How to be a Good Boss to Your Intern

May 9, 2012

This is a guest post on best practices around social networking from Nicole Williams. For similar posts check out our series on networking tips and tricks here. – Ed.

I’m guilty of this myself. When the summer months approach and I have more work than I can handle, I consider hiring an intern. I know there are students out there looking for an opportunity to build their skills, but instead of just putting out the call, I end up oscillating somewhere between: I could use the support, but sometimes it feels like it's more work to train them than to do it myself - and on top of it all, I’m not sure I’m going to have a full-time job for them at the end of the internship.

In reality, taking on interns does require investing your time and energy, but it will pay off in the end.  Here are some easy steps to help you take advantage of them so that they can take advantage of you by getting the skills they need to land a job… even if it’s not with you in the end!

Get to Know Me: This may very well be your intern's first “real” job experience (not including bussing tables and working the school newspaper.) They'll most likely feel shy, a bit out of place, and somewhat intimidated. They don’t want to make a mistake, and they don’t want to talk out of turn. So, how do you break the ice? Take the time to actually get to know your intern. Kick-start the process by checking out their interests on LinkedIn. Learn about where they went to school, their hobbies and past experiences. Creating a rapport with them will open up the lines of communication and make them feel more at ease, which in turn will make them more skillful workers. If they don’t have a thorough profile, give them pointers on why it’s so important and how to use this internship to continue to build it out so at the end of the term they are walking away with a solid, employee-enticing profile. Use yours as an example by highlighting your word choice, skills, and specialties. Then, make sure they were paying attention by giving them some LinkedIn-related homework: personally connecting with 50 contacts and completely updating their profile.

Lay it on the Line: If your intern is a college graduate looking for a full time gig at your office and you don’t have one, then have the talk - no matter how much you might want to avoid it. Let them know there aren’t any full time jobs available for them at the moment but ensure they know this news is not permission to slack. If you don’t have a job for them don’t feel guilty about it but make sure they are walking away tangible skills and real-world work experience that will land them a full-time gig. I’d also encourage them to use this time to prove that there is a job here and they are the one to fill it. If you give your intern (legitimate) hope of earning a full time position, then they’ll work harder. Here's another task to give to your intern that'll help you know if they have what it takes and support their full-time working venture: instruct them to follow competitive companies on LinkedIn. This is essential research for you and it will also help them keep an eye out for a full time opportunity.

Get to Work: Now that you’ve had the ‘get to know you’ and ‘expectation’ conversations with your intern, it’s time to get down to business. Think about all the tasks that you could put on their desk that’s been cluttering yours. Be very specific about what you’d like them to do.  Once they’ve mastered those tasks, research what types of skills and specialties they list on their profile that could come in handy at your firm. Are they proficient at HTML? Can they work Photoshop? Manage your social media groups? Put those skills to use and let them spearhead a project. But make sure you let them know when they’re doing a great job. Getting positive feedback will give them the confidence to work hard at any task - and win even more of your approval. But remember, since it’s your intern’s first introduction to an office atmosphere, they may be extra inquisitive, which could halt your own work flow. Combat this issue before it starts by introducing your intern to LinkedIn Groups and Question & Answers. By doing so, you’re letting them know that it’s OK to ask for help from other industry professionals - something that's especially useful when you can't devote all the time that's necessary for answering their questions.

When to Say Goodbye:  The worst thing an employer can do is keep an internship going with no end (ie: pay) in sight. If they really have done a stellar job for you, have learned everything they can in the context of this opportunity but you just don’t have the resources to hire them, then flat out let them know. Encourage them to seek a new gig that pays. Write them a stand out recommendation, highlighting all the great projects they’ve worked on and how much they've helped the company's bottom line. Reach out to your network to see which of your contacts might be a good fit for them.  Sit down with them and give them a tutorial on how to effectively network and search for jobs on LinkedIn - a tool that they'll need to master no matter what job they end up taking.