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11 Oct 2013

Be a great manager to your interns

Be a great manager to your interns

You expect great things from your interns. Remember how much they impressed you during the interview? Just because they’ve been hired doesn’t mean your work is done. As an intern manager, here are some tips to make your interns have a rewarding and career advancing experience with your organization.

Overcome first day jitters

With an age gap and odd, part-time hours, it can be difficult for interns to feel like they’re a true part of the team. As their manager, you can offset the inherent intern isolationism by creating an atmosphere that is welcoming from the get-go. That could be as simple as decorating their workspace, personally introducing them to the management team, or taking them out for lunch. Small acts on your part can make a huge impression and get them easily transitioned and invested in your organization from the start. The more invested they are, the better quality of work they’ll provide.

You don’t have to do everything yourself, either. Save your intern the awkward break room eye contact and introductions by encouraging employees to start the conversation. Send out an announcement on your intern’s first day informing staff a little about them, where and who they’ll be working with, and task them with saying hello. It will take some of the pressure off your intern (and yourself).

Let them learn from you

Whether you like it or not, you’re more than a boss; you’re a mentor and a resource. Don’t hesitate to share your experiences, both good and bad. Remind yourself to look at things from their perspective and that they’re here to learn, so provide them with the jewels of wisdom and life lessons that you’ve spent a career collecting. Telling the story about how you once had a typo on a four-color die cut catalog run provides context to an intern who would otherwise be wondering why you proof everything a dozen times.  

Speaking of context, it’s critical that interns understand why they’re working on a project. By explaining how assignments fit into the bigger picture, they’ll understand how they’re helping to advance the project and the organization. Knowing that they are a part of the larger effort helps them understand their role and become a truly engaged and invested part of the team. You can accomplish this by inviting them to strategic meetings, clearly outlining campaign goals, and by recapping projects and highlighting how their work contributed.

Let them learn on their own

Your intern wants to impress you with their work, so make sure you’re giving them the opportunity to shine. That means checking yourself to ensure you aren’t micromanaging or assigning projects that are too narrow in scope for them to express themselves creatively. Niamh Larson, one of MarCom’s 2013 interns who worked with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, shared about an assignment that she found to be the most valuable of her internship.

“I worked on a fact sheet that required me to gather information on my own, allowed me to sit in on two conference calls, and schedule meetings with the people involved,” said Niamh. “I had to do a lot on my own, and it was so rewarding to work so closely on a project.”

Niamh’s experience is a testament and an excellent reminder to how valuable experience is during an internship, no matter the assignment, so long as they feel invested and engaged with the project and campaign.

Provide feedback and criticism

One of the most important lessons for anyone to learn is how to take criticism. As a manager, you’ll always strive to provide constructive feedback, but some of the best learning experiences may come from subpar work and result in a less than pleasant conversation. Do your best to stay positive, but remember: some critical lessons for an intern to learn are to not take suggestions personally, and to bounce back from negative feedback. They’ll be a better employee in the long run for it.

While working on a writing assignment, Colleen Bonnel, also a 2013 MarCom intern, recalled receiving some feedback during her internship with the American Red Cross, “[My manager] was able to coach me and show why and where she made changes, but also pointed out where I did very well.” By pairing constructive criticism while highlighting was done well, Colleen’s manager took excellent advantage of the opportunity to create a coachable moment.

Professionals in our industry often tout their internships as being the first real steppingstone in their career. Do your best as your intern’s first “real” manager to make them feel like a part of your organization, take ownership of their projects, and provide them the lessons that you’d which you would have had during your internship.

What are your best practices for interns in marketing and communications?

This article was inspired by Lindsay Grant’s “7 tips for being an all-star PR intern manager.”