The Care and Feeding of Your Interns

Perspectives
Jan 20, 2012
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8 Min Read

Have a new crop of spring semester interns starting work? Here are three tips for managing them effectively.

1. Recognize that your interns are working for no or little pay and find out what they’re hoping to get out of the experience – and then think about how you might be able to help them. If they’re hoping to get some experience writing 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 then edit). Of course, sometimes this isn’t practical; it depends on what exactly they’re hoping to get experience doing. Most often though, interns are simply looking to get “experience” and that can mean anything from answering phones to proofing a policy brief.

2. Assume that your interns won’t know some basic things about how offices work and give more guidance than you might with a regular employee. Make sure you’re your expectations and goals for their time with you are really clear, and check in regularly to monitor how their work is being executed so you can make course corrections if needed and act as a resource.

You also might need to explain things that would go unsaid with someone more experienced. I’ve even had to explain to interns that they need to call if they’re unable to come in (not just not show up without notifying anyone). Keep in mind that a lot of the value of an internship is that it’s how students learn these basics 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 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.

3. Don’t cut your interns too much slack just because they’re not being paid much. You probably won’t be holding them to precisely the same standards you’d hold your regular staff to, but you should 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 to you, and they’ll lose a lot of the value of the experience themselves.

Sometimes managers feel like they can’t hold interns very accountable or give them direct feedback about problem areas because they’re not getting paid much, but because of the time investment on your side, it’s generally better to have no intern at all than to have one who you can’t rely on or whose work is so careless that it has to be redone.