Archive for September, 2010
As you know, virtual internships offer a number of benefits to both large and small businesses alike. But some employers worry that keeping remote internships on track might mean installing spyware and a hidden camera. Not so. Managing remote interns is actually easier than employers imagine… especially with the help of the following tips:
- (Still) Assign a supervisor. Just because interns aren’t in your office, doesn’t mean they don’t need a manager. And virtual interns certainly shouldn’t be “on their own” after training ends. In fact, designating a strong supervisor may be even more important when a student is offsite.
- Schedule twice-daily updates. Have interns touch base by phone or email with their supervisor at both the beginning and end of each day. In the morning, the conversation should confirm what they’ll be working on. At the end of the day, they should provide a report on their progress.
The advantage is twofold: First, the check-ins will ensure a structure to the flow of work—and that more important projects are prioritized. Secondly, when students know they’ll have to account for their activities at the end of the workday, they are far less likely to procrastinate or slack off.
- Calendar a weekly call. Have interns set a standing weekly phone call with their supervisor. During this call, the supervisor should give feedback, answer questions, and preview upcoming projects.
While some employers prefer email check-ins, phone calls allow much more personal interaction. Since you’re not getting to know the student onsite, talking every week gives you a better idea of how an intern might fit with fulltime employees on an ongoing basis.
- Implement a time-tracking system. Especially for paid internship programs, it is absolutely crucial you set up a standard time-tracking system.
Essentially, you have the option of setting up a manual system or a computerized method. For manual systems, interns are sent a timesheet template. The student simply types into the document each day and time-period they work. At the end of the week or month, they email the sheet back to the supervisor.
If you have multiple interns, you might invest in a computerized time-tracking system. This software enables hourly employees to log in and out at the press of a button and automatically tallies time at the end of each pay period. Whichever method you choose, however, make sure you tell interns to log or timeout for breaks and any personal interruptions.
- Instruct interns to track time by project. You don’t want to get a timesheet that simply says “17 hours”—or you’ll be left struggling to recall the specific assignments. Instead, include a space on your sheet for “task or project,” and instruct students to write what they worked on during each block. This will let you know how long tasks are taking, so you can make modifications if necessary.
- Encourage questions. Interns should feel like the lines of communication are open for questions. Many times, offsite interns are timid to reach out for information or clarification because they worry they’re bothering supervisors. Errors are often the result… errors you have to remedy.
- Consider an initial in-person meeting. Even though it’s a virtual internship, you might consider meeting face to face at first or training onsite. For interns who live locally, actually seeing how things work can be beneficial. Some companies even have virtual interns come into the office on a weekly or monthly basis.
Now that you know the importance of setting employer goals (see previous post), it’s a perfect time to talk tips. As an employer or internship supervisor, the most important goal-setting tip is to keep in mind what constitutes an effective goal.
Essentially, an effective goal should…
• Be specific. While general goals may sound grand (i.e. “significantly improve employee productivity”), they are difficult to accomplish: First of all, it’s hard to come up with specific steps to reach general goals. And secondly, it’s almost impossible to know when you’ve reached them. (This brings us to the second aspect.)
Non-specific goal: Increase social media presence
Specific goal: Set up a social media presence on two platforms (like Facebook and Twitter) and make a minimum of one daily update to each
• Be measurable. In order to know if a goal was accomplished, there must be some means for measuring it. So when setting goals, be sure to ask yourself, How exactly will we know when our objective has been achieved?
Non-measurable goal: Fix staffing problem
Measurable goal: Increase two-year employee retention rate by 25%
• Be realistic. Setting unrealistic goals undermines employee and program morale. On one hand, internship program participants and supervisors should feel like they’re accomplishing something. On the other, setting attainable goals evidences progress to those who allocate funds.
Unrealistic goal: Build public perception of (startup) company as leader in field
Realistic goal: Generate two credibility building online mentions and two print mentions
• Be of value to intern and organization. It takes skill to balance what students need from an internship program with what the employer wants to achieve. But the way to accomplish equilibrium is simply to assess the value of each goal from both perspectives: Is there something valuable for the student to learn? Is there something that the company needs accomplished?
The caveat here is that every single goal may not meet the needs of both parties. Some goals are simply more student valuable, or conversely, more for the company. And this is fine. Just make sure to balance an employer-centered goal with a student-centered objective and vice versa.
Valuable to student: Be able to conduct an effective sales call
Valuable to employer: Organize backlogged employee expense receipts
Valuable to both: Research and evaluate potential social media platforms
• Be few in number. One of the most important elements of effective goals is that they are focused. Because interns can’t accomplish anything if they’re sent in too many different directions. So select only a handful of your most pressing goals. Although there is no set number, 10 at a time is too many. Four or five is much more doable.
• Be structured. Ensure that goals are structured by incorporating specific steps and a firm deadline. The deadline is particularly important, because without a formal due date, projects often get pushed back indefinitely.
The following format is one appropriate structure:
o Specific goal:
o Tasks to accomplish goal (how we will achieve the goal):
o Evaluation method (how we will determine the goal has been met):
o Deadline for goal completion (the date when we’ll evaluate):
Get more tips for appropriate intern tasks and work, from internships.com.
As you say, students should be setting goals… some of which will overlap with yours. But as an employer, you also have your own unique needs and objectives. Yes, you should be focused on student learning. But you also have projects and tasks to be completed, especially if you are paying interns.
There are a number of reasons for employers to set specific goals:
- Maintain focus. Setting formal goals ensures you don’t get distracted by daily duties and fail to keep your focus on the big picture.
- Provide a context for clerical tasks. Goals offer a framework for showing interns the importance of seemingly trivial tasks. For example, tracking competitor blog mentions takes on more relevance when the student understands how it helps them meet a specific goal (like learning about important industry players).
- Evaluate potential employees. You’re likely using your internship program as a pipeline for finding future employees. But without concrete goals, it’s difficult to determine whether—and how well—an intern has met your objectives.
- Write detailed recommendations. If an intern works hard, their reward will be a recommendation letter. Similar to the above, specific goals will provide a barometer for measuring intern performance and assessing (then conveying) strengths.
- Gain greater buy-in. For newly implemented intern programs, setting formal goals helps prove program ROI to senior staff members and decision makers. If your program has been running for some time, concrete proof will facilitate continued funding.
- Make program improvements. A successful internship program always strives to surpass itself. Setting formal goals ensures that your program doesn’t stagnate, by revealing your weak spots, so you can improve upon them.
- Finally, remember that employer goals should be shared with students and, like intern goals, worked toward together.
As an employer, most of your management issues probably center around students’ struggle to allocate time effectively: understanding deadline and commitment accountability, handling workload overload, and learning how to prioritize projects and daily responsibilities.
The following are some of the most common school-year intern time issues and solutions for overcoming the challenges:
1. Problem: Falling way behind on workload.
- Encourage open and honest communication. The primary reason interns fall far behind is they’re afraid to admit they’re struggling. By the time they are forced to fess up, so much work has accumulated that you have to clean up a mess.
The solution is to make it clear that interns should come to you when they start to get overwhelmed—rather than letting things spiral out of control (and thinking they’ll catch up later). Explain that it’s easier to delegate duties in the initial stages; also, you can alert others ahead of time if a deadline won’t be met.
- Teach how to communicate about time issues. It’s not enough to merely encourage interns to communicate with you when an issue first arises; telling them specifically how they should talk to you about timeline issues will make them feel more at ease. For example, should they send you an email? Schedule an in-person sit-down? Wait for formal meetings? Or simply call or pop in as problems develop?
- Put projects in context. When assigning new tasks, make sure you put them in context, priority-wise, with other projects. Instead of leaving an intern to fend for themselves about how they’ll fit something else into a busy schedule, explain, “This should be started after we wrap up X project, but before you begin work on Y.”
2. Problem: Missing specific deadlines.
- Explain the importance. Since most students don’t have formal work experience, they may not understand how their piece of the puzzle impacts the big picture.
Therefore, explain how simply being a day or two late on a deadline can create a domino effect… which can have significant consequences. Not only does this drive home the message about meeting deadlines; it also highlights the company-wide value of their (however small) contributions.
- Teach “promise only what you can produce.” It’s important that interns learn to identify and assert their own limits. Therefore, you should teach students to speak up if a project is assigned and they honestly don’t feel they can complete it in the allotted timeframe. Emphasize how it’s always better to under-promise and over-deliver than to leave someone in a lurch.
3. Problem: Skipping work for studies
- Advise planning ahead. As you know, internship attendance is excellent at the start of the semester. But when midterms roll around, there are suddenly a lot of “sick” days.
Your solution is to address the issue at the onset of the internship and teach students how to plan ahead. Stress that things will get busier during exams, but that they are still expected to honor their commitment to the company.
This might mean they anticipate increased academic demands and only take on two days a week from the start, or they may ask in advance for reduced hours during finals. Or, it may simply mean the student accepts that during exam weeks socializing won’t fit into their schedule.
The bottom line is that you’ve put a plan in place before either of you has to suffer repercussions.