You know what you want from your interns: hard work, a willingness to learn, and the ability to take initiative. But do you know what your interns want from you? It’s not just a paycheck (although that’s always nice).
As a college student with a few internships under her belt, I’ve seen first-hand how a supervisor’s management style can mean the difference between an intern who achieves great things and an intern who achieves nothing.
Here are five things you can give your unpaid underlings to give them a great experience—and even make them want to work for you again in the future.
1. Ongoing Projects
The bottom line here is this: Give us stuff to do. We’re not interested in sitting around and scrolling through Facebook and Twitter for the duration of our internships—that gets boring, fast. The easiest way to keep us busy (in a good way) is to assign us ongoing projects.
When I began my current position, my boss gave me four projects that will likely take the entire course of the internship to finish. Now, whenever I’m sitting at my desk without a timely task, I turn to those. Not only do I avoid annoying her with constant, “What should I do now?” questions, but I feel useful, engaged, and productive the whole workday long.
You may not have four projects to assign, but that’s okay; your intern will probably be satisfied with just one or two. In the end, everybody wins—you get your “money’s worth” out of your intern, and your intern doesn’t feel like she’s wasting her time.
2. Clear Expectations
Tell us exactly what you want. If I have to examine the stars or play office detective to figure out how to do a task, what to wear, what time to arrive, what to bring, and other office know-hows, I’m not only less confident, but I’m less likely to fulfill all of your expectations. That’s why nothing—not even free food in the office fridge or company swag—makes me happier than an internship handbook.
Before your interns begin, send them some notes explaining exactly what you expect, including daily responsibilities and activities, important deadlines, office dress code and environment, hours they’ll work, whether or not they need to bring a laptop and charger, contacts they should know, and relevant dates or events. Bonus boss points for parking and public transit directions and nearby places of interest like restaurants, coffee shops, or museums for those who are from out of town. Fortunately, you should only have to write an internship handbook once. Every time you get new interns, you just have to make any updates or changes necessary.
If I know what your minimum requirements are, I’m going to try my hardest not only to meet them, but to exceed them. I’m shooting for that glowing recommendation letter—tell me how I can get it.
I understand, as most interns do, that my boss is much busier and more important than me. That’s why it’s incredibly gratifying to receive prompt, pleasant emails in response to my questions or concerns.
You may be worried that if you’re too helpful, your interns won’t learn that they should always ask Google first. However, if a supervisor is kind, I end up respecting him or her quite a bit, motivating me to only come to him or her with the problems I’ve tried and failed to resolve on my own.
It may also be difficult to always remain even-tempered with your interns, especially when they’ve made a completely avoidable mistake or failed to follow directions. Unfortunately, even the most industrious workers mess up. I know I have many times, and I’m determined to succeed. So take pity on your interns, send that curt email to your drafts folder, and only lay down the law when you really have to. When you’re nice, it makes a big impression—but when you’re mean, it makes an even bigger one.
At this point, the coffee run has become such an entrenched part of intern lore that flipping it on its head is pretty significant—in fact, for $4, you can buy my eternal gratitude and affection. And while showing up at work with a latte for your intern that you grabbed on your morning Starbucks stop is good, taking him or her out for coffee is even better.
Last year, my supervisor suggested we walk down to the local café so we could discuss what I was learning and how I could improve. I came away from the meeting feeling hugely appreciated (she cared enough to talk to me and buy me coffee!) and determined to make all of the changes she had suggested. My entire view of my supervisor was colored by a small sacrifice of her money and time. Trust me, the reverse coffee run definitely works.
5. Career Guidance
“Mentor” is a huge buzzword right now, but don’t worry: I don’t expect my supervisor to become my mentor, and neither do the other interns I’ve talked to. We get that it’s a demanding, time-consuming role. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t do mentor-like things.
I love when my supervisor lets me sit in on her meetings (or sets up meetings with other people in the company), asks me if I have any questions about my career path (or hers!), and gives me feedback on how I can apply what I’m doing to future jobs.
A great way to do this is to commit to a couple meetings throughout the internship to discuss your intern’s progress or goals. Make these informal—this is a great time to buy your intern coffee—and don’t make it all about your intern! Feel free to talk about your role during this time as well. Your intern is here to learn from you, after all. And if you have the time, a resume run-through or cover letter crash course is always super appreciated.
Doing all the above will ensure your interns operate at their best. They’ll have a fulfilling, valuable experience—and so will you!