I had the opportunity to manage an intern (and potential full time hire) during the last months of 2014. Here are some of the lessons I learned as a Manager & Mentor…
On Gaining Buy-In & Managing Expectations
- Don’t Forget to Check In with Stakeholders. They’re making the hiring decision.
Don’t wait until the end of an inter’s term to learn what others think/perceive of him. Their perceptions of your intern’s work influence their opinions on your intern and your performance as a manager. These opinions influence their final hiring decisions. Just like any project, make sure you define your stakeholders’ expectations before the intern’s term. Have them answer the questions: “What do you want to see from as a manager?”, “What do you expect from my intern?”. Then, throughout your project check in with your stakeholders and understand if you and your intern are on track to meet their expectations.
- Don’t Forget to Check-In with Your Intern. He is the ultimate stakeholder.
It’s not all business. It’s not all about you and your company. Remember, just like you and your executive team are assessing if the intern is an asset to the team, your intern is doing the same. He’s thinking about his future, his career goals, and trying to decide if your company is the BEST step in the right direction. Throughout your intern’s term, he will be exposed to your company’s culture. He’ll understand “what the work is really like”. This is where expectations meet reality.
It is your responsibility as a manager to check in with your intern and ask them about the soft stuff; the emotional stuff. Ask them if their experience is meeting their expectations. Ask them about how you could make their experience better. Ask them if they were to receive an offer, would they take it. Spend some time on gaining your intern’s trust so that he/she feels comfortable opening up to you and sharing their honest feelings.
- Selling Started Yesterday.
The selling doesn’t happen once you’ve given them the offer. It happens before they start and throughout the duration of their term. Once an intern receives a potential offer, their pretty much already decided about working with you or not. The responsibility of “selling” to your potential intern begins before they start.
Before they start, share with them all the “amazing growth opportunities” to be gained by working with you guys, and deliver on these during their term. On a personal level, make sure you set aside time for your intern to have fun and get to know each of the current team members. Building personal relationships with each of them will highly influence their decision to work with you or not. Finally, seek
- Align their Offer with their Interests.
People have many interests. Some short-term and some long-term. It’s important to make sure your intern’s day to day matches their short term interests. For example, they might want to participate in a sales meeting or a sales call. They might want to learn a bit more about how your product works and understand the product development roadmap. Also, dig deep to understand your intern’s long-term career ambitions. Where do they see themselves in 3, 5 years? What role do they envision? Whatever your offer, it needs to give them an idea that is it the BEST path to fulfilling their long-term career ambitions. Otherwise, it’s just a matter of time before your intern gets bored or uninterested in the work and starts looking for change. That change might be internally flexible, like a horizontal shift to another department; or might cost your company a great deal of time and energy invested in training and hiring your intern and filling that gap in the future.
On Improving for Later
- Your Intern’s Feedback Matters. It’s the most useful insight into you and your company.
Your intern’s feedback on their experience is one of the most valuable mechanisms in improving your internship program. You know why? Because it’s real. There’s a big difference between what you and your colleagues think of the “Amazing Internship Program” and “what the experience was really like”.
Throughout your intern’s term, get their feedback. What could have been better? What could have been funner? Ask them about their role and work. What did they think of their day-to-day? Did they enjoy it? If they were someone else’s manager, what would they do differently? Grab all these insights and translate these into opportunities to improve both the internship program and for you to improve as a manager.
This is the second set of lessons to share. Let me know what you think in the comments below!
Cheers till next time!