Your intern is more than a coffee runner and copy maker. They offer a lot of potential, and it would be a competitive disadvantage and missed opportunity to waste it.
A successful internship (for both parties) requires work from the intern and the supervisors to ensure everyone gets a worthwhile experience. The point of your internship program should be to develop talent and lay a foundation for recruiting brilliant minds to work for your company, not finding someone to do menial tasks.
Who benefits from an internship program?
Companies should consider creating an internship program when examining their long-term planning goals. Even if your intern is with your company for the short-term, they contribute long-term value. Robust and well-designed internship programs are beneficial to both interns and the company they work for.
Benefits for interns
Interns gain exposure to their chosen industry through hands-on experience and increase their marketability. If the program is done effectively, they’ll be able to develop and refine their skills and learn about their strengths and weaknesses with the feedback supervisors provide.
Benefits for employers
Employers receive valuable project support and build their talent pipeline. These employees could eventually become major players in the company with enough fostering and development. Even if you don’t offer a full-time job to the intern, you’ll have created a brand advocate and given them valuable knowledge.
Interns bring a new perspective into the business. An employee who has been with the company for 30 years may be surprised at what she can learn from an incoming intern. While she may be great at her job, her work may be cyclical, following a ‘same old’ pattern of behavior. This can be detrimental to companies looking to engage with new generations of customers or push their company forward.
A new face can contribute fresh ideas, processes, trends, and perspectives to give rise to new inspiration. To maximize the benefit of employing an intern, engage your intern in brainstorming and schedule time for them to share their ideas. Coach them on what proposing their idea may look like so they’re set up for success. Let them know their ideas are welcomed, no matter the scope of them.
Create clear job description: no surprises
To create a clear job description, first think about the goals of the internship, the type of intern you want to attract, and how you want your candidates to showcase their qualities. Maybe a resume will suffice, but candidates may not have a lot of experience, so consider requiring an essay, work samples, or letters of recommendation.
Once you’ve outlined your goals, include them in the job description. Be straightforward in the kind of work the internship will require, and include expectations concerning work schedule. No one works well with little to no direction, and just because an intern may do “less important” work doesn’t mean they should be kept in the dark about their responsibilities on the front end.
Using an applicant tracking tool can help with sourcing, evaluating, and hiring the right intern. We also highly recommend paying your interns and saying as much in the job description to attract the best candidates.
Provide real work assignments
Your intern didn’t accept the job offer to make copies and mindlessly enter data into a spreadsheet. And while this may be necessary at times, your intern wants to do valuable work that will build their expertise.
If you’re only giving your interns side or busywork projects, you’re wasting their time and your money. Developing short and long-term projects that bring value to the company, and showing the intern how those projects bring value, will ensure they stay engaged and do their best work.
At the start of the internship, let your intern choose a project they show interest in within your department. While you should include other projects that range in length, difficulty, and matter, this allows the intern to find what interests them or pursue another direction if it’s not what they anticipated. If they’re working on something they’re passionate about, the work they produce is likely to be more innovative and comprehensive.
Schedule regular performance reviews to provide structured feedback so your intern can measure how they’re doing and experience growth. This helps them stay on track to reach their goals and provides a basic framework so they don’t get lost in the hustle and bustle of the corporate world. Making internship development a daily priority will pay dividends as it provides a personalized experience and gives the intern the tools needed to create good work.
But make sure this performance review doesn’t turn into a roast session. Only providing critiques with no means of help will discourage the intern, and their work will likely get worse, not better. Offer praise and encouragement alongside the constructive criticism.
Be willing to help if your intern expresses a roadblock or problem in their performance review. While you don’t want to spoon feed solutions, giving them a jumping off point will get the process moving while still facilitating problem-solving. Active listening and asking open-ended questions also goes a long way.
Investing in a performance management system, such as 15Five, will help with setting expectations and analyzing performance for growth and development. 15Five promotes transparency and productivity with your interns and doesn’t create a huge time suck each week.
Provide a mentor
Having a good mentor will make the difference between an internship and summer job. A mentor will give interns an avenue for personalized feedback on things relating to work and beyond. If this is an intern’s first corporate experience, they may feel uncomfortable or intimidated asking a high-level manager questions.
Providing a mentor allows your intern to feel comfortable in expressing thoughts, feelings, and ideas. The mentor can guide them on how to do their best work and give them knowledge about the ins and outs of the trade.
Provide lots of opportunities to ask questions
As interns are immersed in a new working and learning environment, it’s important for supervisors to encourage them to ask any and all questions. This can be done in the aforementioned performance review or as questions arise. Outlining how your intern should communicate, when to ask for help, and giving guidance on how quickly they should expect answers provides clear expectations for both parties.
Expanding and maintaining a good working relationship starts by developing mutual trust. Fostering an uplifting, productive, and positive environment is done by taking the time to answer questions and providing help when needed.
Everyone wants to feel appreciated. Interns are more likely to feel undervalued as the nature of their work is less visible and impactful than the higher-ups. Be sure to show appreciation for the hard work your intern is doing. When they know their employer values them, they will have a better work experience and more motivation.
Using employee recognition software such as Assembly is a great way to show appreciation. It allows coworkers to recognize each other with meaningful messages and rewards. This not only shows your intern their value, but works to create a strong, uplifting culture across the entire company.
Document, document, document
As your intern carries out the course of the internship program, document all projects they’ve worked on — big or small. This serves as a great learning tool for your company to identify what worked and what didn’t, so you can make subsequent changes for incoming interns.
What was the nature of their questions and roadblocks? Was a project inadequately explained and it reflected in the finished product? Identifying these items gives you the tools to enhance your internship program and better nurture your next intern.
Documentation also gives the intern physical (or digital) proof of their work. If you don’t hire them as a full-time employee, they’ll be able to create a portfolio of their accomplishments for wherever they land next.
Collaboration software can help with documentation. Team members can work on the same projects, tasks, or other data types in one streamlined system. Everything your intern accomplishes will be documented and accessible.
Invest in your intern
Taking advantage of these tips will help build a successful internship program and successful workers. If you’re looking for the right intern, consider using a recruiting tool to attract top talent.