Summer is quickly approaching, and instead of heading to the beach, many college students are heading to your office—as your new summer interns.
They’re fresh, energetic, and eager to get to work—exactly what you’re looking for in your summer staff. But, for many, this is their first time in a corporate work environment, and they’re leaning on you to learn the ropes of the job and industry. And providing your interns with a positive learning experience while still making the most of those extra pairs of hands—in just a short 8-10 week period!—can be a tricky balance.
So, as you welcome your new interns, it’s important to spend some time thinking about how to make the experience a good one for everyone. We sat down with a few intern managers, intern experts, and former interns and got their secrets for setting up a successful summer.
1. Pick the Right Interns
Interns may only be temporary hires, but they still impact your team in a big way. An intern that’s unmotivated, unproductive, or unhelpful can undermine your team’s morale and efficiency. But, a great hire can contribute a fantastic new perspective to your work—and even turn out to be your newest rock star hire at the end of the summer.
So, as you’re interviewing and hiring candidates, it’s important to keep in mind who you’re really looking for. Depending on what you’d like your interns to take on, you may be looking for specific work experience or academic credentials—but those shouldn’t always factor into your decision as heavily as you may think.
Mark Babbitt, CEO of YouTern, encourages hiring students for the intangibles over anything else: “Always look for students who demonstrate enthusiasm, coach-ability, and solid listening skills, and those who take initiative,” he says. “Where a prospective intern attends college is the last thing I look at.”
Most importantly, look for students who demonstrate genuine interest in your industry or the position. While it can be helpful to ask prospective interns about their passions and career aspirations, also look further: What clubs and extracurricular activities do they participate in? For example, if you’re looking for an editorial intern, does he or she write for the school newspaper or maintain a blog? What students do in their free time can be great indicators of what they’re truly passionate about.
2. Plan for Them
There’s nothing worse than having interns who don’t have enough to do—not only will they be bored, but you’ll constantly be trying to figure out what tasks to assign next instead of attending to your daily to-dos. It’s not productive for anyone.
So, it’s important to prepare work assignments far in advance to make sure your interns have enough on their plates. Games.com intern manager David Schwarzberg even starts thinking about what his interns will be doing several months before they actually begin: “In April, our team met solely to determine the types of projects our interns will work on this summer,” he explains.
Even if you’re just starting now, take some time to outline the types of tasks your interns will be responsible for, skills they should learn, and projects you’d like them on throughout their time with your team. Then, each week—much like you’d make a lesson plan if you were a schoolteacher—draft a weekly work plan.
Most importantly, make sure you’re giving them challenging, substantial tasks that will contribute to them learning more about your field. As Schwarzberg says, “We try to leverage their strengths in previous roles and coursework—but at the same time, plan to expose them to new and challenging assignments that will directly affect the team.”
Former AOL On marketing intern and current employee Alyssa Marino says that these “real” assignments were what set her internship apart from other experiences: “At AOL, my manager always looked for my input and included me in team meetings. From the start, I was given real responsibilities and always felt like a valued member of the team.”
3. Welcome Them
Everyone wants to feel welcomed at a new job—especially interns who are just entering the professional world. A great way to get off to a good start is to send an email to the intern welcoming them to the team and planning a brief meeting or casual lunch to introduce him or her to the group.
Or, if you're bringing on multiple interns, consider hosting an official intern orientation that will allow students to meet one another and learn about the organization as a group.
Also consider matching interns with more experienced team members as mentors, recommends Jenna Morton, Campus Recruiter at Indeed.com. “We welcome our interns by giving each of them a mentor. This is someone who has really excelled in the organization—someone the intern can learn from,” she says. “The mentor acts as the go-to person for the intern” and can serve as a resource to answer questions and help employees transition into the working world for the first time.
4. Set Expectations
In addition to a warm welcome, Babbitt suggests kicking off internships with a meeting about expectations. “[You] should outline precisely what the intern will be responsible for, describe how the team operates, and clearly specify how performance will be assessed,” he explains. “The intern should voice what he or she wants to learn from the internship as well.” And after the meeting—put it on paper. “Writing down these expectations is the clearest way to assess progress and success later on through the internship,” he says.
Then, throughout the summer, schedule weekly or bi-weekly meetings with your interns to review and stay on top of the expectations you established on day one. “One of my best intern managers scheduled weekly touch-bases with me to see how I was doing and if I had any questions,” advises six-time intern and recent Lehigh University graduate Alexa Procaccino. “I learned so much about the company because I could ask her everything and anything.”
5. Don't Forget Performance Management
Internships, at their core, are learning experiences. So, it’s crucial to give your interns both positive and constructive feedback throughout the summer to help them learn more about themselves as professionals, including what their strengths are, what they’re doing well, and where they need to grow or improve.
In addition to weekly touch-bases, set aside dedicated time to have these conversations, and even consider implementing a formal review process. “Performance management is a critical part of internships,” says eBay Inc.’s University Programs Manager, Laura Chambers. “All of our interns participate in a mid-summer and end-of-summer review process, and those who are seniors have a clear decision at the end of the summer if their internships will result in full-time employment.”
It’s also important to recognize your interns’ contributions before they head back to school. “We end our summer internship with a summer showcase, where interns demonstrate the work they’ve done to business leaders and managers,” explains Chambers. But you could even do this in smaller ways—like asking your interns to present their summer projects during a department-wide meeting or celebrating their contributions with a team lunch. Even a small gesture goes a long way to show your appreciation for their hard work (and college students always love free food!).
While there’s definitely some hard work and planning involved, bringing on an intern should be fun! Think back to your experiences as an intern or college student and ask yourself what you valued during your summer experience—then, use that as your inspiration. “Everyone on my team was a college intern at some point, and we are thankful for the opportunities we had,” says Schwarzberg. “When we take on an intern, we hope to pass along similar experiences.”