If you have interns in your office, they have probably started working by now or will soon. Not only do they provide great work, former interns are your best ambassadors when they return to campus—they can help you recruit for next year’s interns, identify good candidates for entry level positions, and publicize the good things about your organization and public service generally to their family and friends. You want them to be happy!
According to the website InternBridge.com, more than half of student interns did not know how to get the most benefit from their experience and were not satisfied with their internships. As a supervisor, you can make your intern’s summer satisfying, even if they aren’t advising the White House or Governor’s Office every day. Here are some things I’ve heard over the years that make an internship meaningful:
- Make sure the intern has a great first day! First impressions are critical. Before they arrive, have the workstation, computer access, keys and security cards ready. Have someone meet them when they arrive (you?) and show them where the coffee and kitchen are located. Provide some introductory reading material to help them get oriented to the organization and office. Take them to lunch.
- Create a work plan for the intern with written expectations that both you and the intern agree to uphold. A written plan gives both you and the intern a way to discuss concerns or problems as well as room to increase assignments as the intern proves himself or herself capable. In addition to day-to-day tasks, include a specific independent tangible research project that an intern could discuss in a future job interview or classroom. Most of us have a list of projects we have no time to complete, so pass them along to the intern!
- Talk with your intern about his/her career goals and internship goals on the first day of work. In this discussion, you might think of other tasks that could help advance these goals or relevant connections you could make for the intern.
- Talk openly about behavior and attitude. Many students have never worked in an office setting and need help with professional behavior or dress. Instead of dismissing them as immature, help them make better decisions. Students are also often surprised to find that an intern doesn’t have as much responsibility as they expected. Encourage them to have a great attitude even if the work isn’t exciting, and then they will be more likely to get the exciting work.
- Ask a young staff person to mentor your intern, if your organization is large enough. A near-peer can often have more impact than a supervisor, and a mentor can help with questions that an intern may not want to ask a supervisor.
- Be a great supervisor. Meet with your intern weekly, even just for 15 minutes, to get a progress report or answer questions. Take the intern to important meetings. Arrange lunch with the “top brass.” Encourage them to attend professional events in the area to meet other experts.
- Provide a thoughtful evaluation. Talk about the work plan and their work attitude. In addition to the subject matter learning, interns need to learn how to accept criticism (and praise) gracefully. They will launch into full-time work soon, and your advice can make a big difference. Also, give them the opportunity to tell you their thoughts on the organization and internship—fresh eyes are often useful.
- Make sure the intern has a great last day! Cupcakes in the break room, a home-made certificate of appreciation, front door parking—let them know they are appreciated.
They’ll make sure you get a great intern next summer!