We're midway through the summer intern season. Hopefully, it's going well. Internships can be a bit of a challenge-adjusting to an office environment after years of school can be a bit difficult for all involved. Frequently, the people managing interns are low-level supervisors and sometimes it's their very first time managing another person. The result of this can be a lot of unmet expectations on both sides. The solution?
Every boss of a summer intern should make an appointment with her her intern to do a mid-internship check up and it should begin with the following question: "What did you expect to do or learn at this internship that hasn't happened?"
This question can open up a conversation that can be invaluable. Your intern may have grand expectations of being a project lead or presenting to the board. She may be frustrated that so far she just gets to sit in on meetings and hasn't led anything. On the other hand, she may have had very reasonable expectations but has been stuck doing grunt work because everyone in the department gives her their unpleasant tasks. Either way, you'll find out.
They say that knowing is half the battle and that is the case here. If she has unmet expectations, clarifying them and setting reasonable ones can salvage and internship. Why is that important? Well, for a couple of reasons. One is a perfectly selfish one-just as any former employee can badmouth your company making recruiting more difficult, or even driving customers away-a disgruntled intern can do the same. Most interns also lack the maturity and experience to know what is normal and what is not.
In some larger companies, there's an internship coordinator or an HR rep who hires interns in bulk and then assigns them. The supervising manager may have had little to no input on who was hired. Asking this question about expectations can help you find out what you should have found out in the interview stage. Don't think it's too late to make changes to help fit your intern's skills and knowledge and career goals.
Another reason is the purpose of the internship: While some interns do valuable work (for which they should be paid), most are essentially summer long trainees. Your company is doing community service, essentially, to help train people for the workforce. Good managers offer feedback and set clear expectations. You want to do that for your intern. Managing expectations and helping an employee understand changing expectations is not necessarily bad is a great education for the intern.
You also want to get your money's worth. Presumably, you hired the best student you could find, so if you find out that all she's been doing is the grunt work, you're wasting your money. (Unless you're a not-for-profit company, the chances of it being legal to have an unpaid intern are small.) You want to put your intern to work according to her talents, and you want to train her to use her talents. Anyone can pick up Starbucks. The intern can, of course, take her turn, but it shouldn't be her primary goal.
Taking the time to do a mid-internship check up and making sure you understand and correct expectations can change a mediocre internship into a highly successful one.