Intern Season is Around The Corner: How to Manage an Intern

Business.com / Managing / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

Even if you're an experienced manager, managing an intern can be a different task. Here are some tips for managing an intern.

Summer time means the interns are in full bloom.

If there's one or more at your office, you may be managing them.

Even if you're an experienced manager, managing an intern can be a different task.

Here are some tips for managing an intern.

Related Article: They’re Not Just for Coffee Runs: Getting the Most Out of Your Interns

Paid or Unpaid?

If your intern is unpaid, there are very strict rules about what she can or cannot do. While many, many companies break the law in this area, the government has been cracking down.

If you are a for-profit business (non-profits are different) here are the conditions that you must meet in order to not pay an intern:

  1. The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training, which would be given in an educational environment
  2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern
  3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff
  4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded
  5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship
  6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship

So, if your intern is unpaid, she can't cover for vacations, do work that must be done and would be done by someone else if she wasn't there, and she must benefit while you must not. In other words, you have an unpaid intern only out of the goodness of your heart.

Most people don't really want that so, I strongly recommend paying your intern. You only need to pay minimum wage (and overtime when applicable) to be legal. However, if you want to attract the best interns, consider paying a higher rate.

Remember, the Intern Is New to the Workforce

Even if your intern has lots of work experience before landing in your office, it's most likely retail or restaurant experience. This is quality experience, and I highly recommend hiring interns with this type of experience. However, working at a restaurant is different than working in an office. The dress code is different.

The relationship with coworkers can be (but isn't necessarily) different. How you treat clients is different. For instance, you would never tell a customer that she shouldn't dip her steak into ranch dressing, but you will tell a design client that "comic sans" font isn't the best choice for a professional look.

Part of your managing is training in all these things. Lots of small companies don't have formal dress codes, because duh, everyone knows what is appropriate for various days. For instance, everyone wears jeans to the office unless there's a client meeting in which case the suits and heels come out.

But, your intern doesn't know that. She saw you in jeans when you interviewed her, and unless you explicitly say, "On Tuesday we're going to the client's site, so please wear a suit." Have a responsible employee of the same gender explain exactly what is and what is not appropriate. It's worth your time.

Teaching Meeting Behavior

Lots of interns are go-getters and used to being at the top of their class. Everyone listens to their ideas at school. However, no matter how smart they are, they are inexperienced in the workforce.

Depending on your company culture, having an intern speak up in a meeting with the Sr. Director is either exactly what you expect or would result in everyone turning and staring in horror at the intern.

You need to spell out what is expected. Speak up? Don't speak until spoken to? Observe only? Volunteer to take notes? Be expected to take notes? Honestly, this is strictly a company culture issue that we expect experienced people to pick up on, but interns aren't experienced.

Related Article:Reign It In: 6 Practical Tips for Saving Your Small Business Money

Extra Feedback

Interns are used to a school environment. Quizzes, tests, papers, and homework are all graded and returned. At any given point in the semester, a student knows where she stands. (Unless it's one of those classes that just has a final, but I digress.)

Your intern will feel twitchy without feedback. Positive or negative, it's important to let her know how she's doing. Let her know if her ideas are good or not. Let her know if her ideas are great but too costly to implement. Let her know if her idea is good but would be a political nightmare.

This is part of training an intern to work in the business world. If her work is substandard, let her know that as well. Don't expect her to perform at the level of a senior analyst, but she should be pretty darn close to an entry level employee. Let her know if she's not and what to do about it.

Expect Some Bumps

If your intern has never held down a job before, she might be shocked that she can't just not show up because something better came along. Let's face it, most college professors don't track attendance. You may get a phone call from an irate parent. The phrase is, "I'm sorry, Jane is an adult, and I can't discuss that with you." Then hang up.

Don't feed the helicopter parent. If your intern does something really dumb like getting completely plastered at a company party, have a sit down with her and explain that it is never appropriate to get drunk at work, or even just in the presence of coworkers. Sometimes, it needs to be spelled out.

Related Article:Millennial Time: Youth-enize Your Business Before It's Euthanized

Look Forward to It

Interns can be fun and having a company-sponsored internship can not only benefit your company (if you pay) but help train up a new generation of great workers. 

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