This career step can help you become a great leader
Stuck managing the intern pool? It’s actually a move that can open doors—if you do it right.
Remember what it felt like to be the intern at the office? Your first step in the real world: an exciting but absolutely terrifying experience because you knew this could be the thing that makes or breaks your career. No pressure, right? Well, now you get to relive the experience from the other side of the desk. Congrats—you’re the intern supervisor!
“Being a great internship supervisor can catapult your career,” says Robin Reshwan, founder of Collegial Services, a consulting and staffing firm based in Danville, California. Now is your chance to flex your management skills, learn how to motivate a team and prove you can deliver results and that you’re a leader. Can you say promotion?
Since this is your first crack at managing the intern pool, we’re here to help give you everything you need to do to become a great supervisor.
Consult with your boss
If you’re hoping to meet—better yet, exceed—your boss’s expectations, you need to find out what your manager wants you to achieve. “Get a clear picture of what success looks like,” says Reshwan. Request a meeting with your supervisor so the two of you can hash out your goals in this new role. Once you know what’s expected of you, you can develop a clear game plan.
You also need to find out how often your boss wants updates. Some managers prefer weekly emails, while others like progress reports in person. “Stay in touch with your boss throughout the process,” says Priscilla Claman, president of Boston coaching firm Career Strategies.
Do your prep work
If your company has a set onboarding process, make sure you know the ropes—interns may need to complete tasks, like filling out paperwork, in advance. A couple of days before their start date, send the interns a welcome email with instructions on what to do when they arrive at the office (e.g., “I’ll give your names to the security guard. Meet me by the elevator bay on the third floor at 10 a.m.”).
Include a preview of the type of work they’ll be doing, explain the dress code and express that you’re looking forward to meeting them, says David Bowman, chairman of California-based human resources firm TTG Consultants. Also, send your co-workers an email letting them know when the interns are starting. (Some of your colleagues may want to volunteer as mentors.)
Help new hires get acclimated
Start with a tour of the office: Show the group where the break room, coffee machine and bathrooms are located, and make a pit stop at the supply closet so they can stock up on what they’ll need for the first week.
Then, take them to their designated workspaces. Add a personal touch: Place a name tag on each intern’s desk. “It makes them feel welcome and appreciated,” says Reshwan.
Sit down with the interns to get everyone started on the same page. Introduce yourself, offer a brief overview of the company and provide an outline of what’s in store. “Explain the purpose of the internship both from the company’s perspective and the intern’s,” says Reshwan.
For some, this may be their first time working in an office, so help them understand professional etiquette, workplace do’s and don’ts and the company culture. For example, let them know whether email or in-person conversation is the preferred method of communication, and explain whom they should go to for technical issues.
…and meet one-on-one
Carve out time at the beginning of the program to sit down with each intern individually. “To earn their trust, you need to take stock in their development,” says Bowman. That entails asking open-ended questions to gain a sense of what they’re looking to get from the internship. For example: “What are three things you’d like to learn while you’re here?”
To show you value their ideas, explain that you’ll be asking for their feedback throughout the internship. Let them know you’re always looking to improve the company internship program, so you’ll be checking in now and then to see if there’s anything more you can be doing to help them succeed.
Schedule regular check-ins
It’s important to deliver feedback in real time, whether it’s positive (e.g., “Great job on that report!”) or constructive (e.g., “The email you sent to Bob in IT could have been worded better. I have some pointers”). “Don’t want to wait until the end of the program to provide constructive criticism because then the intern can’t fix the issues you’ve noticed,” says Reshwan.
In addition, Katy Tynan, author of Survive Your Promotion! The 90 Day Success Plan for New Managers recommends organizing a weekly debriefing meeting, where group members can share what they learned that week. “It helps them process the experience,” Tynan says. Additionally, arrange weekly check-ins with each intern, where they can ask you questions and you can offer feedback.
Keep some distance
Claman encourages socializing with the intern pool during the day but maintaining professional boundaries outside of working hours. “Taking interns to lunch gives you the chance to get to know them outside the office setting,” she says. “But you’re not in college anymore, and you don’t want your co-workers to think of you as one of the kids.” Meaning, avoid joining them for happy hour.
Conduct exit interviews
Toward the end of the program, meet as a group to discuss what skills were learned throughout the internship. Send each intern home with a small parting gift; even something like a company mug is a nice gesture.
Assuming the intern performed well, offer to write him or her a letter of recommendation. And stay in touch. “Even though they’re lower on the totem pole right now,” says Claman, “if they get a job one day at your dream employer, they can help bring you in.”
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