Getting an internship back on track
There are two common themes, or expectations, in the relationship between interns and employers. First, the expectation that interns will exhibit initiative and require minimal guidance during their work assignments. Second, during their work assignment, interns expect supervisors to provide direction and clarify goals when needed. Successfully obtaining a balance between employer and intern expectations is what ultimately leads to a worthwhile internship experience for both participants. However, there are situations when the anticipated constructive relationship between employer and intern is not achieved. Occasionally, expected performance objectives are not met or realized during the intern’s assignment. What’s an employer to do when an internship assignment is not meeting expectations?
Having managed both a company and university internship program, there were instances when I had to contend with this unplanned situation. My goal with each occurrence was to reclaim a bad experience, leverage it as a learning opportunity, and encourage a new start. And while circumstances might be different, here are some general considerations I recommend when dealing with an internship assignment that may not be meeting your expectations.
Reflect Before Acting: Before determining a course of action, remember that interns are not only employees but they’re also, first and foremost, students. Managing an intern takes unique attention to both personas. While the same management approach taken with full-time employees should be taken with interns, take into account their brief exposure to your company as well as this possibly being their first professional work experience.
Review the Work Assignment: Balancing the right amount of responsibility with skill capacity is a challenging aspect of managing an intern. In order to assure interns feel challenged and are able to grow, some employers assign work well beyond their current skill set. Determine that the intern’s qualifications are a realistic fit with their assignment. Make adjustments as needed.
Reset Expectations: Underperformance might be a result of unclear expectations, therefore resetting them as soon as you identify an issue is essential. As you did during their first week of work, review performance expectations. Communicate openly, discuss previously set expectations, and determine what performance areas are not being met. Set a new path toward a more positive experience.
Regular Feedback: With new expectations set, both employer and intern share the understanding that the internship assignment, as it continues, will offer the best experience possible. At this point, assure there’s a regular feedback loop in place related to meeting expectations and performance objectives.
Monitor Going Forward: Build flexibility into the intern’s assignment by incorporating feedback. While this reflection provides the intern with guidance and direction, it also provides the employer an opportunity to monitor for improvement and performance evaluation.
Educate: Teach interns about your industry and field, and share information about the basics of workplace success like workload management, regular communication with the team and supervisor, etc. Interns want to learn from you how to best get things done, what best practices will help them succeed and more. You have the opportunity to share your knowledge and experience, thus helping interns to learn and produce effective results.