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Managing Interns

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The first assignments set the tone for interns.

''When you give interns their first tasks, you are signaling what can be expected in the future,'' says Michael D. True, director of the Internship Center at Messiah College in Grantham, PA.

“If you give them nothing or very little to do, it sends a message that you are unprepared or that the job will be boring. Interns don’t want that. And, of course, neither should employers.”

True should know. His handbook, Starting and Maintaining a Quality Internship Program, is used by colleges, universities, chambers of commerce, government offices, companies, and non-profit organizations around the country. He has consulted with or provided information for more than 300 organizations on internship issues.

Several simple steps will ensure that internships are successes for students and employers, he says.

The first is to give interns good orientations to the companies. Show them around. Give them complete overviews of the firms. Introduce them to their co-workers. Explain procedures, who does what, and what the interns’ duties will be.

Next, give them the resources they need to do their jobs.

“That may sound obvious,” says True, “but you’d be surprised by how many companies put their interns in some out-of-the-way places or transfer them from desks to desks. That sends a potent message that you don’t want to send: interns aren’t really important.”

Instead, give interns desks and the supplies they need. Introduce the tech and support people. And encourage interns to speak up.

“If you intimidate your interns into silence, you could miss out on valuable contributions to your projects-or warnings about impending problems.”

True also advises that employers monitor the daily tasks of interns. Watch for signs that they are bored or confused. While silence might mean that an intern is busy, it also could mean that he or she is confused and shy about telling anyone.

“It’s easy to be shy in a workplace full of older strangers who all know each other,” he notes.

He also suggests that employers make sure that work is taking precedence over web browsing or text messaging with friends. Paying attention early on and addressing these types of issues helps head off problems and bad habits.

That’s also why it is important to give interns lots of feedback. Since it is likely that they have never done this kind of work before, they will want to know if their work is measuring up to expectations. Meeting with interns for a few minutes each day and/or scheduling regular weekly times will keep everyone on the same page.

True advises organizations that are serious about internships to put into place some forms of evaluation processes. They could be as formal as written evaluations of the students at the midpoints and ends of their experiences or as informal as occasional meetings with employers’ internship coordinators. A number of companies have interns evaluate their experiences and the companies as well.

“Some organizations have adopted processes of formal exit interviews,” True says. “Through these processes, they can determine if interns have had good experiences, and they provide valuable feedback to managers for program planning in the following year.”

For more information, please feel free to contact Michael D. True, director of the Internship Center at Messiah College, Grantham, PA, at (717) 796-5099 or at
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