Internships can be great for both companies and students. It’s a wonderful way for up and coming professionals to gain valuable work experience in a corporate setting, and can help set them up for success in their first (paid) job after graduation.
Companies also stand to benefit, as it can act as a metaphorical “grooming” of sorts and a peek into a potential candidate for your company in the future.
The business can also gain from handing off tasks that are mundane or administrative for a few months to someone eager to gain experience, instead of running down your employees who already have so much on their plate.
Management can stand to benefit, as well, as it’s a great “trial” run for anyone considering a management position, and can give the company insight as to whether that person is ready for an official promotion.
However, managing an intern and setting them up for success when they’re remote presents a different set of challenges.
Sure, being remote has its perks, such as allowing you a more diverse candidate base, but there are things to keep in mind when working with an intern, especially a student.
Set Expectations Early and Often.
When working with an intern, you must remember that this is more than likely their first real exposure to the corporate workforce. Up until this point, they’ve had classes, maybe a few office tours, and….unfortunately, pop culture to provide them their education on real work experiences.
It’s imperative to set expectations immediately, even in the interview process, if necessary. You hope to have selected a mature, self-driven individual, and it may seem that way, but don’t let them assume anything.
Make sure you’ve clearly communicated what success looks like for your team, the proper way to ask for assistance, and any major “do’s and don’ts”. Also, make sure these points are reiterated from time to time throughout the internship when you have reviews. Speaking of reviews…
Check in Often.
You will want to make sure you check in often with your intern. Letting them know you’re observant, but not meddling, goes a long way into helping them self regulate.
Naturally, they may want to test boundaries, but knowing you have scheduled and unscheduled check-ins may keep them on track. These can be regular discussions on weekly progress, any issues they may be having trouble with, or what their next steps should be.
Instead of just telling them how you think they should behave or react to situations, make sure to give plenty of documented examples.
Remember, they may find themselves in situations at your company that they have not experienced before, and don’t always know what professional language looks like in an email or slide presentation.
Provide examples of what an email would look like that they could send if they needed assistance, or the right language to use to facilitate discussion around difficult topics. You can also coach them along, choosing to proofread their emails before they reach out to someone in the company.
That is a great way to make them do the work, but to allow you a quick check before they send it out. It’s also a productive learning strategy.
Train just as you would a full-time employee.
Some companies think “oh, they’re just a student here for the summer” and fail to give them the same training as a full-time employee, worried about wasting time and money on a temporary resource.
This is a huge mistake!
You should train them just as you would anyone else you would hire with the expectation of keeping them around for a few years. Not only does it communicate the seriousness of the position, but you can also cover yourself from liability.
Make sure they fully understand acceptable behaviour versus what’s not allowed, and what harassment in the workplace looks like. That way, you can better protect them, and other employees.
Hold them accountable.
While you should always give constructive feedback when working with interns, it’s imperative to hold them fully accountable for their actions.
Worrying that you may squash their spirit, or damage their drive is not doing them any favors. They are there for “real life” experience, and part of that is being accountable. If they make a mistake, communicate that somewhat firmly, but also provide solutions and next steps to take on how to make it right.
Even if you have to take over and “drive” a bit, make sure they’re involved in most of that process, so they can fully understand that what they do, good or bad, has implications.
Make efforts to boost their confidence along the way by communicating what they do well, also.
You don’t need to be fake, or outright lie, but letting them know that there is a possibility for a future at your company or a similar one can do great things for their morale.
If it doesn’t work out, then it’s a learning experience for both of you, and that’s not always a bad thing either.