Address Challenges

We don’t like to micromanage here; we give interns the freedom to grow and develop. There’s probably a bit more contact and supervision with the younger interns. It’s a small office space and you can see everybody, so it’s a good setup in that respect for supervision.
Jennifer Stevens, Laura Devine Attorneys
  • Who will supervise the interns
  • The responsibilities of a supervisor
  • How you should orient and train supervisors

For interns and other young workers, the supervisor will wield enormous influence on the quality of the experience. An effective supervisor supports workers as coach, advocate, and mentor; a poor supervisor might be the reason a young worker moves on.

Supervisors must recognize and ensure that experiences and expectations are appropriate for interns’ age and development. As one executive explained, “A millennial intern is very different from a full time employee. The amount of time required to manage this person appropriately is very different. There’s going to be a lot more questions, a lot more hand-holding, and supervisors need to know that.”

Some companies offer training to intern supervisors. For example, managers at MasterCard participate in training sessions before working with interns. Before the interns begin, human resources campus program managers meet with staff who will manage interns to ensure they are clear on expectations and have a sense of how to supervise an emerging professional appropriately. Particularly for first-time intern managers, the chance to review and learn from more experienced colleagues is useful in thinking through how to utilize and support a young worker who will be on hand for ten weeks. The company also assigns each intern a “buddy”—a near-peer mentor in age and experience, who can help them out by answering questions, connecting them to colleagues in the firm, and providing general guidance. In addition, interns have a senior mentor providing them support around managing priorities, time management and teamwork.

At KPMG, each intern has a manager who oversees day-to-day work. Managers provide a one-day orientation at the outset of the program, and meet each Friday with all interns in addition to one-on-one check-ins. These weekly meetings provide a good opportunity for interns otherwise scattered across a large company to network and interact.

Interns at smaller organizations might get direct supervision from the company’s leaders. At Just-Tech, the co-founder works with interns directly on being professional and how to handle challenging questions and situations on the job.

Rules of the Workplace and Setting Limits

Sometimes challenges come up during a young person’s work experience. The position may not be the right fit or inappropriate behavior may be an issue. Employers and partners must be prepared to address problems as they arise. As is true of all employees, interns should be aware that there are consequences to their actions. Clearly communicating expectations regarding professional conduct at the start of an internship, and being available to discuss issues when they surface, can help address potential concerns.

Sample The Rules of the Workplace

Youth and young adults often need to be told things about the workplace that you probably assume “everyone knows.” Here are some questions you may need to answer-even if interns don’t ask them:

  • Who depends on the work I do?
  • What happens if I don’t produce?
  • What is the value of working quickly?
  • What happens if I have more than one supervisor? If my supervisor changes?
  • What is the dress code?
  • Do I need to sign in? Punch in?
  • What should I do if I can’t make it to work?
  • How much time can I spend on my lunch break?
  • What are the rules concerning personal phone calls?
  • What should I do if I have completed a task and no further task has been assigned to me?

Give Feedback

Interns need to hear you say how they’re doing. Like other workers, they thrive when they know their efforts are valued, even if they don’t succeed in everything they do. That is why it’s important to give them feedback, to identify their strengths and talents, to help them accept mistakes as part of the learning process, and to encourage them to persist
and master new skills.

Sample Valuable Tips for the Supervisor

  • Orient the intern to the mission and culture of the organization
  • Communicate job objectives and assignments to the intern
  • Golden rule: keep interns busy. There is nothing quite so demoralizing to an intern as slack time with no work assignments
  • Offer a variety of experiences with enough time to develop proficiency in each task
  • Identify developmental opportunities to strengthen and enhance the intern’s skills and performance
  • Ensure a clear channel of communications between the students and direct supervisor through regular contact and monitoring the intern’s fulfillment of his/her responsibilities
  • Help the intern to establish a comfort level in the work environment
  • Include the intern in meetings with internal and external resources (i.e. staff meeting, project/program meetings, local professional organizations)
  • Encourage the intern to give a presentation at a staff meeting or department meeting
  • Provide information to the intern on career paths and opportunities with
    the organization and other related organizations
  • Give interns the opportunity to share with each other their impressions and
    experiences about the organization
  • Provide formal feedback on performance, skills, strengths and areas that need improvement