by Lauren Berger | 11:00 AM April 25, 2013
Source: HBR Blog Network
Healthy internship programs garner higher quality entry-level candidates, strengthen company mentor ship programs, and provide a way for companies to give back to the community. But to make sure that your summer internship program is a success, you need to start planning it now.
In order to ensure a smooth program, every member of the team should be aware of the approved intern tasks. There should be a chain of command established in terms of who provides interns with assignments and who employees should email to request intern assistance.
One of the most common intern complaints is “the company doesn’t pay attention to me and sticks me in the corner to make copies.” Your interns should be assigned a mix of long-term and short-term projects. The short-term projects will most likely pop up on a daily basis and be assigned on the fly. In order to prevent long periods of downtime at the internship, provide the students with long-term assignments that will be due at the end of the internship. These should be assignments that the students can work on when other tasks aren’t provided. If the student has time to surf Facebook while at their internship, they clearly don’t have enough to do. Start collecting projects for interns now so that you can make the most of them when they arrive.
Your program should also have clear start dates, end dates, orientation dates, and mid-way evaluation points. If your HR department hasn’t provided them yet, ask. These mid-way evaluations are especially crucial. Make sure you schedule mid-internship evaluation meetings with your summer interns. This evaluation can be on a conference call or in face-to-face individual or group settings. This is a time to interact with the students and make sure that everything is going well from their perspective, ask them what they like and dislike about the internship, and answer any questions they might have. This is also a time for you to provide each student with some constructive criticism. Since you are speaking to them at a halfway point, this allows time for them to improve.
The interns are only coming into your business for two months over the summer, so it’s essential to on-board them quickly — they’ll be leaving before you know it. One essential way to make them feel part of the team is to invite them to meetings — something supervisors often forget. Well before the interns start, look at your calendar and try to find a handful of regular meetings where they can sit in, observe, and take notes. When I survey interns, they feel they get the strongest learning experience from observing executives in a professional setting. This helps the students understand how the business is run and how to better communicate in the workplace.
In addition, it can be helpful to establish a mentorship program for the interns, whether that is formal programming or fostering one-on-one connections. Some ideas for intern programming include having guest speakers (internal or external co-workers) at intern lunches that the company sponsors once per week. Another idea is assigning each intern a mentor within the company that they must meet with three times over the course of their internship. I also recommend circulating your interns throughout different departments in your company to make sure they leave the experience with a well-rounded perspective of how your business is run.
Finally, think about informal ways you can help the interns network, both with each other and with full-time employees. One idea is to have one or two “outings” planned for the interns (think: field trip). Many companies will treat their interns to a local baseball game or a fun group dinner. You can also plan a company-wide happy hour towards the end of the internship to give the interns a chance to network and meet with other team members. Making the interns feel like part of the team will make for higher retention from intern to entry-level employee, and build the networks of current staff. Remember, they may be interns today, but in five years, they could be valuable industry contacts. Give them a great experience and a leg-up today, and maybe they’ll return the favor just when you need it most.