How to Help Interns Transition to Professional Life

Training interns is a key part of future leadership development. It’s a way of filling the employee pipeline, mentoring future employees, and even making sure young people are drawn to your industry. However, managing and training interns isn’t always easy, and the best methods aren’t self-explanatory. Here are some dos and don’ts for managers helping interns on the road to becoming professionals.

What To Do

1. Communicate often.

It’s only natural that you’ll likely have to communicate with an intern more often than with your team as a whole. It’s a good idea to set the standards early, maybe by instituting a half-hour chat per week (informally, of course) the first several weeks.

In these meetings, make sure that your interns know the tasks they are expected to do and know where everything is.

Touch base about their goals for the internship, too. That might be part of the paperwork involved in setting up the internship, but it’s a good idea to have an open-ended discussion about what they want to have achieved by the end of the internship period. That keeps them moving on a clear track.

2. Make it clear it’s okay to ask for guidance.

Remember that interns are young, and they’ll need advice and clear instruction about what to do as part of business leadership. You don’t want them making too many assumptions early on about how or what to do. Have an open-door policy, and encourage its use.

3. Assign one long-term project.

Interns are often asked to assist more senior people. Every internship should also offer at least one long-term project per internship period. This could be developing a significant part of a social media campaign or redesigning a web site – anything that provides a portfolio piece that the intern can be proud of at the end.

Interns may need help transitioning to a business dress code.

Some Don’ts

1. Don’t encourage them to think that work-life equals college life.

A recent piece in Fast Company asked whether some of the contemporary standards of work-life, especially in Silicon Valley companies, are so like college life that it may end up giving interns the wrong impression of what work-life is. Yes, we’re talking companies that lure young employees with free games, beanbag chairs, and unlimited snacks.

There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with these things, but interns may over-emphasize the leisure and hang-out aspects of each. Make sure your interns know the business goals and objectives they are expected to hit.

2. Don’t give them the wrong impression on dress standards.

Similarly, interns who see the permanent staff dress very casually – shorts and flip-flops, say – may truly not understand that many businesses still have (mostly unwritten) dress codes. This is especially true if you’re in an office that has casual Fridays or even more casual standards during the summer. It’s usually necessary for college students to up their game sartorially in their jobs.

Try and set the standard yourself, if appropriate. If you’re truly in a highly casual company, think about having the intern attend a conference to see how people dress there.

3. Don’t allow them to drink at happy hour if they’re under 21.

Don’t forget that many college interns are under the legal age to drink. If your company often has happy hours and folks are encouraged to attend, check whether your intern could drink. If not, happy hour may be off-limits to them.

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