Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Internships: Creating the best experience for your intern

Today we’re looking at the flip side of internships: managing and creating the best experience for your intern.

A few important things to remember when hiring an intern:
  • An internship should be a learning experience for the student. This position is about them as much as it is about your organization or company.
  • Legally, the intern cannot displace a regular employee. Don’t choose an intern over a regular hire just to save money.
At the point in my career, I have more experience as an intern than as a manager, so I try to apply the things I liked about my managers to my own managing methods.

Get to know your intern. What are their interests? Their goals? Their strengths? Their weaknesses? Depending on the needs of the department and the intern, they may want to use the internship to further their goals or to bulk up areas in which they are currently inexperienced. Gauge this at the beginning and periodically throughout the internship.

Let them in on the process. Especially at the intern stage, the best way to learn is by watching. Let them in on meetings, brainstorms, even editing sessions so they see the thought process that goes into the work. For many students, internships are the first time they’re seeing the inner workings of an office or the industry they’ve chosen, so these experiences are extremely valuable.

Make expectations clear. Although they may be your intern for 10-12 hours a week, the average student has a lot on their mind at all times. Being clear about what you need from them—and when—will keep the productivity flowing and help your intern learn to manage their time. Clarifying expectations will also make it easier to assess the effectiveness of the experience later on. If you’re unsure about what they can handle, talk through it with them and ask them to self-assess how long tasks may take.

Create real opportunities to contribute. One of the main reasons for the legal stipulation that interns cannot displace regular employees is so that students aren’t stuck getting coffee or answering phones for three months so you can avoid hiring a receptionist. Students have a lot to offer—even though the age difference between me and my interns is relatively small, they have different skills, experiences and generational biases that can encourage creativity among others and inspire real change.

Give them some freedom… We all hate micromanagers, and being one can stifle an intern’s experience just as it can a regular employee’s. If you have some smaller tasks or projects in their beginning stages, research and brainstorming are great experiences for interns to not only get a handle on the industry but also to show their creativity. An an editor, I returned interns’ first drafts with comments only (no redlines) to give them the chance to work through things on their own and really show their stuff.

…but be available. By far, the most frustrating internships I’ve had are when I was left completely alone to do my work with no guidance and little contact with my supervisor (even when sought). It’s amazing how much some companies will trust a 19-year-old with no experience. Let’s just say neither I nor the company got anything out of the experience. Whether it’s an open-door policy or a weekly check-in meeting, make sure your intern is getting the support they need.

Internships can be valuable for both sides of the relationship, so maximize the experience! What tips do you have for managing interns?

Stopped by for the first time? Catch up on parts one and two of the internship series.

Originally posted here.

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