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Thursday, April 3, 2008

3 tips for managing interns

Summer intern season is approaching. Here are three tips for surviving it.

1. Don't cut the intern too much slack just because he/she is unpaid or low paid. You might not hold them to exactly the same standards you'd hold your regular staff to, but you should at least hold them to something close to that -- because otherwise the time that you put into hiring, training, and supervising them won't be worth it. Sometimes people feel like they can't hold interns very accountable because they're not getting paid or that they can't give them direct feedback about problem areas, but in my experience it's better to have no intern at all than to have one who you can't rely on or whose work is so sloppy that it has to be redone, etc.

2. On the opposite side of that, though, do recognize the person is working with no or little pay and find out what they're hoping to get out of the experience and see what you might be able to do to accommodate them. If they're hoping to get some experience writing something and you wouldn't normally have them doing any writing, see if there's a way to allow them to write a few small things (which you'd edit, presumably). Of course, sometimes this isn't practical; it depends on what exactly they're hoping to get experience doing. More often though, interns are simply looking to get "experience" and that can mean all kinds of things.

3. Assume interns won't know some really basic stuff about how things are done and that you'll need to give more guidance than you might with a regular employee. Make sure expectations and goals are really clear, check in regularly to monitor how their work is being executed so you can make course corrections if needed and give advice, and so forth. You also might need to explain things that would go unsaid with someone a bit older -- I've had to explain to interns in the past that they need to call if they're unable to come in (not just not show up without notifying anyone), that they can't play on MySpace all day, etc. The thing to remember is that a lot of the value of an internship for students is that it's how they learn this basic stuff about the work world -- so that when they're in a "real" position, they already know how things work. Ideally, you'll be someone who enjoys teaching someone this kind of thing; if you're not, at least see it as part of the "pay" you're providing them in exchange for their work.


Erik said...

Great post. I have had interns for over 5 years and if managed properly, they can be a real asset. I think the key is to manage (slightly) lower, and prepare to spend a lot of time, especially early on. Many have not worked in a corporate/business environment so please keep this in mind. Most want to work hard and are pleasers because an internship with a good recommendation is a real benefit when they graduate.

Erik Anderson