3 Steps Toward Managing Intern Success

Posted: May 7, 2013

Our interns mean a lot to us here at VisionPoint. We take great pride in giving interns a challenging learning experience as well as perspective on why the work they are doing is important. I’ve had more than my share of internships over my two careers, and I’d like to share a few tips I have learned to follow when managing interns effectively.

1. A sense of perspective

Internships act not only as an introduction to a profession but an introduction to how that profession functions in the real world. This statement seems pretty obvious, but many intern managers seem to overlook this. Giving an intern a list of tasks then critiquing their performance gives nearly an identical experience to a typical classroom setting. Most interns will have some knowledge of the principles they’re using on these tasks, and get plenty of classroom instruction. Before critiquing their accuracy, show them where these tasks originated from and where the final product is likely to end up. Give your interns an idea of careers that perform each task and reinforce why not just anyone that walks in off the street can do the work.

My first internship was as a Civil Engineering student doing site drainage calculations with an architecture firm. Before I put you to sleep talking about the specifics, I worked in a group with mostly landscape architects, who work closely with Engineers in their designs. My intern manager, a Civil Engineer, gave me plenty of tasks relating to engineering design and calculations and feedback on my skills, but failed to show me the big picture and relate the work I was doing to the other Landscape Architects in our Division. I feel this exposure would have given me a greater appreciation of the impact of the work that I was doing.

2. Answer questions

It’s tricky to maintain a good balance of independence and mentoring with your intern. Because each person has different goals, they can expect different levels of attention out of their managers.  I’ve found that the frequency and subject of the questions interns ask can guide not only the time spent mentoring, but the preferred method of receiving the information. For example: as a web developer, a google search can be my best friend. I introduce this best friend with a couple of keywords to interns that ask the how type questions to give them some independence in looking up answers, while still maintaining the guidance of a mentor. If they’re asking the where or when type questions, I’ll show examples I’ve come across in my work as well as how often the problem they’re having surfaces in typical projects.

Another internship I had involved testing materials to ensure they met strength and durability standards. My manager made himself available to the three interns throughout the day every day, not only answering our questions but as he completed his tasks, he brought us in to show us the work he was doing and what impact that was making on the project it was for. Even though I’m sure this lengthened his day considerably, I respected him for the experience he gave us.

3. Become part of the team

My most recent internship was here at VisionPoint Marketing. I had just switched directions in my career from Civil Engineering to Computer Science, and I dreaded the disjointed feeling I had in my previous internships. I didn’t want to sit by myself while the hustle and bustle of the workplace swarmed around me. Instead of being cast aside however, I immediately felt as though I was on the same level as everyone else in the office. I felt involved in everything from office culture to client relations, and a true part of the team.

Maybe we’ve been lucky here at VisionPoint getting great interns that fit well into our culture. I like to think that we help this along by including interns in everything we do. One great way to do this is asking questions. When I say this I don’t mean quizzing them, but asking the same kinds of questions they ask us. What do they think of the work that I’m doing? How would they go about solving the problem I’m facing? Who knows, they might have a better way of doing it than you were planning!

How have your experiences as interns influenced your career? Let us know in the comments below.