How can I best manage interns during the semester when they are also busy with schoolwork?
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.