Getting to manage your first intern is an exciting moment. Not only is it a step towards managing a larger team, but you get to supervise a wide-eyed, eager-to-learn young professional. Having an intern to support you is just as much about teaching as it is delegating and supervising.
Internships are different than traditional full-time or part-time roles, and as such — you have to work with those individuals differently. The same applies to setting an example for your intern; what inspires full-time employees is different than what inspires an intern.
Internships are incredibly formative experiences. The worst ones can provide an incorrect image of being a professional in a specific industry is like, leading individuals to move away from opportunities that would potentially be a great fit. The best experiences, on the other hand, can lead you to your dream career.
Here are few guiding rules for managing your first intern. Not only will these help you provide an amazing intern experience, but you’ll set a great example as a supervisor and as a woman in the workplace.
1. Get to know each other.
Regular weekly meetings are a must. Not only will it give your intern time to ask questions about their responsibilities and the company, but it’s a great way for you to get to know your intern and what they’re interested in.
One of my all-time favorite internships was one where my supervisor met with me every Monday morning. Aside from going over the responsibilities and company updates for the week, she took the time to tell me about the industry as a whole and what it was like working within it. (We also got to the point where we swapped restaurant and TV recommendations, but the job always came first.)
Balancing the professional and personal within any relationship is tricky, but making the effort to do so with your intern will help them do the same later in their career. Ultimately, what you teach them will help them pay it forward, so make sure it counts!
2. Make mistakes – then find solutions.
Amidst all the effort to be the perfect example, it’s easy to forget that you and your intern are real people. Real people make mistakes, regardless of where they are in their career. Instead of worrying about how bad a mistake makes you look to your intern, use the opportunity as a learning experience.
Whether it’s a small typo within a presentation or a major missed deadline, how you fix the error is more important. When you make a mistake, walk through it with your intern. Don’t make excuses or try to justify what you did; look at the issue objectively and ask your intern to help you come up with a solution. Problem-solving is a valuable skill for everyone, and actively giving your intern an opportunity to develop those skills will be important to their professional development.
This process doesn’t have to be limited to just you; when your intern errs, go through the exact same steps. Make sure not to judge your intern or to view the mistake as “bad.” Again — everyone messes up, and there’s always a way to turn it into a positive moment.
3. Assign meaningful work.
What sounds like a more meaningful experience: organizing lunch orders or presenting ideas on how to grow your customer base? If your intern’s day is spent with the former, they’ll quickly lose interest in what they’re doing and be less engaged overall.
That said, a large part of an internship is helping with smaller, administrative tasks, but you need to balance those to-dos with larger projects that creatively engage your intern. A large, semester-long project — ideally something with measurable goals or something that can be incorporated into a future portfolio — is a perfect complement to the smaller tasks your team needs help with.
Another way to ensure that your intern stays engaged? Make sure they see how engaged you are. After all, positive energy is infectious! When you come across a part of your job that you love, share it with your intern. Also invite your intern to share what they’re excited about as well. Those conversations can quickly lead to a larger discussion about potential careers and positions they’ll want to seek after they’ve finished working with you.
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