Getting the Most from Your Summer Interns

As summer approaches, human resources staff and hiring managers are inundated with the resumes of high school and college students looking for internships. If you have been asked to take on an intern, do you see it as one more burden added to your already full plate or a wonderful opportunity to fill some labor gaps in your department and add a boost of enthusiasm to your overworked staff?

If summer interns don't have the exact background and skills you are looking for, their energy and willingness to learn more than make up for lack of experience. Here are some tips to smooth the way for a successful and productive summer for your intern and your staff.

Develop a job description: When you take on an intern, you have an obligation to provide hands on work experience commensurate with the student's educational goals. It is tempting to treat interns as personal valets, assigning them to run non-business errands or the most menial office chores. Their energy and willingness to please make them vulnerable to taking on any task asked of them. Most interns receive no or minimal wage for their work, and they are often paying their schools for the college credit and the privilege to work for free. In turn, many students come to an internship with impressive work experience and technical skills that may be more advanced that your permanent staff. Prior to hiring an intern, determine the specific job functions you want the intern to accomplish, amount of prior experience needed and the desired personal traits. A job description will also help students determine if the internship you are offering will meet their stated career goals.

Hire wisely: Managers who blithely hire interns as a quick and temporary fix to handling work overload are being short sighted. Hiring an intern is an investment in the future and should be treated with the same seriousness as hiring a permanent employee. Select and interview candidates with the same effort and professionalism that you would an entry level employee. Your organization will be spending time and money orienting and training this individual, even if the tenure is temporary. Ideally, your intern selection will pave the way for a future full-time hire. Click over for a list of resources developed by the Five O'clock Club, an international career-coaching and outplacement service. It lists resources in which you may want to advertise your internship opportunities.

Assign a mentor: An intern coordinator, whether it is you or one of your staff, is vital to ensuring a successful experience. As the intern's mentor, he/she can clarify ambiguity, coordinate and monitor work assignments, teach new skills and ensure goals are met. The mentor should be someone who is personable, an effective communicator, has the patience and willingness to coach and enjoys a challenge. If you have an employee on your staff who would like to eventually move into a management position, putting him/her in charge of mentoring an intern is a good start to developing leadership skills.

Encourage participation: Invite your intern to participate in staff meetings, training opportunities, field experiences, cross-functional activities and employee events. This provides the intern with an opportunity to get a well-rounded on-the-job experience and allows you to observe how the intern responds in a variety of work situations. You will get a clearer sense of the student's strengths, how to make the best use of his/her talents or where additional training or coaching may be required.

Evaluate performance at regular intervals: Don't wait until the end of an internship to evaluate the student's work. Meet with the intern on a regular basis to get and give feedback, discuss problems, clarify expectations and share experiences. Be sure your intern is comfortable asking for help, learning new skills and accepting the inevitability of making mistakes.

There is no question that having an intern come on board takes addition time and effort on the part of you and your staff. The payoff is an energetic, creative and inexpensive resource to help lighten the work load, add a fresh perspective and potentially become a valuable full-time member of your team.

Terry Pile is a certified Five O'clock Club Coach and president of Career Advisors, a career development, transition and outplacement service working with individuals and small businesses. She can be reached at or