Our writer, Joey Skladany, completed six internships in college. Some experiences he described as “life-changing” and “eye-opening,” while others weren’t such a good fit. When he hired his first intern after graduating, Joey wanted to ensure that the internship would never feel like the latter, even if it was to simply realize that the media industry wasn’t the direction for them.
To this day, Joey still keeps in touch with all of his interns, including those who have gone on to do completely different things. Read on for five best practices that he implements as an internship leader. Note: Many tips can also be applied to assistants or entry level hires!
Nothing is more frustrating than feeling like you have no idea what you’re supposed to be doing. Sometimes, daily tasks can seem like busy work if there’s no other larger duties or projects in sight. We suggest setting concrete deadlines and expectations from day one. Give your intern a clear picture of what is required on a daily basis. Meanwhile, you can also prepare them for more long-term projects that they can work on when days are slow.
Not only will you know what to expect, but this will also aid your intern in developing time management skills they’ll need once they graduate. A kick-off meeting is usually a great place to start. Use this opportunity to establish firm and tentative due dates and a complete list of recurring tasks so that everyone is on the same page. You should also flesh out big picture goals. This way there is something to look forward to beyond the typical internship duties.
Failure is inevitable. And frankly, failure should be embraced. We don’t excel in life, especially when it comes to a new career unless we take risks and learn from our mistakes.
While errors or shortcomings will certainly add stress to your everyday workflow, it’s important to exercise patience. After all, your intern is adjusting to a new environment and set of responsibilities. Keep in mind that this may be the first time he or she has worked in a real-life business setting outside of school. Provide the space and grace for them to challenge themselves as they delve into the unknown.
Be sure to also encourage them to ask as many questions as possible. Your constant guidance can prevent unnecessary blunders that will set the both of you back with your workflow.
Whether an internship is full-time or not, keep in mind that the gig is temporary and external factors like schoolwork, social and family obligations, and even other jobs will unexpectedly throw curveballs.
This may also be the first time a student is living alone or becoming financially independent, so there are moments that will demand an extra level of compassion on your part if the intern has to make last-minute schedule adjustments.
That said, it is also important to hold interns accountable since you are preparing them for the “real world.” A few instances of tardiness or absences, with as much notice as possible, is OK. Negative patterns and bad habits, on the other hand, are not.
Maintain an open and honest dialogue with your intern so that they are comfortable enough to ask for time off in advance or voice if they are feeling overwhelmed. If you’re a new manager, this is excellent practice for when you hire more team members in the future.
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Schedule frequent check-ins
College and early parts of your career are times of uncertainty, which is great for growth but taxing on mental health. You’re constantly second-guessing not only who you are as a person, but if you’re accomplishing tasks successfully.
An intern or assistant may thrive under your guidance or realize that he or she is simply not interested in the industry they are currently in. Both outcomes are OK! It’s important, however, that you schedule weekly check-ins to get a better sense of how they are feeling and whether or not you should pivot daily responsibilities to make their experience worthwhile.
This is also the opportunity to relay important feedback about the work that they have been doing. An internship is, ultimately, a learning opportunity, and both your wisdom and constructive criticism can really help take an intern’s passion to the next level.
As we have all learned, most career success is a result of who you know and not what you know. Beyond acquiring and strengthening skills, your intern has signed up to network and meet people who can open doors and provide mentorship.
Take it upon yourself to continue this relationship beyond the allotted few months. By offering services like resume edits, interview practice, and email introductions to friends in the industry, you’re making up for the monetary compensation interns should be paid for the hours they spent at work—or you’re adding further value to a paid opportunity that may lack benefits.
Investing in our youth’s future is the only way to ensure that your industry will improve as time goes on. And, it’s a great way to begin to scale your own business. Plus, 20 years from now when your former intern or assistant is accepting an award or thriving on their own, it will certainly feel like all the hard work paid off. Bonuses, promotions, and fancy work trips come and go, but the impact of influencing a future leader can and will live on for forever.