8 Tips for Managing Summer Interns

It’s that time of year again! College students and recent grads are starting their summer internships and their managers are wondering how in the world they’re going to keep them occupied while providing a valuable experience. Over at the Intuit Small Business blog, Liz Magill has some excellent suggestions for leaders implementing an internship program this summer.  Among them:

Offer a real learning opportunity

Making coffee and copies won’t do. Bright, energetic interns want a chance to do something meaningful. Although you can start with basics, gradually increase the complexity and scope of the job so your eager talent feels a sense of accomplishment.

Set challenging, but attainable goals

Don’t expect a writing intern to win a Pulitzer, a science intern to develop the next great patent, a sales intern to land your company’s biggest client, or a tech-savvy intern to build the next Facebook. Setting goals outside the capabilities of your intern may lead to frustration, while goals that are too easy will bring on boredom.

Don’t babysit

Interns should be mentored, not watched like a hawk.  You can put them on a leash, but make it a long leash. Interns come with a huge bucket of enthusiasm; don’t stifle it.

Enforce deadlines

It may be summer, but it’s not summer camp. Let your interns know that their work is very important to the success of your business, and that you expect deadlines to be met — and work quality to be high.

Abide by labor laws

In order for internships in “for profit” companies to qualify as unpaid, they must meet six federal legal criteria  as outlined in this United States Department of Labor fact sheet. If these six criteria are not satisfied, then an “employment” relationship exists, which means the intern must be paid.

Additionally, I believe open communication with interns is essential.  Get your interns started on the right foot by encouraging them to:

Look around and listen

Interns should pay attention to the comings-and-goings of more experienced colleagues, and routinely ask for feedback on their performance.

Be social

While they have the opportunity, interns should network with as many colleagues as they can, going out with the group for Happy Hour and attending the summer party.

Show appreciation

When dealing with other team members, interns should come across as gracious  and can-do.  They should constantly look for ways to share their expertise and add value to the team’s operations.

With the right preparation and guidance, your interns will contribute substantially to your team, both workwise and interpersonally.  You know you’ve managed them the right way when, at the end of the summer, your team members ask if an intern can stay on as a full timer.


Alexandra Levit

Alexandra Levit’s goal is to help people find meaningful jobs - quickly and simply - and to succeed beyond measure once they get there. Follow her @alevit.

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  • http://twitter.com/evarykr Eva Rykr

    Great topic! “Offer a real learning opportunity” and “don’t babysit” really resonate w/ me. In the past, I have divided the summer into phases for interns. First week or two is orientation to the company and to some routine tasks and responsibilities as well as some mini projects on the side. I also have one big project for each intern — a long-term one that will take most of the summer. Last, there is an opportunity for the intern to suggest their own project or improve a process. Throughout all this, other projects pop up and in combination I feel this teaches organization/time management skills, initiative, and project management skills.

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    deniseoberry Reply:

    I bet interns love working for you Eva! Sounds like you have it all together.

    Excellent tips Alex. If the readers put just half of your tips into practice, their interns will have a good experience.

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    Anonymous Reply:

    Thanks, Eva and Denise!  Eva, I’m going to use some of your suggestions in designing my own internship.  I really appreciate them!

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  • http://quickbase.intuit.com/blog/author/alevit/ Alexandra Levit

    @Eva Rykr, what a terrific approach! I think that if every manager thought through an intern’s experience this carefully, it would make a world of difference and produce much greater benefits for both employer and intern.

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