Posts tagged ‘intern management’

How can we help interns fit in?

If interns are to function as effectively as possible, they must feel some sense of allegiance to the company. Because if they don’t feel accepted, they simply won’t want to do their best.

Furthermore, in order to learn, interns must feel comfortable asking questions and seeking clarification. In order to feel at ease, they must believe they have allies in the rest of the team… or at least the loyalty of certain members.

So how can you help interns fit in? Put these tips into practice:

  • Set up get-to-know-you strategies. You should start by introducing interns to the rest of the team, preferably on an individual basis. Then, follow this up with an activity, like a team lunch, to welcome interns.

Or, you might schedule a group get-acquainted session: Here, the interns can ask employees for information on the company and culture; and interns can share the student perspective on current situations. This helps bridge the gap between interns and older employees by both allowing interns to receive information and feel valued for their own input.

  • Tell team members to make the first move. Encourage employees to make interns feel welcome by smiling and saying hello, offering to answer questions, asking about interns’ education and aspirations, and even inviting students to lunch. Explain how simple gestures like these mean a lot to new interns looking to fit in.
  • Assign non-supervisor mentors. Interns need an ally they can confide in without worrying about being evaluated. So even though they have supervisors, each should also be assigned a mentor—preferably one that’s somewhat close in age. This assures students there’s at least one person on their side, initiating them into the group.
  • Eliminate a competitive environment. Sometimes, particularly in start-up internship programs, entry-level employees fear that interns are being brought in to take their jobs. As a result, they are reluctant to help interns succeed or fit in socially.

The solution is to make it clear to employees ahead of time that interns are being hired to help them do their jobs more efficiently, not to turn paid positions into unpaid internship roles.

  • Consider a second (or third) intern. As evidenced by the pledge-class structure of sororities and fraternities, people transition more smoothly into a group when they have someone entering alongside them. This ensuing camaraderie is especially helpful if your team is intimidating: if they’ve been together for a long time or are extremely tight-knit.
  • Assign more than menial tasks. Students will likely feel isolated if they are working on only clerical tasks and coffee runs while everyone else is contributing to common, more critical projects.

This doesn’t, however, mean you must give interns only glamour jobs, or totally avoid assigning more menial tasks. Just be sure you balance the mindless work with more educational-based missions. Not only will interns learn more; they’ll have shared projects to talk about with the rest of the team.

October 12, 2010 at 9:41 am Leave a comment

Q. What incentives can I use to help our interns finish deadline projects on time?

by the Intern Coach

A. In the best of all possible worlds, your interns would be swept along in a wave of enthusiasm with your other employees as everyone worked together to finish deadline projects on time. However, this is not always the case, so you may need some innovative ways to inspire your interns. Here are a few tips:  

  • Please realize that your interns may not have developed the ability to work at an accelerated speed to finish a project and may not understand why such a goal is important. It’s up to the intern supervisor to mentor the intern, educating him/her on the details as to why the project is meaningful and what would be the consequences if the project doesn’t meet the deadline.
  • Incentives for interns can range from a free lunch in the company cafeteria to tickets to a baseball game or special dinner, where the company has a block of tickets. When your intern finishes a project on or ahead of deadline, you could recognize him/her in the company newsletter for outstanding efforts.
  • Some companies use a point system to reward interns and to help them establish professional work habits. For example, if your intern finishes a project, he/she would receive a certain number of points.  If he/she finishes it before deadline, the intern earns more points. Being on time for work deserves points, not missing any days scores points etc. At the end of the internship, the intern may have reached the gold standard in terms of points and be awarded a certificate as well as a cash prize or other remuneration.
  • If a deadline project is quite large and very important towards reaching the company’s bottom-line, then you might offer incentives not only to your interns but to your employees. You’ll find your intern will model the behavior of the other employees, so if your staff is highly motivated, your intern will probably be inspired to finish deadline projects on time, too.

June 23, 2010 at 10:25 am Leave a comment

Q. What if the student’s self-assessment of their performance isn’t in alignment with the company’s?

by the Intern Coach

A. If the student thinks he/she is not performing up to company expectations, but the company is totally satisfied with the student, that’s not a serious problem. You can simply assure the insecure intern that you’re very pleased with his/her work. However, if the student perceives that he/she is doing an excellent job while the company begs to differ, that’s a complicated problem. Here are some solutions to get everyone in agreement: 

  • The internship manager needs to compare the student and the company assessments to discover the discrepancies. After isolating the problem areas from the company viewpoint, the manager should devise a list of suggestions on how the intern can improve those problem areas. Also note any problems that the intern alleges with the company.
  • The most challenging step is sitting down with the intern and explaining the company’s concerns and how the intern can address those issues. First, select an area in which the student is meeting company expectations and compliment the intern on a job well done. Then, point out the areas that need to have improvement, emphasizing that the student will benefit by increasing his/her skill set.  
  • Be positive in your suggestions and phrase your sentences carefully. For example, instead of saying, “You aren’t getting your reports in on time, and you’re working too slowly,” try saying, “We’d like to see the reports in earlier; if you feel overwhelmed with other duties, we can lighten your load.”
  • Rather than blaming the intern with the word “you” for poor performance, you’re focusing on teamwork with the word “we” and the company’s desire to help the intern achieve success. It’s helpful for you and the student intern to set revised goals together, so he/she can take appropriate steps to improve performance.
  • After you have this conversation with your student, check in on a daily basis to see how the student is progressing in reaching the goals. Keep up a teamwork attitude, so the student feels supported in these efforts. By the next evaluation period, the company and the intern should be in alignment on assessments. 

June 16, 2010 at 10:58 am Leave a comment

Q. Is it permissible to survey the staff for opinions on an intern’s performance and attitude?

by the Intern Coach

A. That’s a sensitive issue. The answer is yes and no, depending on the pre-arranged guidelines governing the internship. The following suggestions may help you decide what’s appropriate in your organization.

  • Check the internship guidelines to see if a survey is listed as one of the methods to assess the intern’s performance. If so, yes, you have clear permission to survey the staff for its opinion. However, your organization may want to have the same ground rules for the rest of the staff, so the intern doesn’t feel singled out. How are the staff members evaluated?
  • If the survey is not described in written materials before the internship begins, then the answer is, in most cases, no. If you bring it up as an afterthought, the intern will be suspicious and think you are checking up on him/her. You might want to ask the department head or intern supervisor for his/her opinion before you make any decision.
  • The staff may or may not like to be involved in such a survey. Some members might find they don’t have the time to do a survey or that it’s a waste of their valuable time. Others might feel that they don’t know the intern well enough to participate in the survey. If you have several interns in the company or in the department, the staff may feel overwhelmed by the survey assignments, especially if they haven’t worked closely with the intern.
  • A word of caution: If you do a survey, you don’t have any guarantee that the results will be an accurate reading of the intern’s performance unless you customize each survey to relate to each intern’s assignment. Before you come to a decision, talk to the intern’s school to find out if staff surveys are the usual procedure or if they are frowned on by the career center. Then, proceed accordingly.

June 9, 2010 at 11:54 am Leave a comment

Understanding coaching in cross-cultural work settings

by Miguel Corona

The other day I came across this article on the Coaching Commons website, which asked the question: would knowing a person’s cultural history help you coach them? According to a new study featured in the article, understanding another’s culture can make a difference in effective coaching strategies. As shared by the study’s authors and by my previous posts, culture is an important element that forms a person’s identity. Hence, by understanding one’s culture, a manager or supervisor can gain a better understanding of their behaviors especially in a work setting. Given today’s multi-cultural workforce, the ability to develop employees by fully tapping and recognizing their talents is essential. 

In working with managers over the last year, I’ve noted that their biggest challenge in understanding cultural differences is not the different backgrounds, experiences, values, or languages, of their employees, but it’s in understand their own culture. Put differently, some of the managers that I’ve work with filter expectations and meanings based on their own experiences. This has the potential for creating a number of perceived dilemmas. How? By supervising employees or interns based solely on their own cultural perspective, a manager might assume it’s the employee that might be having an issue. Since managing an intern depends in part to one’s cultural perspective, a potential barrier to an intern’s progress might be related cultural differences rather than behavior. 

This is why my advice to managers supervising or coaching recent Hispanic college graduates has always been the same. Cultural awareness is not only about understanding your own culture, but also understanding that your culture will probably be different than the person you’re supervising. Furthermore, cultural awareness, especially in a supervision context, is more than realizing another culture might be unlike your own; it’s about learning to appreciate that other culture. Often times it’s culture that dictates your behavior – often times without you knowing. For example, it impacts the way you communicate, your body language, and how you manage conflict. By understanding that your culture influences your viewpoints and perspectives, you’ll decrease the likelihood of misinterpreting an employee’s behavior.

If you’re working with Hispanic interns in your organization, I’d encourage you to place a greater focus on understanding your culture as well as that of your intern’s. This is especially important if you’re in a supervisory role. I’ve hopefully explained why developing cross cultural awareness has much in common with building rapport in a coaching situation. For supervisors, it’s not only about understanding another’s culture but also about understanding their own.

June 8, 2010 at 11:06 am Leave a comment

Q. What should I do if our intern isn’t meeting the goals set at the beginning of the internship?

by the Intern Coach

A. The sooner you correct this situation the better. You have two main options:  (1) either help the intern reorganize or restructure in order to meet the goals, or (2) change the goals and reset new ones with the help of your intern to ensure that he/she can meet them. Here are some tips to help you decide which option is the better solution: 

  • Schedule a meeting with the intern’s immediate supervisor to create a specific list of unmet goals. Try to discover if there were any extenuating circumstances, such as the intern called in sick, the computer system was down, the necessary meeting was cancelled, reports were lost etc. Also, look for any personality issues that may be causing problems. Does the intern perform the work incorrectly because he/she doesn’t ask questions first?  Are the directions clear? Is the intern working too slowly or talking too much resulting in missed deadlines and unmet goals?
  • Now that you have one side of the story, set a meeting with the intern to explore the intern’s version of why goals are not being met. The intern may be unaware of the situation and think he/she is doing an excellent job. Or the intern may have been too intimidated by his/her supervisor to ask clarifying questions, not wanting to appear dumb or unprepared. If the intern is keeping a daily journal on work activities, ask him/her to share the journal with you, so you can assess the problem. You may discover that the intern is unhappy with the assignments, co-workers, supervisor, or even the company, which is compromising his/her performance.
  • Based on the information that you’ve collected from both parties, you may want to suggest a new set of goals that are compatible with the intern and the supervisor. If you do recommend new goals, don’t blame anyone for the failure of the first set. You may even want to ask the intern to create his/her own new goals, based on his/her knowledge of the company. You can be sure that these goals will be met since the intern has full ownership.
  • If you don’t want to establish new goals, you could assign a mentor to help the intern get back on track. The mentor could be a more senior intern or a junior employee that could empathize with the intern’s inexperience. Whatever you do, don’t fire your intern; you’ll only generate anger from the intern and confusion from the school. Everyone involved will appreciate your successful efforts in solving the problem—and goals will then be met.

May 27, 2010 at 11:23 am Leave a comment

Q. How can I tell my intern that he/she is talking too much to co-workers or exhibiting unprofessional behavior?

by the Intern Coach

A. You’ll be doing your interns a big favor by mentoring their business protocol. Most interns are comfortable in college dorm settings or in social situations with peers, but are inexperienced on professional behavior. Here’s are some suggestions to help them adjust to their new environment:

  • Whatever the issue, tactfully discuss it with your intern in private as to not embarrass them in front of co-workers. Preface your talk with a positive comment such as, “You’re off to a good start here,” or, “Your work is excellent, but there’s one way in which you could improve.”
  • Handle each issue separately. For example, if your intern is spending too much time talking to co-workers, explain that everyone enjoys talking to them, but too much talk is distracting and cuts into completing work on time. Suggest that your intern curtail office chat and arrange to continue conversations over lunch or after work. Building a social network is usually done off the company time clock.
  • Reinforce the idea that your intern has your support, creating a bond between yourself and your intern. Your intern will take well to your comments if he or she feels that you are trying to help them be more successful.
  • If your intern has a questionable habit, like loudly chewing gum or patting everyone on the back, or makes inappropriate office jokes, point out the intern’s errors. If possible, use the company rules and regulations handbook to support your comments, which will take the pressure off of you. The handbook takes the sting out of your constructive criticism because it relies on pointing on the standards for everyone.
  • When you try to restructure a negative behavior, make sure you balance your comments with statements on the intern’s positive behavior. And please don’t ask a co-worker to correct an intern’s inappropriate behavior. You’re the best person to resolve this sensitive problem.

May 18, 2010 at 1:29 pm Leave a comment

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This blog is dedicated to employers with a focus on how to hire and manage interns effectively. We will have a variety of experts who will share helpful ideas, tips and more. We invite you to comment, ask questions and share your experiences. You are also welcome to submit written contributions to this blog.

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