How to Manage an Intern Program

Having an intern program at your office can be a valuable and rewarding experience for both your company and the team of enthusiastic laborers that have signed up to offer their services.  Idealism and innovation run rampant with a fresh take on old problems.  Cost savings on your end is exchanged for much-needed resume padding and work experience for them, making internships feel-good win wins for all involved.  That is, as long as your intern program is set up to create a recipe for success right from the get go.

Before The Intern Arrives:

Clearly Define Your Goals for the Position

One of the biggest keys to success for your company’s intern positions will start out with a solid plan for the position.  A big picture overview makes a great beginning for rolling out internships, especially when your company hasn’t offered the role before or if you’re a new manager, supervisor or direct report responsible for overseeing the interns’ daily work lives.  Set out a list of clear objectives such as teaching new skills, adjusting young workers to an office environment or fostering management training in junior level employees.  Once you have these “forest” type items in place you can start structuring the trees of intern program success.

Brainstorm Open Company Projects

The next step in developing a clear-cut internship program will be identifying eligible tasks and projects for the new mentees.  Consider polling individual department heads or managers or even sending out a company wide email asking for projects.  A diverse set of tasks will be key to both you and your interns getting the most out of their time with your company.  Target individual tasks or larger projects that can be wrapped up in the internship period with a range of small, medium and large assignments.  Also be sure to pick to-do items that require little overall supervision or intensive training.  An internship can quickly go sour if both your currently employees and interns spend most of it training and learning complicated systems, processes or technology.

Wrap it All Up Into a Timeline

Once you have a set of overall goals and individual tasks you or the assigned intern supervisors and mentors will need to come up with a clear set of deadlines in the form of a program timeline.  If your overall goal is to have interns develop competence in a given process, set up meetable benchmarks along the way along that monitor whether important skillsets are being met.  Delegating individual timeline development will be key for larger intern programs and will also help get the right people involved in program implementation, spreading the administrative burden amongst a variety of individuals who still have day jobs.

After The Intern Arrives:

Communicate Clearly

Once your interns are on board it’s mission critical that you clearly communicate the nature of the job and the scope of their responsibility and tasks they’ll be asked to perform.  If you’ve laid out your program deadline, communicate key dates and overall program goals. This will provide comfort in the form of stability and also by letting the intern know what they can look forward to and how they should be proactive about structuring their time.

If your company has certain employee standards or policies, it’s important that these are communicated to interns just as they would be to regular, paid employees.  Some companies may overlook this critical task but having interns both fit in with and be comfortable in company culture and values will help avoid awkward moments during the program as well as set clear expectations for behavior and professionalism that prepares interns for entering the paid workforce.

Set (and Manage) Clear Deadlines

Since you’ve put all that work into identifying projects and making up an intern program timeline, be sure to convey that information to your new, temporary volunteers.  Each project assignment should be accompanied by a clear deadline.  If you’re comfortable with the intern’s ability to manage time, don’t be afraid to assign multiple tasks at once.  Being allowed to hop between a variety of tasks as they see fit will create an exciting and interesting work environment.  As a bonus, successful navigation of this kind of responsibility can help point out which amongst the group would make great long term employees after the program has wrapped up.

Check in Often

Even in an intern program where you provide your mentees with plenty of job freedom, it’s important to remember to check in often on progress and to provide ongoing feedback.  Short, daily meetings and longer weekly sit downs will go a long ways to evaluating progress and identifying any problem or areas of particular interest for the interns.  Providing consistent supervision is also an essential part of any internship programs.  Interns give up the ability to earn monetary compensation in exchange for the invaluable asset of experienced mentorship.  Consistent monitoring provides the best opportunity for your interns to grow and learn from their venture.

Program Wrap-up and Evaluation

Finally, it’s important to ensure your internship program has a formal evaluation session and debriefing as part of the final wrap-up.  Professionals program reviews have multiple benefits both for program participants and recipients.  Reviewing an intern’s performance helps prepare for the real-world annual review process which is critical to assessing progress and career growth.  Getting an intern’s feedback on their experience in your program also helps supervisors and companies identify areas of improvement or aspects that are particularly enjoyable, which can then be included or excluded for future iterations.  Most importantly, wrapping up the program with a formal goodbye allows both parties the ability to network, download and assess; building on immediate successes or failures to provide long term learning opportunities for both interns and companies.

Article Updated from the Original on September 17th, 2017