How to Get the Most Out of Your Summer Interns

With summer internship season in full swing, are you getting the most out of your interns – or have you relegated them to filing and fetching coffee because you’re not sure if you can trust them with real assignments?

With a little bit of effort, you can set up a structure that lets you give your interns meaningful, useful work and helps them learn (and then you can return to getting your own coffee). Here’s how.

1. When assigning work, invest more time than you normally might setting them up for success. Explain what the outcome of the work should be, what will make it successful and what would make it unsuccessful, and explain how it will be used and why it will matter. If you have samples of similar work, share them, to give your intern a better feel for what you’re looking for. And don’t assume knowledge! For example, don’t assume that the intern knows what a case study should look like or how it should be formatted, or what a mail merge is, and don’t assume that they know industry or workplace shorthand or jargon. Explain, and then explain some more.

2. Check in as work unfolds. Don’t just delegate and disappear. That’s a recipe for discovering at the end of the project that it wasn’t done the way you wanted. This is true with anyone, but it’s especially true with interns, who may never have done the type of work you’re giving them before. Check in and look at “slices” of work before it’s finalized – an outline of a memo, a rough draft, early data, whatever will give a lens into how the work is progressing and allow you to give input and course-correct if needed. Giving feedback at this stage can save you significant time in the long run, because it will help shape the work and ensure that the final product matches what you’re looking for (and makes it less likely that you’ll be coming in at the end and redoing the work).

3. Invite questions. Many interns aren’t entirely sure how many questions it’s okay to ask, or whether they can approach you with questions or need to wait for a formal meeting. Make it easy on them and explicitly invite questions. If you make it safe for them to ask questions without feeling inept, you’re more likely to get questions that will help them do a better job for you.

4. Ask them what they think. It’s easy to fall into the trap of assuming that because interns are brand new to the work world, you need to show them how everything is done. And you do need to give a lot of guidance (see #1), but you should also encourage them to share their own perspective. Make a point of asking for their input during meetings, if it’s appropriate (or if it’s not appropriate during the meeting itself, ask them afterward what they thought about it). When they bring you a problem they’re trying to solve, ask what solutions they’ve thought about or what they think might make sense to try first.

5. Know that managing interns well is a time commitment. Interns aren’t there solely to make your life easier; they’re there to learn something about your field and get meaningful work experience. To keep their summer from feeling like a bust (and to ensure they don’t warn all their classmates away from your company in the future), you’re going to have to invest time in doing all of the above. But you’ll be cultivating the people who could be working side by side with you in the future – and ideally getting useful work from them in the meantime.

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  • David

    Hey Alison, love your blog. We hired our first intern last summer, but before we
    did we researched how to structure their responsibilities for success. Like any
    other job we developed a playbook and created attainable goals. Since we are a
    HubSpot partner, we require the intern to become Inbound Certified before they
    are hired. This immediately weeds out the candidates that are not interested
    and shows us the candidates that are smart when they pass the certification the
    first time. This is a great benchmark for us.

    The interns are required to actually meet goals and produce for our company. In
    order to do this they are treated as a valuable asset and are included in our projects.

    So far our interns have turned into valuable employees and raving fans of our
    business. Here is a short video interview of an intern.
    We are in the process of creating more videos because they are a great recruiting