Workplace Culture

Proper Planning Can Make Summer Internships a Warm Experience

By Dave Lamont

Apr. 13, 2011

As the summer intern season approaches, employers are making plans to welcome their newest employees. Well, at least that’s what we’d hope.

Whether paid or unpaid, part-time or full-time, interns are entering new situations where little, if anything, is familiar. They will rely on their previous experience and education to quickly assess their surroundings and gather the information required to succeed.

As their host employer, there is one simple thing you can do to assist them with this transition and in turn benefit from a more engaged and productive intern: commit to conducting an effective onboarding and orientation plan. Here are some ways to create a beneficial experience for both the employer and the intern.

Leverage existing programs. While many employers place less emphasis on this than they should, even with their experienced hires, there may be existing resources you can leverage. Make the best use of what you already have, such as your orientation program, logistical set-up, company events, presentations, videos and your intranet.

Internal overview. These new hires are going to be highly motivated to succeed. For that reason, they need to know about the organization they’re working for. Ensure that they get to see organizational charts; are provided with an overview of products and services; that they understand the company’s history, culture, values and principles; and how they are connected to their summer assignments.

Introductions (internal and external). Here’s a scenario that is played out far too often in office environments every summer:

The new intern is in his first week. Someone walks by and says, “Hey, you’re new, what’s your name?”
“I’m Joe, the new intern. What’s your name?”
“Hey Joe, I’m Mike, it’s good to meet you. Gotta run.”

Joe’s glad he got to meet Mike. After all, it was just two days ago that he found out he’d be working closely with Mike; glad he got the head’s up.

Mike missed the opportunity to explain his role to Joe and how their work will intersect. Promise that you’ll make every effort to avoid this scenario.

Tour of facilities. This may seem simple and obvious, but take into consideration the size of today’s work environments. Extend the courtesy of showing the intern around and making sure they know where everything of importance is located.

Social component (team lunch or afternoon coffee break). This is far less about lunch or coffee as it is breaking the ice and putting the interns in what will hopefully be a comfortable environment. You’re looking to create an environment where they and their temporary team of co-workers can feel relaxed, let their guards down a bit and begin the process of building relationships. Choose the right people, prepare them and connect them to your interns.

Review calendar. Even before they start, the intern will be curious to know what their summer will look like. If you make the point of reviewing a calendar that outlines the entire internship experience as early as Day One or Two, you will quickly win the confidence of your intern. They’ll know that you’ve done your homework and that you’ve planned for their arrival.

Review goals, expectations and overall intern work plan. Clearly communicate expectations. We hear about it all the time as it relates to millennial expectations. Outline what will be expected of the intern and how success will be measured. Make sure that they have a project plan of sorts to guide them along the way.

Ask the intern: “What are you hoping to achieve this summer?” Done exceptionally well, this conversation should actually occur before Day One. If that didn’t occur, don’t worry. You ask this question and you do a couple of things. First, acknowledge that the internship is very much about the intern. Second, you are relinquishing control while also saying to the intern that you need to assume ownership for this experience. If you can construct an internship that meets both your objectives and advances your business agenda while also meeting the expectations of the intern, be prepared to be impressed.

If you still have a few weeks before they start, make the best use of that time. Make plans now to build the foundation for a successful summer internship experience for both you and your intern.

Workforce Management Online, April 2011Register Now!

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