It's a familiar summer ritual: the coming of the summer intern. Summer interns are a great thing, or at least they can be, if you know how to use them in the most effective way. Too often, however, you either put too much effort into managing them or leave them sitting in a corner playing Candy Crush all day. Neither of these outcomes is good for you or the intern.
My daughter is a summer intern this year at CNN in Atlanta, which got me wondering how businesses can get the most out of their summer interns. To get an answer, I checked in with Lauren Berger, who is the Intern Queen and author of the books Welcome to the Real World and All Work, No Pay. Based on our chat, here are three powerful tips for making the most of your summer interns.
1. Don't ignore them!
Many employers think that bringing on summer interns will be a piece of cake. But there is a major difference between an experienced employee and a college student who has never worked in a professional setting. Remember: Many college students aren't used to a 9-to-5, five-days-a-week schedule. As the employer, your job is to assign someone from your team the role of "internship coordinator," and make sure that all tasks the interns do are run through that person. That person may have to devote some serious time to orienting and managing the interns--making sure they have useful tasks to work on, answering their questions, and providing them with feedback. If your business is small and you've only got one or two interns, the internship coordinator might be you. If it's been two hours and you haven't spoken to your intern, it's time to check-in!
2. Help them learn
Internships are supposed to give students a taste of the real world and what it's like to be an entry-level employee at a specific company in a desired field. You gain a fresh perspective and the chance to identify outstanding workers who may make great future hires. My daughter reports that many of the CNN employees she works with started out as summer interns. Interns should be given different types of tasks to ensure they walk away from the internship with a well-rounded learning experience. To this end, every task you assign to them should have some type of learning objective attached to it. For example, "By helping research our competitors and taking notes on interesting findings, our interns are learning how we keep tabs on other companies in our space and stay in the loop on what's happening and developing in our industry." An intern shouldn't work on one specific task all day or over the course of their entire internship. They should constantly be working on new projects, meeting different people, and they should always have the opportunity to ask questions about the assignment and what role that assignment plays in the bigger picture for the company.
3. Create a feedback loop
Companies should conduct three mandatory internship evaluation session with the interns and any executives or key employees who work with the interns. These sessions, which can be conducted in a group setting, provide the company an opportunity to understand what the students are learning what parts of the internship the students enjoy, what the students would like to learn more about, and what the students are not enjoying. This also provides the employer an opportunity to act as a mentor to the students and give them a few notes on their performance. Interns should be encouraged to ask any questions they may have about the business, their tasks, or the industry overall. Hold these evaluation sessions approximately every three weeks.
Summer internships can be a win-win for your company and the students you employ. Make the most of the opportunity and you'll make a real difference in someone's life. They can make a real difference to your business as well-;particularly if they don't make the coffee.