Over the years I have had dozens of interns, probably hundreds, from colleges all over New England. Sometimes I have had one intern at a time. Other times I have had up to nine interns working for me simultaneously. I’m still in touch with lots of my former interns – some of them, more than 20 years later. They are a great group of people and I am honored I got to work with them.
Over the years I have developed a method of managing the primary logistics of internships that has worked quite well for me and the interns. As I have installed this process in several companies, it has even perpetuated a bit. So, by request, here’s an overview. (Note: This has little to do with the actual management of the interns themselves but more the process surrounding their internship.)
- I hire primarily on enthusiasm. Give me someone eager to learn and I’ll give you a great intern.
- I tell them right off the bat that I expect them to be self-starters. “Look around. See what needs to be done and do it.”
- We establish a regular schedule. I need to know when they will be working in order to plan out suitable tasks.
- Larger chunks of time are preferable. I would rather have someone all one day than part of two days. This gives them the opportunity to see more projects through to completion. With smaller chunks of time they are more likely to be getting projects half-completed or having to hand them off to someone else. I also prefer intern programs that allow for some immersion — we get the student full-time for one or two semesters, and they become a full-fledged part of the team. They get a better experience too.
- Every intern keeps a folder (either electronic or a manila kind) of their work and “The List.” The List is just that, a list of projects they worked on. All the items on The List should have some kind of corresponding work in the folder – 2 copies. This list helps me remember what projects they worked on and it becomes my go-to reference guide when I am doing evaluations and reference letters.
- I like white boards. I generally reserve two white boards for the intern program. One board has daily (small) assignments. The other has longer term projects – projects that may take several days.
- If the interns don’t have a regular desk of their own, we establish a system of boxes (often those magazine boxes you see in libraries used to hold a dozen or so magazines.) The boxes get collected at the beginning of the work day and travel with the intern to their temporary home. Their work, notes, projects, etc. live in the boxes on a shelf when they aren’t in, and often get notes from me or others when the intern isn’t in.
- I have two “Review” folders – an “in” and “out” box, if you will. Any intern projects that need reviewing go in the “to be reviewed” folder and all reviewed work goes in the “reviewed” folder. If I don’t get to review their work during the day, it comes home with me and returned the next day.
- Every intern is invited to pick one or two of the longer term projects. They put their initials next to the project name on the white board. (If the project has a deadline, it is also on the board.) Whenever I am not around, they have finished an assignment or are simply looking for something to do, they should turn to their long term project and work on it. I don’t ever want to be the bottleneck. No intern should ever be left with nothing to do.
- The short term projects board also helps avoid the issue of everyone in the office giving the interns projects and no one else being aware of it, or of interns being overwhelmed with too many “bosses”. In other words, if anyone in the office has a project for the interns, it gets written on the appropriate board. This becomes the central clearing house for intern projects.
- Interns are responsible for keeping me apprised of things like: schedule changes, deadlines for paperwork submissions to their schools, evaluations, finals week and anything else related to their internship. They also know that if they need something reviewed right away in order to meet their deadlines, they need to let me know, not just put the item in the review queue. This “reverse” management actually gives them a taste of managing someone else.
- I encourage check-ins. If possible, interns check-in with me and let me know when they are going for the day. (Sometimes this isn’t possible due to schedules, meetings, etc. but it provides a regular face-to-face time for brief updates.)
- I also make it clear that I value questions. If an assignment isn’t clear or any difficulty arises, they know to come to me quickly. I value their time and don’t want them to waste it doing work that isn’t useful and correct. “Ask if you aren’t sure.”
- And, whenever possible, I try to have lunch with the intern on their first day to get to know them a little bit better. The first day at a new job can catapult some people back to the first day of junior high and not knowing who you were going to sit with in the lunchroom.
NOTE: After I published this, I was reminded of one other thing I do by one of my former interns and then it came up again in conversation with someone else. I make my interns replace themselves. Once they have had some experience on the job, I ask them to think about friends or other sources of other interns. They post the position on other sites with colleges and universities, they collect resumes to present to me. And, when we hire someone else, I make sure there is some overlap so they can help train the their successor. Once you have the first person in the intern chain you can often keep it going for years!