How to Actually Manage an Intern
Career Growth

How to Actually Manage an Intern

This article was written by one of Career Contessa's career advice experts, Katherine Nobles. If you're interested in one-on-one professional guidance, explore our new Hire an Expert service. 

AS YOU CLIMB THAT (KIND OF CLICHÉ) CORPORATE LADDER, YOU MAY FIND YOURSELF FACE-TO-FACE WITH A BRIGHT-EYED INTERN. TIME TO MAKE THE MOST OF THE OPPORTUNITY—FOR YOU BUT ALSO FOR HER.

Although it’s been many years since I held my first internship, I still remember it well—particularly the excitement and the nervousness before my first day. I remember the joy I felt once I completed my first big assignment. I remember my confusion about how to ask for feedback, how to navigate my first company event, and how to obtain a letter of recommendation once the summer was over. Really, I just remember emotions swirling. Chances are, you probably have very similar recollections. 

Now the tables have turned and you are the boss, managing an intern of your own. Bogged down with our own work and deadlines, stressed about meetings and juggling projects, we’re distracted. We often forget the way we first felt as a young professional trying to navigate the workplace.

But for a moment I ask that you remember your experiences starting out and step back into your former self, a girl who's just landed her first internship. Maybe you formed a great relationship with a mentor. Or maybe you absolutely hated the work environment and discovered exactly what you didn’t want to do. Either way, putting yourself in your intern’s shoes is Step One to managing well. Doing so will help you identify how your intern wants to be treated and what she'd like to walk away from the experience with. With that in mind, here are a few other tips to help you be the awesome manager you wish you'd had when you were an intern:

BEFORE SHE ARRIVES: MAKE A PLAN AHEAD OF TIME

Prior to your intern’s first day, write out a prioritized plan of projects and to-dos to keep her engaged and on task. What do you need to accomplish in the next few months? Are there projects you can assign to her based either on her skill set or time frame? Although it would be easier to ask the intern to just make copies or grab coffee, this experiment in delegating is a learning opportunity for you both. Use this chance to step up your game as a leader who knows how to share real work. The intern’s experience will be much richer with a significant project or two under her belt, and you’ll learn techniques for managing future teams on a small scale. Think of it as a testing ground. 

HER FIRST DAY: BUILD A FOUNDATION

Dedicate a significant amount of time during your intern’s first day making her feel welcome and comfortable. Give her a tour of the office and introduce her to other members of the team. If possible, treat her to lunch or coffee so you can get to know her better in an informal setting.

It’s also important to spend time during her first day reviewing the outline of projects and responsibilities you’d like her to tackle. Make sure both you and your intern are clear on responsibilities, but also expectations, goals, and communication styles. 

THROUGHOUT HER INTERNSHIP: SET UP A REGULAR FEEDBACK LOOP

An internship is an opportunity for a young professional to learn, and the key to learning is getting guidance and feedback from above. Set up a weekly meeting where you and the intern can check in. Depending on your communication style, it may also be beneficial to hold short-standing meetings or use an online system where you can quickly communicate on a more frequent basis as well. Whatever the method, find one that will work well for both of you.

AT THE END: TURN THE TABLES

At the conclusion of the internship, hold some form of an exit interview, even if it is an informal one.  Use this opportunity to provide her with feedback about her strengths, weaknesses, and areas for future growth. This is a great time to also review the work your intern produced and thank her for her efforts.  In return, ask for feedback about your leadership.  Is there something she would have liked to see you do differently as a manager? How could you improve the internship program? Be open and listen carefully, as this is an excellent opportunity for you to grow too.

- - -

Don’t forget to get to know your intern as a person. Take the time to learn about her interests and career aspirations. What made her want to work in this industry and where are they hoping it will lead? How can you help her? Whether its writing a letter of recommendation or introducing the intern to others in the field, odds are that you can play a pivotal role in helping your intern develop as a young professional. And odds are that they will immensely help you grow as a manager and leader as well.

* * *

What are some techniques you use for managing interns?