It’s March, which means we can all finally start to emerge from winter hibernation mode. Q1 is in full swing and we’re watching Q2 as it stares us in the face. And though we’re leaving winter behind, summer still seems far off.
But it’s not as far as it seems—and with summer comes those summer internships we spent all of fall recruiting for and then put back on the shelf to revisit in the spring.
The time has come. Internships might not start until May or June, but the preparation starts now—and not just for the interns. As employers, we need to start preparing now to make sure our internship programs are top-notch for the summer.
EduSource has, on average, twelve interns (we call them apprentices) during every summer. We’ve gained some expertise along the way on how to best prepare for a productive (and fun!) summer internship program. For the sake of successful internships everywhere, we wanted to share that expertise.
Most of us know from experience that it’s never easy to move to a new place—where are the best locations to look for housing? Where is the nearest grocery store?
Speaking as a former intern, it is a gift when companies provide information and suggestions about housing in the area—especially low-cost options that offer short-term leases. Moving to a new place for the summer can be nerve wracking for students—giving them a leg up in finding a place to live will be greatly appreciated.
This is an easy way to calm any anxiety your interns may be experiencing and make sure they’re prepared to start working with your company. Before their first day (at least a couple weeks in advance), let your interns know about general company policies. What type of clothing should they wear? (Here’s a handy guide you can send them.) What do company employees usually do for lunch—is there a fridge, does everyone go out, is there a cafeteria?
What time do you expect the interns to be at work, and how long is their lunch break? When can they leave? Where should they park?
All of these are little details, but providing your interns with them up front will save them worry and help them be more effective for your company.
We all love it when interns come to the company with some existing understanding of how to do their jobs. But it’s hard for them to come prepared if we don’t give them any direction.
Make a list of a few resources that your interns would benefit from being familiar with before they start their internship—anything that would give them a leg up in their first few weeks. Does your company have a specific process that would be unfamiliar to students? Or do you use a specific software that they could watch a tutorial about? Maybe there’s a TED talk about a specific concept that would be helpful or a podcast on a topic that comes up a lot around the office.
Don’t overwhelm your interns (remember, they’re probably still in school right now), but don’t be afraid to give them a little homework. They’ll benefit and so will you when they come in with preexisting understanding of company processes.
Most of your interns are probably planning to get college credit for the time they spend working for your company. That means two things. First, they’re paying for their credits, which means they’re basically paying money to work for you. Don’t take that for granted. Second, they have to meet certain requirements to actually get credit for their internship.
The easiest way to get this information is probably to call the major departments at the schools your interns attend and find out what the internship requirements are for their particular programs. (Or ask the students to send you the information.) Then make sure your internship program accomplishes the requirements necessary for your interns to get their credits. If they need to read a book, suggest one relevant to the company. Do they need to interview a current employee? Make sure that’s possible.
It doesn’t take much, but it will elevate your company’s internship program in the eyes of your interns, which will improve your word-of-mouth credibility.
There is no way to stress this enough. Bored interns aren’t good for anybody. It will take some extra preparation, but the summer will go exponentially better if you make sure ahead of time that there is work lined up for your interns to do during the summer. Whether that’s specific projects that will be unique to the summer or ongoing tasks that interns can take over while they’re at the company, do your best to make sure they have enough work to keep them busy.
To be clear, I don’t mean making copies or running errands (although it’s okay to have them do those things occasionally). I’m talking about work that actually has to do with the company’s goals and objectives. They might not be able to handle every part of a project, but they can still handle plenty.
Think of it this way: your company benefits from extra work getting done, and the interns benefit from the experience and being able to write substantive weekly summaries of their internship experience.
As an intern, there’s nothing worse than coming in on your first day and finding that the company didn’t think far enough ahead to have a place ready for you to work. Getting shoved into a corner at the last minute isn’t ideal.
Spend a little time before the interns get there to make sure you know where each of them will sit. Do they have adequate workspace? A chair? Does where you’ve put them make sense with the rest of the company’s placement?
We’ve found it’s best not to isolate interns—having them among the rest of the employees is helpful. If you put all the interns together, expect productivity to decrease. At the very least, make sure you don’t have all the interns together except one who ends up being isolated in a different area. Even if you’re not intentionally cutting them off from the rest of the group, it will start to feel that way.
It might sound like a small thing, but giving thought to physical location will make a big difference for your interns.
If your company is able to, consider providing your interns with the resources they will need to do their job. I’m talking pens and scissors, and I’m also talking laptops and monitors. Like it or not, part of an internship program is the experience your company creates. If your company creates a great experience for interns, that credibility will go a long way.
One way to gain credibility is to provide your interns with the equipment they need. Will they be using laptops? Provide them from the company so they don’t have to bring their own. Or maybe it’s art supplies or recording equipment. Whatever the case is for your company, providing it for the interns instead of expecting them to bring their own will make a big difference in their perception of the company, and inspire them to do even better work on the great equipment you’ve provided.
Your interns will get a lot out of an internship with your company, but they’ll get exponentially more if they have a mentor guiding them through the process. This can be accomplished plenty of different ways—maybe they meet with an employee once a week to check in, or a few times over the course of the summer. Or maybe they work closely with a full-time employee on a specific project and receive direct oversight and advice that way.
Or maybe you want to consider creating a dedicated mentorship program where full-time employees volunteer to be paired with interns for the duration of the summer, committing to meeting with them, reading a book with them, or providing job-related advice.
Whether formal or informal, identifying key mentors within your company beforehand and preparing them for the opportunity to work with the incoming interns will be a huge benefit for the interns, and probably a huge benefit to the full-time employees as well.
One thing we’ve found in our years of having interns at EduSource: they love events. Whether it’s a game night, a round table with the CEO, or a lunch and learn, they’re always eager for an opportunity to learn (especially if it includes free lunch!).
This is a great way to get some of the other employees in your company involved with the interns. Set up a panel over lunch, or have an unofficial company ice cream social after work. It improves company morale as a whole and it will give your interns a great experience while helping them learn and network.