Do you remember your first internship?
My first internship was at Simon & Schuster. I was in high school. My internship turned into a part time job. My internship was probably the best thing I could have experienced as a high schooler. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Simon & Schuster, and now I am tingling with excitement (and maybe a little fear) that I have interns starting this week.
Yep! Summer Interns. Did you rejoice or did you moan when you read that?
For many businesses who need help the answer given is often “get an intern”. However, “getting an intern” is more than simply finding someone who is in college or recently graduated to help complete company tasks.
Right now, companies and businesses are welcoming their summer associates and interns for non profit organizations, for profit companies, tech startups, and small businesses. Companies and organizations that utilize interns have the opportunity to help emerging professionals, learn more about the organization, get clear on their career path, and deepen the pipeline of talent in their field while temporarily increasing their workforce. Interns are more than just an extra set of hands; but, for more years than I can count, interns were merely seen as glorified assistants (and let’s face it they still are).
But, let’s face this idea too: Interns should see working with your company as a positive and empowering experience and not a dreadful summer punishment. I know I know, it’s work. Yet, it should be memorable for them as well.
Q: Why do we need Interns?
A: To do work.
Well, in essence, yes. But, in reality, they are there to add exceptional value to our business and team. We need interns to improve their skills through our internship programs, so that we have better employees, team members, and managers in the long run. Interns even have the potential to become business owners and resources for companies later on in life.
Need help growing your social media presence? “Get an intern!”
Have a research project you’ve been putting off for months? “Get an intern!”
Looking for someone to help get the company ready for the upcoming year? “Get an intern!”
Sounds good, right?
How about if we reframed our thinking to this: “teach an intern”, “lead an intern”, and “build an intern”?
Here’s the reality – although interns soooound like a great idea, there are more of us that have had terrible internship experiences than great ones. That includes when you were an intern as well as when it was your turn to host them. Internships are as much for the person getting the internship as it is for the company. They are there to learn, provide “hands on” support (and depending on the type of internship) demonstrate their skill and potential in hopes of snagging a permanent role.
So how do you make sure you’re prepared to provide a great experience for your new summer associates? Here are the 6 things you need to know when hiring and hosting interns for the summer (or anytime, really).
- Make sure you’re ready! Having an intern is a big undertaking. In addition to finding a great intern, you have to make sure you’re prepared for the effort required to host them as well. Do you have time to manage a new person who is going to need your support and guidance? Do you have time to be more involved than you normally would be in your teams work? Leaving an intern to learn the temporary ropes alone because you’re too busy, won’t be beneficial for either party.
- Get off on the right foot! Planning for a successful summer internship takes thought, time, and attention to both the experience you want to curate and what business goals your interns will help you meet. Create an internship on boarding plan which outlines their responsibilities for the role with clear tasks and deliverables as well as their learning objectives. Make sure you’ve gotten all the tools they need to be successful prior to them setting foot through the door. This includes – ID badges, emails, temporary passwords, their space for the summer, a list of important people to know, etc. It’s important that you provide reasonable, manageable, and worthwhile tasks for them to do every day; so having a clear and easy-to-follow weekly plan for their internship will help you (and them) stay on track.
- Stay Connected. Have at least a weekly check-in to review progress, answer questions your intern might have, and allows you to share (and receive) constructive feedback in real time. This is great behavior for you to model as a manager and will teach your interns not to fear feedback or check-ins with their future managers. Be transparent, they can see when you’re not.
- Be bold when you share your journey to success; include your failures too. It allows them to see themselves in you and for you to reflect on your journey as you teach them about your business or organization. Include your interns in the weekly team meetings to ensure that they learn about effective teamwork, witness how managers build collaborative groups, and hear the wins and failures as they happen.
- Treat them like they are a part of the team. As experienced professionals we can get stuck on autopilot—- just doing our tasks and taking care of business. But having interns is a chance to stop and be really present in our work. This is a teaching opportunity for you and a learning opportunity for them. Invite them to tag along to a work event so they can practice networking and meeting other professionals. Teach them a professional skill(s) they can take with them into another role. After all, your interns are there to learn, not (just) fetch your coffee.
- Remember you have humans on your team and not robots. Everything is not going to be perfect with your interns. So have a sense of humor about the summer so that you are able to remain engaged but with an upbeat temperament. However, if you’re having challenges with your intern don’t let things slide because they’re “just” an intern. Your role as teacher is going to be really important so being able to talk through challenges will mean sometimes means having difficult conversations.
The art of hosting an intern and making the experience memorable may not be easy, but it can be simple. Interns will become our next pool of potential employees, team members, and colleagues. We have to treat them that way. It’s not quite fair to believe that an intern can fetch coffee during the summer and magically be prepared to develop a meeting agenda during the fall when they are hired. Teach your interns a skill. Allow them to hear the truth about the last deal that didn’t quite pan out. Give them a steady and enjoyable few weeks of learning experience. Treat them as if they just might be working in your company in September when the hiring blitz takes place.
Let’s change the way we look at interns and make the intern process work in our favor. We can build the next generation of innovative and effective colleagues if we start with one intern at a time.