Gone are the days of summer interns fetching coffee or sorting the mail. In our 24/7 world where we’re constantly trying to squeeze a 25th hour out of the day, businesses can—and should—take advantage of the extra, cost-effective help.
That said, too many businesses don’t know how to use interns effectively. Interns are typically young and eager to learn, and they often bring valuable skills to the table, such as proficiency in social media. Leverage their eagerness and skills into helping you and your organization. Here are seven strategies for doing just that.
1. Teach them about your company. Sure, you’ll expect an enthusiastic intern to take the initiative and learn about your business on his or her own, but it can’t hurt to guide this process by providing access to the key points about your company. Plan some sort of “briefing” where you educate your intern on the 411 on your company: its history/background, its products and services, its ideal customers, its values, and its goals. You can do this verbally and/or you can provide written info (offering some sort of “internship packet” to all incoming interns is a smart practice, and once you create it, it’s easy to update and use again with the next batch of interns).
2. Create a specific task plan for each intern. The worst thing you can do is hire an intern and then “wing it” from there. An internship should be treated like any other position within your company, complete with an outline of job responsibilities and expectations. From there, you should also create a specific task plan. Internships can last anywhere from one semester to a summer to upwards of six to nine months. Create a list of the tasks you want to accomplish (be realistic), complete with an overview of the goals and the expected results.
For example, if you want your intern to create a three-month editorial calendar for your blog, you’d want to point him or her to the existing blog, discuss the types of topics you’re looking for, provide information on keyword phrases (or make this a task for your intern to research), and let the intern know what the final document should entail (e.g. simply a list of topics and dates, or do you want more details, such as blog titles, topic summary, keywords, and calls to action?). By giving the intern enough information up front, he or she can complete the tasks without having to constantly go to you with questions.
3. Ask about their specific interests, too. It’s important to ask what the interns are hoping to learn and what they’re interested in. Does the intern have an understanding of and love for social media? Work this into the task plan. You want the intern to learn about new areas, of course, but also giving them tasks in areas they’re interested in and/or proficient in will help build their confidence…and it can benefit your company as well.
4. Remember: it’s not your way or the highway. The key to having success with interns is allowing them some latitude in figuring things out and executing certain tasks. This doesn’t mean you should give them complete freedom without any oversight on your part. Instead, it means providing them with enough direction to allow them to “run with it.”
5. Don’t take advantage of the “you need to earn your stripes” philosophy. Sure, interns recognize they’ll sometimes be saddled with tasks that aren’t too exciting, such as getting lunch for the noon conference meeting. Just don’t take advantage of your interns by only giving them menial tasks. It doesn’t benefit them or your company.
6. Provide mentorship/training and regular check-in meetings. This is critical. Interns do need guidance, oversight, and training. Just as you’d meet with your new hires on a regular basis, you should do the same with your interns. Make sure you’re accessible to them (or assign someone in your company to serve as the intern’s mentor/advisor). Meet with them regularly, ideally once a week if you can manage it. These meetings needn’t be long: use it as a time to provide feedback on work they’ve done, to answer any questions, and to recap the work they’ll be doing for the next couple of weeks. Internships are meant to be mutually beneficial: the intern is supposed to learn and to grow, and your company benefits from having another skilled and motivated person to help with the workload (a word of caution regarding paid vs. unpaid internships: not paying interns may put your company at legal risk.)
7. Have a post-mortem strategy in place. After the internship is over, you should meet with the intern to provide final feedback, and you should ask the intern what he or she liked best about the experience and what could be improved upon. Listen to their feedback and see how you can improve your program for the next batch of interns.
Does your business use interns? What strategies do use to manage them successfully? We want to hear about your experiences. Share in the comments.