How to Make the Most of Your Summer Intern

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By Loni Klara

Every year, a slew of young college students swarm your office looking completely clueless. Though they’re meant to help you and your colleagues out for a season, sometimes it feels like it’s more work to train them than it’s worth.

With proper procedures in place, training interns can be smooth and save you time. They’re in the office to make your job easier, not harder. But because most interns have zero work experience, it’s up to you to show them how things work.

Productivity increases when everyone knows the optimal way to complete their tasks. Train your summer interns the right way so you can relieve some of your workload and reap additional benefits down the road when you bring some of them back as pre-trained employees.

Why good interns make good companies

Companies generally hire interns once the workload becomes overwhelming. But a good internship program serves more purposes than the immediate relief of pressure for current employees.

A coveted internship program is the first step in attracting the best job candidates. Successful interns return as full-time employees down the road, giving the companies a direct ROI and a win-win situation for both students and employers.

A Universum survey including over 65,000 undergraduates found that 51% of respondents considered full-time employment opportunities to be the most important value of an internship. Furthermore, the study found that employees who started out as interns had higher retention rates.

Students and recent graduates are always actively seeking employment, which means it’s in companies’ best interests to foster a pool of candidates through an effective internship program. When successful interns get hired, they’ll appreciate the value of the investment, which also makes them more invested in the company as a whole.

Even if the intern you trained doesn’t get hired, creating good experiences for interns at your company can spread the word and attract motivated candidates to your company. Interns who have had great experiences will be the source of organic word-of-mouth marketing and raise your workplace branding.

In the short-term, well-trained interns will make your work easier by taking up essential but time-consuming tasks and contribute to an efficient office.

But to do this, the first thing you’ll need is to set a good system in place. So here’s a step-by-step guide on how to make the most of your summer intern.

1. Get to know them a little before they arrive.

It doesn’t take much to figure out where the interns would fit in. Before their start date, send out an email survey asking for their backgrounds and interests, and sort them into different departments accordingly. This will help avoid chaos when they arrive at the office.

Also, help them get a head start by sending information about the company so that they don’t go in completely blind and clueless. The key is to bring them in excited and get them interested in the work as soon as possible. Once they feel like they’re part of the team, it’s more likely they’ll take the work seriously and be more willing to contribute.

2. Set up their office space and software.

It may seem like a given to set aside space for your interns to work, but a surprising number of interns find themselves in need of space on their first day at work. An employee who acts like they don’t know where the interns should go doesn’t inspire confidence.

First impressions matter. Make the first day a smooth experience so your interns feel like they’re part of the team. Some groundwork you can do before they arrive include:

  • Figuring out where they can work
  • Setting aside any available equipment so they can get started right away
  • Making sure they can access any software or websites

Interns shouldn’t have to ask you for the wi-fi password or be surprised that it was their responsibility to bring their own laptops. It’s also a good idea to show them around the office before they get started so they feel more at home around the space.

While this will save time for everyone and decrease the chances of you being bombarded with basic questions, it will also mean fewer interns wandering about lost and getting in other people’s way.

3. Find an employee who doesn’t mind being shadowed.

Nothing’s worse than an unenthusiastic employee who never signed up for a shadow intern and evidently hates it. Instead, find those who wouldn’t mind being shadowed. Ideally, these employees like the idea of being mentor figures for the interns.

The worst thing you could do is treat your interns like they’re not important because they’re temporary. This kind of treatment is guaranteed to make interns feel less valued and inspire a mediocre performance in turn. Show them that you want them to have a good experience and they’ll place their trust in you, even coming back as employees later.

Take this opportunity to find people within the company that can benefit from having an intern shadow them, so it’s not just interns that gain experience. Shadowing is a great tool to engage motivated employees in leadership training and build a better company culture with a clear set of values to transfer to your interns.

4. Train the first intern to train the other interns.

There’s a reason why we place so much emphasis on the first people to do anything. Your first intern will set the bar for everyone else and can even shape the overall experience. By paying extra attention to the first intern you train, you can save yourself a lot of time and trouble later.

If you have a guide or training manual of some kind, chances are these guides get outdated every year. Get the first intern to do an update on the document to minimize confusion for everyone else. After all, the ones who’ve been through the process can teach others the best.

Giving them this responsibility will be an invaluable experience for them and also helps to create a sense of a team among the interns. The best way to save yourself the trouble of handholding interns is to turn them into self-sufficient workers. Let them take over the training by giving them everything they need in the first place.

5. Assign tasks according to the level of experience.

As much work as you might have to hand over, don’t overwhelm your interns from the beginning. Give them low-key tasks first as they get used to how things work, then level up as you go. This will make the work more challenging for them and help to create a more effective system.

Be careful not to give them meaningless tasks; instead, explain how their work helps other people at the company. Interns are supposed to learn, not do chores. Having more experienced interns look after the new arrivals is a good way to start.

Give them a stake in the company’s success by continuously challenging them, increasing responsibility as they go. A sense of ownership goes a long way in getting interns personally invested and potentially coming back for more after graduation.

7. Invite them to meetings.

Letting interns in on meetings will allow them to learn about the company’s internal operations firsthand. Interns who are familiar with company policies and protocol can adjust to the work more quickly, need to ask fewer questions and are more likely to help others out.

Encourage them to share ideas, especially if a project concerns their demographic. Most interns are young students and can speak for their age group in ways that the older employees can’t.

While internal meetings are a good way to get the interns onboard with company procedures, you can also invite them to client calls or meetings so that they’ll take away key insights from these events. Providing them with a better context of the work equips them to be more efficient and keeps them from offering redundant ideas.

This is also one of the best ways to get the intern interested in the company’s work after graduation. Once trained this way, they don’t need to be trained again as new employees.

8. Mentor them through feedback.

Recall the first time you gained your work experience when you were lost and in need of guidance, but perhaps too afraid to ask. Make sure to set some time for feedback sessions, even if it’s just 15 minutes a week. Find out how the interns are adjusting and ask what they need.

The benefits of finding potential mentor figures extend to the mentors and the company as well. Employees that were involved in mentoring others have been shown to be more satisfied and committed to their jobs. According to a Vestrics study, retention rates for mentors increased by as much as 69%, while for mentees it was even higher at 72%.

This can be a good way to gather some insight into what’s working and not working with the onboarding process. Ask the interns for ideas on how to improve things around the office and, if appropriate, put them to the task. This will give them a sense of ownership and meaningful contribution to the company.

Another way to inspire good performance is to offer them a letter of recommendation so they know going in that they have something valuable to take away from the experience. After all, if they become known as slackers, they won’t be able to get a good recommendation.

Have a good summer

A successful internship program means that a percentage of your interns will eventually end up as employees, or even great connections down the road. The more enjoyable the experience is for your current interns, the more qualified candidates you’ll attract the following year until you become a company that becomes highly sought after.

Remember, it doesn’t always have to be the person you trained that ends up at the company. In the end, when you can attract motivated interns, your work becomes easier. The summer is a great time to develop new skills for students, but it can also be a productive and rewarding time for you if you seize the opportunity to engage with a pool of potential future employees and mentees.


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