we had coming in because with our team of only three editors, they didn’t get the proper training. As a result, they either didn’t know how to do what we needed them to do, or weren’t given enough direction to be meaningfully productive.
Once we started investing time in ensuring that interns were trained as thoroughly as possible, especially in the first week, we started getting usable content and great editorial suggestions from our interns, thus lightening the load for all of us. If you only have a day for training, use that day as best you can, but consider breaking up the training into a few hours every day of their first week. That gives you both the opportunity to ask and answer questions and for both of you to feel the intern is a part of the team.
Invite your intern out with your group of work friends occasionally, or ask them to join you while you eat in the break room. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking the intern will harsh your group vibe or that it’s a babysitting job; though college interns are young, they aren’t children, and should be able to engage meaningfully with you and your colleagues. Don’t underestimate the value of reverse mentoring with a digital native.
Even taking a few minutes to stop by their desk every few days helps both of you feel like you’re on the same team. Try to be consistent with your interactions, so that communication doesn’t dwindle and interns don’t feel isolated.
Grunt work makes up a significant portion of the internship experience, and while that’s just how it is in most places, the reality doesn’t always jibe with an intern’s expectations. So when you’re assigning an intern tasks that may not be the most challenging, be sure to outline how it contributes to overall goals and why it matters. That may not make the work more exciting for the intern, but it gives them a sense of being part of the bigger picture.
Providing an intern with feedback can improve both your lives: your intern gets more learning out of the work experience and the chance to improve his or her work, and they produce progressively better work for you as the internship goes on. It’s also part of fostering the next wave of new colleagues, employees, and industry influencers.
If you’re going to invest the time to interview, create a budget, and have new people come through your department, you should make sure there is a mutual benefit to all parties involved, and remember to always be open to the possibility of finding great future recruits in this pool of eager young interns.