As I reflect upon that internship now, I realize what a great introduction to the professional world it was for me. I was fortunate enough to have a terrific supervisor who was more than just a boss but was also a mentor and a role model. Unfortunately for some students, that’s not always the case. College career planning offices across the U.S. offer numerous resources to their students on how to get the most out of an internship. But what about the employers in the relationship?
It seems that support and resources to organizations offering internships are often lacking. Moreover, smaller startup companies are largely overlooked when it comes to internships. Hopefully, this “do’s and don’ts” list will provide employers some helpful tips and advice to getting the most out of their intern experience.
- Do not hire an intern without a plan in place. Hiring an intern on a whim and then ‘winging it’ will serve nobody’s agenda. Your intern will end up wasting time on unproductive tasks, feel underutilized, and probably develop an unfavorable impression of your organization.
- Do not assign your intern only menial tasks, or expect an intern to be your own personal assistant. A limited amount of tedious chores is acceptable, but realize that the intern is there to learn and that most college students are very eager and motivated to do so.
- Do not station your intern in the corner of the office by themselves working strictly on individual tasks. Learning the dynamics of the workplace and understanding how to interact with others in a team setting is just as (if not more) important as mastering a new task or concept.
- Do not expect your intern to know the policies and procedures of your work environment. They should be given some form of orientation similar to any other new hire within your company.
- Do not assume your intern knows how to perform a task they haven’t been exposed to before. Sure, they’re bright and can learn quickly, but that doesn’t mean they won’t need any instruction at all. An internship is a learning experience, and part of your role in the process is to provide the intern with guidance while developing new skills or concepts.
- Create a professional job description for the intern’s role. You should try to incorporate SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely) goals as much as possible. This allows the intern to know what they are working toward and help them to focus their time and tasks accordingly.
- Introduce your intern to every co-worker, business associate, or customer with whom you interact throughout the day. Treating your intern as a valued team member will demonstrate appropriate professional respect, and will increase their comfort level in offering their own ideas or even just asking more insightful questions.
- Include your intern in every planning or strategy meeting related to the work they’re performing. Although you wouldn’t necessarily expect them to contribute significantly to strategy development, you may be surprised by the input that a fresh and different perspective can bring. Also, their participation in these meetings will provide a fuller understanding of ‘the big picture’ and the purpose of the specific work they are performing.
- Perform a formal evaluation of your intern’s performance at the conclusion of the internship. It’s probable that the referring school will have you complete a survey or summary as part of their standard process. However, you should also conduct a performance evaluation following your organization’s standard process. This will give the intern a more thorough realization of their strengths as well as areas which they need to develop, and it will familiarize them with a typical evaluation process that any future employer might conduct.
- If your organization doesn’t already have one, think about establishing a formal relationship or internship program with a few of the universities in your local area. Try to target schools that are known for their strengths in different majors so that you can draw interns from various disciplines who can work in several departments of your organization. And, don’t feel like you have to develop this all on your own; this would be a great project for an intern to assist with!
Most people view internships as field-based learning opportunities for students to better prepare them for work after graduation. That’s certainly true, but internships can present a tremendous value to employers as well. However, like most things in life: you’ll get out of it what you put into it. Those employers who groom today’s interns into their ranks will reap the rewards by gaining eager, loyal workers who are both motivated and prepared to become tomorrow’s leaders!