Getting the Most From An Internship

Summer is prime time for internships. You’re really busy and you think having an intern may be a good idea. To get the biggest bang for your bucks and/or time, here are several important questions you need to answer before you take the plunge and get into the swim!

Before an internship

Who will supervise the intern and for whom will the intern work?

Be certain you have the time to work with an intern. He or she will not come “fully grown,” so you’ll need to allot time for training, introductions, questions, paperwork, etc. Remember, the experience will be so much more beneficial for everyone if you make the intern feel part of the team, not just a frustrated lackey.

Be clear about supervisory roles from the beginning and make sure everyone knows. Many staffers view an intern as fair game and will commandeer that individual. If you are willing to share from time to time, let your colleagues know the procedures for requesting help.

What are the specifics of the internship and the work and projects for which you need help?

Know what your minimum criteria for an intern are – grade point average, major, extra-curricular activities, work history, time commitment, transportation, etc. Any preferences? Do you need someone who is a good communicator, skilled in math, highly motivated, works well on her own with little supervision, well organized, is a team player, can handle several projects simultaneously, speaks French, can handle confidential information, etc.? Is this paid or unpaid? If paid, is it based on an hourly rate or a stipend? How often will the intern be paid?

If at all possible, have a general job description or a list of projects/duties to share, so that the intern knows what he/she is getting into. Also share samples of the types/quality of work you expect, plus work hours, dress code, travel requirements, time off (yours and hers, if any), policies, etc. If future permanent employment is a possibility, let her know. All parties will be much happier if they know what to expect from the beginning.

What are the college or university requirements?

Be sure you understand what is expected of you, as well as the intern. Who is your contact and when is that person available? If there is paperwork, meet the deadlines. Ensure you make time to do this well.

The Interviews

How do I prepare?

No one wants to spend three or four months (average length of an intersnhip) with the wrong person. Have a short list of standard questions. Be sure to include a question related to how the individual would handle a certain situation. For instance, a good question might be . . . . you’re collecting data from staff for a special report. Both deadlines have passed and you have not received info from two key sources. What would you do? Or, I’m out sick and you’ve completed all your assignments. What would you do? The answers to these types of questions can tell you a lot! Additionally, ask for writing samples.

How do we look?

Is your dress and appearance, as well as the potential intern’s appropriate, i.e. clean, neat, not stinky, no jeans (even if they’re ok to wear at your place of work)? Has he turned off the cell phone? Does he seem interested and enthusiastic? What’s his body language like? Will he fit into your culture? Give the applicant a brief tour and introduce him to others on staff, asking for their input and impressions as well.

Has he done his homework?

Does the applicant know the basics about your organization? If not, why not? He should have done his homework. Does he have questions? If not, that’s another possible indicator that he may not really care.

Give the applicants the timeline for a decision – and stick to it. Also, notify each individual promptly. Even bad news is better than no news.

Intern On Board

Be sure to welcome your intern and give her orientation/training, if necessary. Have assignments with instructions and deadlines ready, but don’t (immediately) overwhelm her. If you see she is doing a good job and can handle the load, you can give her more. Review the first several assignments right away to make sure she is doing them correctly and well. Encourage her to ask questions rather than go off in the wrong direction. Use your judgment, and don’t be afraid to delegate and allow her to use hers.

Although she is not a “regular” staff member, do not baby her – or turn her into a drudge. This is supposed to be a real world work experience. However, “thank you” and “good job” are always appreciated. Include her in staff meetings and other organizational functions. Meet regularly to get her feedback and vice versa. If things aren’t working well after two weeks, you should politely but firmly end it.

Contrary to popular belief (and today’s tighter budgets), interns are not just “free” or “cheap” labor. They are our future workers and leaders and deserve to have decent, meaningful work experiences. If you take the time to plan for the results you want, interns can make the next three months (or more) a win-win situation.