The Interns Are Here! … Now What?

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!

Donna Dyer is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Peter Sperry

Generally all good ideas. But I would hope the supervisor meets with interns more than once a week. Also, pay them a fair wage. The days of free intern labor should be put behind us. And let them know during the application process if the primary focus is providing educational experience for interns but anticipating they will find permanent jobs elsewhere or an entry level evaluation with the expectation the intern will transition to a permanent employee.

Julie Chase

From 2006 to 2008 our installation was home to about 35 STEP’s and SCEP’s. They all were GS04’s and worked at various organizations around the base for the summer and intermittently when they were on break (and we were working). Each sponsoring organization was introduced to their interns after having been briefed by HR on their arrival. Once they reached the building where they were working they were greeted by the supervisor who would be their mentor for the time they were there. The interns worked directly with their assigned supervisor on a daily basis. All were sent to the training bldg. to learn the ins and outs and do’s and don’ts of working on a government computer, they received stickers for their cars and CAC’s. Each organization had an outline of what each intern would be doing. Yes, they would be evaluated. The STEP’s knew they were there “temporarily”, the SCEP’s unfortunately were promised jobs once they graduated which never materialized.

It all went sour in August of 2008 when the funding ran out and all the STEP’s and SCEP’s were terminated abruptly. During the two years they were there they were encouraged to finish school and job would (perhaps) be waiting for them with good recommendations. Of course the question always came up. “What GS grade will I start out with?” The answer, BS degree GS-05, Master’s GS-07. Once they saw the GS payscale, most said, “hey, when this gig is up, I’m not interested in returning, not for that pay.” There were a few who said they would return for a foot in the door. Our tenant command also had STEP’s and SCEP’s, but their promise of pay was a grade level higher. Also the STEP and SCEP ended for our tenant command at the same time, same month, same year. Funding was the reason.

Having read news reports and such, I found out the real reason, which to be honest, they should have stated so from the beginning. What made matters worse, is their final paycheck was not received until sometime in January of 2009, where most were on the phone daily asking where their final check was. Sour taste indeed.

Then all of sudden came Pathways. Which of course has to be “funded”. Our tenant command this past FY just started using it and us, well, there is no funding. The college kids have gone elsewhere.

I had no idea these programs were prolific as a run around against vet preference and truth be told that is why they were abolished.

Donna, I think you would have better luck in the private sector with your interns. There are many companies west of I95 who would snap them up in a minute and be glad to have them. The DoD, even though NC is the most military friendly state is under a big belt tightening.

The STEP’s and SCEP’s were nice to have around as the average age of a fed employee here is 45+.

Plans were in place when they arrived back in the day….and they were mentored and given objectives and a job to do. They also participated in whatever training everyone else had to get a feel of day to day activities.

Things change. We have to adjust. Not sure what is going to happen when all of us boomers retire and there is no one to replace them. But there is not much we can do about it.

Dr. William "Buzz" Kennedy

Donna,These are some great ideas and a great knowledge share. Great internship programs tend to draw world-class talent and opportunities for organizations to recruit those high-caliber candidates. In sum, good experiences are shared with instructors who often recommend other candidates to pursue those organizations with successful internship programs.

I also like your recommendation of having a tailored plan for each candidate as it functions as a tool to synchronize activities and relay expectations. Supervisors that are new or that do not understand the purpose of the internship often employ candidates in work they consider mundane (i.e. filing papers, running errands, etc.) that add little value to the experience. As you’ve stated, these are great opportunities to get another set of eyes on projects, programs, and processes that often are overlooked for potential innovation.

Warm regards,


Julie Chase

You don’t have to give up. Tell them to take temp…or term jobs or lower graded jobs. This is how they get their foot in the door. Yes vet preference applies….however….most vets do not want temp….term or low graded jobs. Once you are in…work your butt off in the temp….or term job…this gives you experience. If you get a lower graded full time job….in 90 days (i’ll check the exact amount)….you can apply for other higher graded jobs. Vet preference applies to “new” hires. A bet was lost over this a few yrs ago. After getting confirmation from HR….a vet and notn vet are equal once they are vetted in the system. Under “who may apply”….if it reads “current federal employees” and you are already in…. you have a chance. The Pathways program may be another option…however it is vet preference. Keep in mind what you are applying for. They can start small at military installation and get some experience. …then they can head to DC if they so choose.

David Dean

Merit jobs are in house and are not available to the general public. Merit openings provide veteran preference to a small degree. If the Agency allows anyone outside the immediate organization to apply then veterans must be allowed to apply, but veteran preference does not apply. Veteran are seldom hired for these jobs. The Merit jobs reward management favorites very well. The case law is not final on Merit job and veteran preference.

Open to the general public, competitive, DEU announced jobs must apply veteran preference. In some jobs GS-9 and above veteran preference does not apply. Veteran preference applies to any all Pathways and PMF jobs. If the hiring official wishes to by pass a disabled veteran OPM has to approve the passover. That rarely happens. If OPM allows a passover the veteran can appeal to DOLVETS under VEOA, then to MSPB and then to the CAFC. Five point veterans with preference have the same appeal rights as 10 pointers. This becomes very expensive, time consuming, and (now) could case harm to the hiring official’s career.

Julie (below) has provided excellent advise. College students do not have special talents that should propel them in to a federal job. For the record, interns are not applicants for federal jobs. This implies they are shoo ins. That is not the case. Most college students have an inflated opinion of themselves.

David Dean

Also interns in the federal government are not candidates.They are part times temps. Another issue is some Unio labor agreements will also impact.

Catherine Andrews

Hello, all! Thank you for your lively discussion on this and other posts. I wanted to remind everybody to keep the tone in the comments civil, instructive and informative. We’re all working together with the aim of making government better. We here at GovLoop are grateful to have Donna and other featured bloggers on board, sharing their valuable insights and experiences, and I wanted to personally express that support. Please feel free to message me with any thoughts, ideas for content, or anything else!

Julie Chase

David Dean. Thank you for putting out there for all to understand. There are many assumptions about how young people. ..(college or not) can a job with the fed. There is a process. Fed hiring is governed by rules/regulations and policies. It is not a shoo-in as you pointed out. The PMF and Pathways are strictly regulated in vet preference hiring. I believe Donna may have been told or read a blog about PMF and/or Pathways that offered something for her students. Perhaps it was sugar-coated and the rest of the story was not made evident to her. Hence the puzzling frustration as to why not one of her students (from Duke no less) made the cut.

There is a real world process in every aspect of the fed work force.

Fwiw. …I have found discussions on govloop civil. Sometimes when a subject is candy coated and a poster gives valuable information to the contrary and others find there is hard truth in rebuttal. …well….it may cause hurt feelings. Sometimes the truth hurts.

David Dean

Julie, I am retired Army, and I worked with and supervised Department of the Army Civilians (DACs). In private the designation was modified to a small degree. In 1984 I was hired as an Army Career Intern. The internship was for three years in the GS-201 personnel series. At that time the GS-201 series contained GS-201 personnel generalist, GS-232 employee relations, and GS-233 labor relations. I chose labor relations. I worked in labor relations for six years after the internship. The so called Outstanding Scholar Program was instituted in 1987 the result of a settlement agreement, not a court case, as many assumed. The program was used until 2005 as a vehicle to bypass hiring veterans. There was not an effort is hide the intent and purpose of the so called Outstanding Program. I was told bluntly by hiring officials they did not have to consider veterans under the program because veteran preference did not apply. Once veterans applying for federal jobs became aware I was Army retired they turned to me for help. I could do very little to help them. I saw men and women (my brothers and sisters) cry.

I was not hired because because I was 30% or more, 10 points compensable disabled veteran. The reason for my hire was more mundane. The Commanding General’s civilian aide was, to put it mildly, hell on wheels. The General and staff wanted her out of the building. She was a GS-9, the General was demanding that the Civilian Personnel Officer (CPO) put her in an available Army Career Intern position (GS-07/09/11 with competition at the GS-12 level) I had applied for an Army Career Internship approximately one year before, suddenly my application was removed from the dust bin. The CPO informed the General that he had to hire a disabled veteran. On Friday I was asked to report in on Monday.

The moment of truth was when I applied for an Investigator’s position in 1999. I was retired Army Military Police, Masters Degree in Criminal Justice and enrolled in a PhD program. I was an Adjunct Professor at a two college, and taught criminal justice. The position required a separate application for the Merit Announcement, and for the Competitive (DEU) announcement. My application for the all US citizens (competitive) announcement was “lost.” The Supervisor hired her girlfriend (non-veteran) from Kansas. This resulted in David Dean v. Department of Agriculture in August 2005. The rest is history.

I have responded because I see so much mis-information on this, and other websites. College students are given false hope. For some reason some of the people that post refuse to accept the fact veteran preference is a function of federal law. The CAFC and the MSPB have issued final decisions in the case law. Veteran preference is settled law. Federal hiring officials since 2005 have been forced to follow the law. They do not have an option.

The only method to change veteran preference is for the Congress and the President to repeal the federal statutes that put veteran preference into effect. I do not mind trying to answer questions, a statement, quote “I do not like veteran preference” does not improve my mood.