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How To Manage Interns: Business Cheat Sheets

Tuesday, June 25th, 2013
Posted in Management by Joel Gross

Before you’ve actually had interns working for you, managing them seems like it would be a piece of cake. Those of us who have had experience managing interns realize that getting productive work out of them without putting too much time into monitoring them while also helping them learn something is actually somewhat challenging.

The purpose of an intern is to give another person an opportunity to learn more about a field through practical experience. This person generally only comes in with very general knowledge and very general skill sets. The intern also is usually a temporary employee who works a few months and only a few hours a week.  To get productive work from team members you need to spend a fairly significant amount of time training them and that time pays off if they work full time and save you time doing the tasks you’ve handed off to them well.

The obstacles to managing an intern well:

  • Interns only have a very basic knowledge of your industry.
  • Interns only have a few limited months to spend at your company.
  • Interns usually only work a few hours a week.
  • Interns don’t care about your company as much as regular employees – you are a stepping stone.
  • Interns need to actually learn valuable skills.

Understanding these obstacles and assigning work that does not conflict with these obstacles is the key to successfully having interns.

The work you assign interns should meet these requirements:

  • No higher than basic level skills required. If a skill is required, it should take no more than an hour or two of training.
  • The work should not be “busy” work. Make sure it is something genuinely valuable to the business.
  • The work should bring the intern into contact with valuable knowledge about the industry

Using internships as recruiting tools:

Keep in mind the people you have as interns today may be employees tomorrow. You should carefully select interns who have the potential to become full time team members. Once on board, watch their work closely and people who have the work ethic and drive to become stars of your team should be recruited to be full time team members. You essentially turn an internship into a three month job interview!

Typical assignments that are good for an intern to do:

  • Backburner projects you have not been able to get to that are time consuming but not especially technical
  • Quality assurance work – reviewing other tasks/work to make sure they meet certain explicit guidelines
  • Writing copy for your website
  • Writing guest blog posts for other websites that link back to your site
  • Filing and organizing paperwork or digital files that need to be accessed in the future
  • Doing research into areas that you may not have had time to get to
  • Acting as personal assistants for employees (doing work tasks, not getting coffee)
  • Gathering client feedback

Keys to motivating an intern:

  • Treat the intern like an equal team member as much as possible
  • Share the big picture of what the company is doing, how it is doing it and how they contribute
  • Meet the intern weekly to assess his/her performance
  • Break big projects into small incremental tasks
  • Encourage your intern to ask questions