How to Make the Most of Your Interns

Career Blog

Group of two coworkers working over laptop discuss in a modern office in the backgroundInterns have a different perspective on employment opportunities than traditional job seekers. While some, especially those close to graduation, might actively play the long-game in hopes of securing a position post-graduation, most seek a short-term experience that may ultimately be used elsewhere.

Specifically, interns are concerned with practical, front-loaded benefits and questions such as what can I learn from this 90-day assignment? How will it compliment my studies? And how will the experience propel my career and make me more attractive to employers when I graduate?

If companies want to attract the best of this niche candidate pool they need to tailor their message and expedite their recruiting process.

Know and Meet the Need

Interns don’t have time to sit on the sidelines while an organization churns through an antiquated, form-filled selection process. They expect quick hiring decisions and a detailed on-boarding process. This should be followed by an assignment that both teaches new skills and leverages their existing talents so they have an opportunity to shine. Sure, a hiring manager can pass on a modicum of grunt work to the newbies, but if you want solid players, you’ll have to provide real challenges, meaningful feedback, and an opportunity to learn from sharp people.

Successful hiring mangers treat interns like customers and set out to exceed their employment expectations. Some may think this is catering to “trophy kids”, but that’s nonsense. It’s marketing 101. You want to send them back to school raving about your company so they look to you after graduation. Remember thanks to a tight labor market “these kids today” have options. You have to sell them (and all new employees) on the company, the job, and frankly you as a manager/leader. To do that, have a clear, quick timeline for hiring decisions, assign them a strong manager/mentor, and set up rotational meetings so they can get a glimpse of other departments. Then give them a project meaty enough that it warrants a presentation to senior staff.

Forget the Fluff

Resist the urge to verbally water-board interns with a series of useless system presentations and irrelevant corporate messaging. You might be proud of your 100-year history, strategic vision, and new accounting system, but they don’t care. Remember this is a first date, not a 50th wedding anniversary. Share enough so they can do the work and then delegate a project with purpose. And while you’re at it, ditch the job description in favor of a simple assignment profile. Tell them what they’ll do and how it will improve their career prospects.

Show Them Off

Interns are typically assigned to a manager within a department, but this limits exposure. To enhance their experience schedule a series of informational interviews with other leaders. For example, if a student takes an internship in Human Resources, he or she should meet with those working in compensation, learning and development, staffing, and other related departments to learn more about what they do. This not only builds a network, it also helps the intern have a greater understanding of the department and its strategy.

Another way to grant exposure is to orchestrate an end-of-internship project presentation. This allows the intern to showcase the results they’ve achieved, ideally in front of a broader audience of potential hiring managers.


Finally, make time to provide interns with routine coaching and feedback sessions. This helps the manager by ensuring deliverables are met and helps the intern by strengthening the overall relationship. Once formed, these connections often continue on social media or actual real world working relationships.

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Be sure to check out my latest book The HR Guide to Getting and Crushing Your Dream Job and follow me on Twitter at @timtoterhi or LinkedIn



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