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7 Tips for Successfully Managing a Summer Intern

iStock_000015060506SmallSummer is just about here, but there’s still time to hire a summer intern and create a win-win situation for your small business. The intern wins by getting some priceless, real-world experience. You win by bringing a person on board with energy, creativity, and the drive to do well.

There’s plenty of helpful advice on recruiting and selecting the best intern for your business. But once the intern is chosen, how should you manage this young man or woman so the experience is meaningful for everyone involved?

Here are seven tips for managing your summer intern and benefiting from the experience.

  1. Welcome the intern on board. Small business owners who point an intern to a desk and let them fend for themselves won’t get much in the way of results. Instead, carve out some time on the intern’s first day to have coffee with her or, better yet, take her to lunch. By getting a sense of who she is (her interests, dreams, ambitions, etc.), you’ll make her feel more comfortable and ready to go in the workplace.
  1. Assign a manager to supervise. Unless you have the time to spare, select a manager who likes working with students (your most likely talent pool for interns) to supervise the intern. This way, the intern has one individual to whom he can go for answers, advice on workplace routines, tips for getting work done better and faster. It’s a lot more efficient than employing the “sink or swim” approach.
  1. Offer practical training. By definition, an intern is someone who doesn’t know your business, but is eager to learn. Devoting an appropriate amount of up-front time and effort to training will pay off later. Let the intern know it’s OK to make mistakes (as long as she learns from them) and that you expect her to show up on time, be presentable at work, and so on. Your expectations for her performance should be crystal clear from day one.

4. Give the intern a big-picture view of your business. Interns are hungry to learn and energized by the acquisition of knowledge. As much as possible, allow them to sit in on meetings and sales calls. Share information on how your business fits into the marketplace, as well as a brief outline of your long-range strategy and objectives. The more the intern knows about your business, the more he can potentially contribute during his time there.

5. Start small, then look for opportunities to let the intern grow. Hiring a summer intern to do grunt work won’t yield much in the way of results. Instead, start her on a short-term, non-essential task so she can demonstrate her abilities (and build some confidence in the process). Assuming all goes well, give her a project that has some tangible purpose—ideally, something that’s been lurking in the background but never been addressed. When given demonstrable responsibility, a capable intern will leap at the chance to prove herself and you’ll be able to check off that task that’s nagged at you for weeks or months.

6. Offer compensation in experience and knowledge, if not pay. Some businesses pay their summer interns, but if that’s not in the cards—and the vast majority of summer interns don’t have such expectations—think about other ways to reward them for the time and effort they give to your business. This can take the form of anything from specialized computer training and enhanced knowledge of your industry to a personalized recommendation for college (or future employment).

7. Conduct an exit interview. Much as with a departing employee, find time at the end of the summer to conduct a brief exit interview with your intern. What you learn about the things he valued most about the opportunity and where his experience fell short can help guide you in the use of interns next year. A sharp, observant intern can also provide feedback about internal operations, with candid insights your full-time employees might be unwilling to share.

Depending on your commitment, hiring a summer intern offers far more benefits than risk. The best interns might end up applying for a job when they get out of college and you’ll know you’re getting a quality candidate.

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