How to Make the Most of an Intern

Intern experience

When I was in college, I was addicted to internships and being an intern. I interned at Disney World, Make-A-Wish and the Today show. I loved the feeling that I was in the real world and doing something for more than just a grade. Once I started my business, I was eager to hire interns who were just as passionate and committed to those positions as I had been in college.

I learned the hard way, however, that managing interns is easier said than done. I would find students who were on fire out of the gate, but who, deeper into the semester, would fizzle out. Or, I’d find a student who would say anything to get the position, then later make me realize that he or she really just wanted a resume booster.

Not all students are like this, of course, but it can happen. Great interns can do wonders for your business in a lot of ways and receive a great experience, as well.

And, beyond their stereotype of involving only tedious and time-consuming tasks, internships can bring in a fresh, young outlook for your company. Here are some ways to get the most out of your intern:


1. Ask for their schedules, including tests or big projects.

Understand that school comes first. Understand, too, that, sometimes, interns can be hesitant to let their supervisors know about a test or big class project for fear of letting them down. But, reassure the intern. Before the internship starts, have the intern send you a class schedule, including any extracurricular activities. When he or she faces a test or a big project, have him or her share the date so you don’t assign a big task the day before. When you respect interns’ schedules, they’ll be more inclined to make the most of their time to help you.

2. Set tangible goals.

Instead of telling interns just to “work hard,” create tangible goals they can aim for. If they’re doing social media, for you, create a goal for the number of new followers they should aim for each week, or specify how many posts they should do. It’s easier for them to stay motivated when they have a physical number to reach for instead of the simplistic goal to “do a good job.”

3. Create rewards.

Whether the reward you offer is a paid internship or college credit or a travel stipend, mix things up by offering interns these and other incentives. When they reach a certain goal, do you have a product to offer them? A gift card? The reward doesn’t have to be big, but it makes things more fun and shows interns that you’re watching, and you appreciate their work.

4. Figure out what they’re good at.

A lot of college students don’t really know what they’re good at yet because they haven’t tested their skills in the work world. Therefore, it might be hard for them to tell you what they excel in. So, start off giving them a variety of different tasks and see which ones they’re particularly good at.

5. Give them more responsibility.

If the only responsibility you give your interns is licking envelopes and brewing coffee, you’ll never know their value. Your internship — which should always be a learning experience, rather than busy work — will mean nothing. I’m not saying you have to push them on stage at a press conference to speak on behalf of the company, but perhaps you could have them write a press release and send it to you to look over. There are ways to give an intern more responsibility without any external risk of their messing up. Treat interns like employees, and they’ll be more inclined to work like one.

6. Give them feedback.

When I first saw interns making mistakes or doing something wrong, I’d slowly back away from them and replace them with someone else. But then I remembered my own internships: I had really appreciated supervisors who would give me constructive criticism so I could fix the problem the next time. With that in mind, I have started to be more honest with my interns, to give them an opportunity to grow. You should do the same: Whether an intern ends up working for you or not, you can feel confident that you’re shaping the future workforce.


by Jess Ekstrom

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