For many companies, welcoming interns into the office has become a right of passage each spring. College students looking to hone their skills clamor for real world opportunities to learn alongside seasoned professionals.
But not all internships are created equal. According to USA Today, of the roughly 1.5 million positions awarded in the United States each year, about half have come under criticism for failing to compensate the intern or teaching them little more than how to label a fabric sample. Even when interns look to contribute in meaningful ways, it can be difficult to make an impact without a dedicated manager committed to training them and giving them the kinds of opportunities that lead to real growth.
Fortunately, with a little time and intentional planning, both the company and its interns can emerge as winners. Steve Burrill, digital marketing consultant for turnstone and former intern, recently shared 10 ways to maximize the interns in your office (and teach them something in the process):
- Give your intern the opportunity to get to know others within the organization. Explain team structure, make introductions or schedule a time for him to have coffee with key individuals. Relationships are critical, and as manager, you have the power to help them take root.
- Help your intern understand the decision-making process in your company by identifying those in leadership, calling out procedures and explaining how company culture impacts new decisions. Additionally, provide clear guidelines around who to go to for various needs, how budget dollars are allocated and at what time of the year those dollars are spoken for.
- Provide them with ways to learn more about their field of study or role in the company. Attending “lunch ’n learns,” webinars, online classes and reading company research are critical to the growth of your intern.
- Underscore the importance of being a self-starter. Advise your intern to proactively ask, not passively wait, for projects. If they have an interest in diving deeper into something they’re working on, encourage them to go for it, helping to clear any hurdles from their path.
- Foster your relationship with the intern. Grab lunch together, schedule weekly 1:1 meetings and make yourself available for questions that pop up while projects are underway. The more trust you build, the greater success you’ll find collaborating and making true strides together.
- Teach your office culture—especially the unspoken rules. Discuss things your intern may be hesitant to ask about, like whether it’s okay to work from home or wear jeans to the office. Above all, communicate the freedom to be transparent when asking questions. Leave them knowing that they can come to you without judgment.
- Offer frequent feedback; don’t wait for a formal evaluation to offer guidance or correction. Like everyone, interns need time to learn and correct problems—don’t wait till it’s too late.
- Suggest a project-tracking or note-taking strategy. Does your team use online organizers like Evernote, Basecamp or asana? If so, don’t forget to loop in your intern. They’ll be processing a lot of information as they get started; show them ways to successfully organize that information.
- Invite your intern to join meetings. This gives them opportunities to learn more about their field of expertise, even if the meeting agenda doesn’t directly affect them. Meetings also provide natural inroads for them to meet people and understand the flow within the company.
- Offer “down time” suggestions. Your intern will invariably encounter moments when projects lag or there aren’t pressing issues at hand. Give your intern resources to study company history, review handbooks, brand books, or encourage them to schedule meet and greets with others across teams. Additionally, if there’s a large “back burner” project that isn’t urgent but needs attention, put it on your intern’s radar.
By giving some thought to the time you have with your intern, you'll ensure that the experience will be fruitful for everyone involved.