Is Your Internship Program Failing to Teach?

By Jeanette Maister

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Companies view and utilize interns in different ways and there are never two interns alike. So, what do interns mean to your business? Interns coming into your company are real students looking for real experience and learning opportunities. Most of them are likely wondering, "Am I going to get the real-world experience and exposure, or am I going to get stuck filing papers and doing coffee runs for the duration of my summer?"

Intern vs. Coffee Runner

While some companies are prepared to teach their interns and let them in on those real-world projects, other businesses fail to seek out tasks and projects their interns can actually learn from. A major faux pas when it comes to internship programs is busy work. While some may think this is okay, it can create a sense that the company was never actually prepared for the interns. How can you prevent this from happening through the program?

  • Intern evaluations: Sit down with your intern and have a real conversation. Ask them what they’ve been learning or if they’ve come across something new they want to explore within the company or if they have any ideas they want to pitch. Communication is key between you and your intern.
  • Project/task evaluations: You’ve tasked them with elaborate (or maybe minimal) tasks, but will you see any results? It’s important to make sure these tasks/projects assigned are reasonable for the time frame they are with the company. These interns, like your employees, want to feel like they accomplished something and learned new skills along the way. Evaluate how far they’ve come and see if you’ve noticed improvements from the beginning until now.
  • Exposure is key: Don’t keep your intern cooped up in your office with you all day, or stuck in their cubicle all summer. Set them up with different “discovery” days or weeks where they can go explore different departments and take part/help with their current projects.

Assuming vs. Knowing

Some processes or protocols throughout your day are likely second nature by now, but this is not the case for interns who likely have no beforehand experience. The pivotal point of hosting a successful internship program is to NEVER to assume they have prior knowledge unless they specifically tell you. This is a learning experience for them; it’s their first jump into the working world!

If you throw a whole slew of information to them it's overwhelming and intimidating. They will not be successful or beneficial to you if you don’t properly explain and guide them throughout the program. How can you tell if you intern knows more or less than you think? Try implementing these steps into your program to grasp a better understanding of your interns:

  • Pre-Tests: Before you hire your prospective interns, set up pre-tests to get an idea of where they fall on the knowledge and experience spectrums. This doesn’t mean they pass or fail, but simply for your benefit to prep your team and get an idea on how their projects or tasks may look within the program. A pre-test can include personality questions, questions about the company, specific tasks within the role and technology proficiency. 
  • Pre-Projects: Similar to pre-tests, these projects would be small, but similar to what you would expect to be completed during their program. Provide some direction as to how you want it done but overall, this should be a free reign for the intern. This will give you an idea of their resourcefulness, creativity and ultimately where they fall on the background knowledge level.
  • Shadow Days: Prior to your interns’ first day, have them come in for a shadowing day. This will help both parties have a better understanding of their role and what to expect. A shadow day can also help ease everyone’s nerves for the first day.

Mentoring vs. Dictating

Mentoring your intern is crucial for their learning, exposure and overall experience. While you may be their supervisor, they aren’t your personal coffee running, paper filing, desk organizing assistant. Internships are meant to offer insight into the working world, skill building, career development and academic growth. That’s a lot to take in for a student, but they are willing to put in the work to gain that experience...with the help and guidance of a mentor. How do you know if you are really mentoring or just dictating tasks? Take a look at these mentoring tips:

  • Questions: Take time for questions. Don’t just give them a yes or no answer, follow it with an explanation or reason.
  • Meetings: Have them sit in meetings or conferences with you. While this may seem like a daunting task for you, it’s a big deal for them. All of this is new and the more information they can take in, the better.
  • One-on-Ones: While small talk is good for a quick afternoon chat, make sure you are carving out time each week to have a real one-on-one conversation with your intern. Don’t be afraid to build a personal relationship with your intern and be able to balance out a personal and professional relationship.
  • Teach Them: This is your opportunity to put your knowledge to the test and teach your interns the ins and outs of your processes. Walk them through each step of your strategies and how to approach different situations. Be sure to encourage critical thinking throughout your teaching, as well. This will ensure they will be taking away much more than just knowing how to scan papers and enter data.  

About Jeanette Maister:

Global talent acquisition technology leader with extensive experience in global talent acquisition, applicant tracking systems & recruiting technology, recruiting metrics and process. Deep insight into all aspects of campus recruiting strategy. Recognized for driving growth and helping clients transform their recruiting efforts.

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