I recently wrote a post about how to hire an intern. Now that you’ve got a willing, able and capable intern, what do you do with them? As their manager you need to provide them with stuff to do, especially at first when they’re still figuring out what their routine will be.
Remember, an intern isn’t just someone you can use to fetch your coffee or pick up your dry cleaning. They’re working for you (probably for free) in order to learn something valuable. It’s up to you as their manager to help them get the most out of their time at your company.
Here are some important questions to ask yourself before your interns first day on the job:
What is it you want them to do?
If you really do want someone to get your coffee and dry cleaning, then perhaps you need a personal assistant instead of an intern. Exploiting your intern is not the best use of your time and makes for a pretty poor experience. It can also be against the law.
I hire interns to take on some of my responsibilities. While I most certainly could do these things myself, my time is better spent on other, more complicated duties that I wouldn’t trust an intern to do. My intern saves me time while working on meaningful projects.
How much time to you have to dedicate to your intern?
Some people are simply too busy to adequately train and manage an intern. If this is you, then perhaps there is someone else in your office that can help facilitate the intern’s duties. It’s important for an intern to have a “go-to person” where they can direct their questions.
Once you have figured out what you want your intern to accomplish and who will be their point person, take some time to figure out some deadlines. For example, each Thursday my intern, Katelin, knows that she is responsible for creating a blog post highlighting events going on in our area for the coming weekend. This is one of her regular duties. I make sure to give Katelin a list of responsibilities and a list of tasks.
- Responsibilities: These are ongoing projects. Since I am an editor of a monthly publication, I have given Katelin the responsibility of handling a couple of our sections each month. She knows what she needs to accomplish, when it needs to be done, and has a considerable amount of time to reach those goals.
- Tasks: These are short-term projects that I need Katelin to do. It might be creating a blog post, researching a topic for a story I’m working on, taking a photo, delivering magazines to a client—anything that isn’t one of her ongoing responsibilities and needs to have a quick turnaround.
With her list of responsibilities and daily/weekly tasks, Katelin constantly has something to do. Hearing an intern say, “What can I do now?” is my biggest pet peeve. If I have run out of things for them to do I send them to other departments to help out.
The Finer Points of Intern Management
If your intern is good enough, they can find stuff to do around the office when they have downtime – but not all interns have the initiative. Beat them to the punch by having enough stuff for them to do. This might mean that that huge filing project you haven’t gotten around to doing finally gets done. Maybe it means that your company finally gets a Facebook page.
Having a bi-weekly or monthly meeting with your intern is a great way to keep the lines of communication open and create a mentoring relationship. Your intern will probably ask you for a letter of recommendation at the end of the semester, and taking the time to get to know them and evaluate their work will make it easier for you to write one. And who knows? Maybe your intern will be so good they’ll be your next full-time hire…
Remember, your intern is more than just cheap labor. Creating a positive experience for your intern, in turn, creates a positive brand awareness for your company. If your intern is the same age as your target demographic, a great internship experience is like free advertising.
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