Your Summer Intern Is Here. Now What?
This post was originally published in the Harvard Business Review.
Reflecting upon an internship with Wal-Mart last summer, Daniela*, an MBA student, raved to me about her manager and how much she learned on the job. She was encouraged to keep a running list of questions about how the mammoth retailer’s operations worked, and she discussed them with her manager during weekly calls. Then, whenever feasible, the manager put her in touch with the people directly related to her inquiries. By the end of the summer, Daniela had a strong handle on Wal-Mart, and had built up a stable of contacts and connections internally to help her think strategically about next steps in her career.
When your bright and eager intern walks through the door, are you ready to provide a similarly stimulating and supportive environment? Here are eight strategies to help you do just that.
Take her to lunch on the first day. It’s the right thing to do and it sets the right tone, messaging that you’re excited to have her on board. It will also give you a chance to get to know one another. Even better, invite some of your colleagues along.
Block off an hour to talk about her upcoming projects. Give your intern an overview of your organization and detail what her first assignment will be. Moreover, highlight how and why that assignment will help drive business results. Millennials want to know how their work fits into the big picture of your organization’s mission. This generation did not grow up hearing the “because I said so” parenting mantra. Instead, they want to know the rationale behind that research project or how their piece of the puzzle will better serve your target audience.
Have resources ready at hand. These range from reading materials, marketing reports, people to speak with, a desk to sit at. The goal is twofold: You want your intern to be successful with the tasks at hand, and you also want to demonstrate thoughtfulness — that the team has done their homework to prepare for her arrival. Nothing says, “we don’t really care about you” like “welcome — give us a few days to figure out where you’re going to sit and what you’re going to do.”
Set expectations up front. Don’t assume your intern knows what time the workday starts and ends or what is appropriate office attire. Cover your social media policies, too — are you okay with Facebook and Twitter, or are managers going to sneer if they spot her on Tumblr? Worst-case scenario: You tell her something she already knows. Best-case scenario: You help her avoid wearing a suit on casual Fridays or getting busted on Pinterest.
Kick-start her networking. Come up with a list of people you think your intern would benefit from meeting. Make introductions on her behalf, and ask her to come up with additional names of others she’d like to meet as the summer progresses.
Ask her for a “wish list.” This ranges from people to meet, topics to explore, and experiences she’d like to have. Put her in the hot seat and make her think about (and communicate) what she wants to get out of the experience. This is two-way street and you want her to take responsibility for making her own learning happen.
Offer feedback. Not daily or even weekly (don’t worry), but try to provide at least two to three touch points during the summer, from you or others within your organization, who know her work well. Most importantly, don’t wait until the end of the summer to let your intern how she’s doing. Let her know up front that you’ll be scheduling two or three feedback sessions, and ask her to submit a few questions or thoughts on her own performance in advance to help guide the discussions.
Give her an opportunity to speak up. Schedule a meeting for your intern to present her findings to management or senior leadership. It’s a great stretch assignment for most interns, sure; but it’s also an opportunity to simulate the real-life stakes of taking a project over the finish line. And, if you play your cards right, you might just get an awesome research project, a new sales module, a great new social media app, or a whole new way of thinking about your latest product design. It’s a tall order, but the more you do to set your intern up for success, the more everyone involved will get from the experience.
*Name has been changed