Done well, internships benefit both the intern and the employer:
- Students or recent grads get an opportunity to gain practical work experience to help them evaluate future career paths.
- Employers gain the capacity to complete short-term projects or extra coverage over a busy summer vacation schedule.
- Savvy employers also recognize the long-term benefit of internships as a way to build their reputation as valued employers, ultimately increasing their ability to attract a future workforce.
For example, Laridae was fortunate to retain our 2020 summer intern! Montana Scott is now an Associate Consultant and is integral to the learning path and oversight of this summer’s digital marketing intern.
You wouldn’t think that programs with mutually beneficial intent would go wrong – but many do. Here are some tips we’ve learned over the past few years on how to ensure both intern and employer have a great summer.
- How to make a good first impression
- How to create a positive learning environment
- How to develop and implement a work plan
- How to make it all worthwhile
How to make a good first impression
Offer a reasonable wage.
Interns should be paid. They are not volunteers. If you don’t want to pay an intern, then use the term “student volunteer” in your posting.
At Laridae we offer $17.63/hr which is the minimum living wage in Peterborough.
Although the federal CSJ grant will only cover up to 75% of the provincial minimum hourly wage, we feel that topping up this wage is important. Not only does it accord with our values to support our employees and to contribute to meaningful and gainful employment, but it also helps ensure we are building a positive relationship with future Laridae champions, which is one of the goals of the internship.
Create an onboarding plan.
Interns are usually eager to start proving themselves right away, but they will need to be trained and integrated into the team before they can start.
Knowing that they are here for such a short period of time, it can be tempting to skip this. Do your part to organize a schedule that shows what they will be doing day-to-day, week-by-week – especially for that all-important first week. Try to design an experience where they can feel productive, where they have clear project milestones, and can actually complete something meaningful.
This way everyone feels it was worth their while.
Pre-arrange for necessary work tools.
These days, that likely means an email account to receive calendar invitations and access to Zoom, but if your workplace is operating in-person, or the role is outdoors – ensure there is someone to greet them on day one, and that they can connect to their manager and colleagues for training and orientation.
At Laridae, we set up email/calendar access the week prior so interns (and all new recruits, actually) can see their initial meeting commitments in advance of their start day.
Greet your interns with enthusiasm and kindness. They will probably be nervous, so do what you can to help them bring their best. This might be different over Zoom than what you’re used to, but take the time to ask questions, make small talk and smile. You’re glad they’re here!
Give them an overview of what you do, who your clients are and what they will be expected to work on during their internship. Conversely, give your intern a chance to tell you about themselves – ask lots of questions about what their interests are, who they are outside of work, how they’re feeling on any given day.
Since the start of the pandemic, Laridae has started every week with a 30-minute facilitated check-in meeting on Monday mornings. A facilitator — rotating each week — will ask each person to answer a question (sometimes silly, sometimes deep) and share something “notable” with the group. In this way, we’ve gotten to know each other better despite being remote.
Start with daily check-ins.
The first week – or even the first month – can be overwhelming to someone in a new role. New team members are given a deluge of information on everything from how to log in to corporate software, to an overview of the organization’s values and strategy, to the specifics of their day-to-day responsibilities.
Scheduled daily check-ins with their supervisor, which give interns the opportunity to debrief on what they learned that day and ask questions about any issues they ran into, will help them build comfort and confidence. After the first week or two, the frequency of these check-ins can be scaled back to once every few days or once a week.
How to create a positive learning environment
Explain who’s who.
Teaching your interns the chain of command will provide clarity around assignment of work and will help them put their best foot forward at all the right times. Ensure your interns have a direct line of communication with their reporting manager and that they connect often.
At Laridae, our interns’ very first meeting was with me — the CEO! It was my job to provide the big-picture overview. I left it to intern’s managers to explain the particulars of their home department and roles.
Implement a buddy system.
Arrange for someone else in the organization (not the manager) to be your intern’s buddy. This could be a colleague on the same team or some other friendly person they can go to for answers to basic questions.
You may also consider assigning a mentor to your interns. This could be anyone in your organization with time and experience to share with a developing professional.
If there are multiple interns in your program, ensure they get to meet, work together or at least hang out once in a while to compare notes, ask questions or share what they’ve learned.
Provide training at a reasonable pace.
For some interns, this will be the first time they are using certain systems or tools and it may be their first time in a workplace environment like yours.
Be patient! A person can only absorb so much information at a time. Meter out the learning over a span of days, giving them time to watch, try and then practice each new thing you teach. Give lots of time for questions and allow for mistakes.
How to develop and implement a work plan
Your work plan gradually replaces your onboarding plan. Once they’ve found their feet, interns will want to get to it. They will be eager to prove themselves.
Design a work plan that manages expectation by explaining what they will learn, by when, and include deadlines for when they’ll be operating with greater autonomy. As much as you can, do this in collaboration with your intern. Find out what they had in mind when accepting the position, and what they hope to do in future. Do what you can to help them achieve their personal goals.
Do not allow your intern to get bored! There is nothing worse as a new employee than to feel underutilized or useless.
Be very, very clear about your instructions and your expectations.
This may mean a written task list each week, with metrics for them to work toward so they can see how they’re progressing. Review and discuss their progress often to ensure your expectations are realistic, that your training is effective and in line with your intern’s capabilities.
Ensure they understand the value of their contribution in the context of the overall strategy. Are they adding capacity to an overworked team? Are they bringing fresh eyes to old processes?
The goal here is to give them words to explain their job to friends, family and future employers.
Plan for the intern’s growth over the summer.
Consider ways to shape their work into projects with a start and a finish. Or add a “culminating” task – something that integrates and demonstrates their learning. We’ve assigned our team the end-of-summer task of writing a blog post on an aspect of Laridae that piques their interest in the coming weeks.
If you’re struggling with how to build a good work plan, consider grouping their tasks into the following projects:
- The Ongoing Project. This should be work that they can get up to speed on doing autonomously pretty quickly. There should be enough of it to fill in any gaps in their schedule throughout the internship. It may require training, but shouldn’t require an enormous amount of skill to master. An example might be data-entry, or filing or another important but low-risk task.
- The Resume-Worthy project. Your intern may be killing it on The Ongoing Project, but chances are this work is not their idea of a dream job. Give them something to do that improves their chances of landing that dream job after this internship is over. Find a project that they have the skills to master and complete within their term. Give them something to own that they can talk about in an interview.
- The Get-Out-There project. This one is designed to force some 1:1 time with other people in your org, your board or with other stakeholders. Find a reason for your intern to network with valuable people in your industry so they have new contacts in their LinkedIn at the end of your program.
How to make it all worthwhile
Be an inspiration.
You are shaping a future generation of workers – possibly for your own organization. So, set a great example. Be on time for meetings. Treat people with respect. Be professional. Your intern will take this experience with them throughout their career – be the workplace that sets them on their way to success.
What if it’s not going well?
Often interns are placed in the care of an organization’s least-experienced managers. Ensure these managers know who they can go to for help if the internship is going sour. If this is you, talk to your boss, or other intern managers, or HR — and be sure to talk to the intern to get their take!
Finish on a high note.
Before your intern leaves the building, ensure you offboard them with the same care you gave to the onboarding experience. Ask them how they thought it went. Seek honest feedback on how you can improve your program for future interns and share your observations on their performance.
If you enjoyed their contribution, find out now if they are interested in next summer’s program, or better yet, for full-time employment at your organization. Let them know next steps for pursuing an open opportunity, now or in future. Otherwise, send them on their way with a positive letter of recommendation for their job search.