Preparing for your Intern’s First Day

It’s finally come – your intern’s first day! This can be a trying time both for the intern and the company that’s welcoming them, but by taking a few steps to get your ducks in a row, it can be smoother than you think. Let’s review a few key ways you can prepare for your intern’s first day.

Get the Essentials in Place

The first step is to ensure the intern has a place to work and the things they need to get their work done. There are many internships that start out without these key essentials, typically because the company plans to have the intern shadow other employees and doesn’t realize the value of the intern having their own work space, computer, and other essentials, and the result is often a daily scramble to find the intern a place to work.

Communication is Key

While there are of course key differences, there are also many similarities between internships and hiring full-time employees. One way they’re virtually identical is in the need for open communication. If you’re dealing with an intern who’s never had a job before, they may be afraid to speak up or ask questions. Be open and invite them to share their insights. This is the best way for you as a company to get the most from your intern’s energy and new ideas, and the best way for your intern to have an overall positive experience.

Define the Work to Be Done

Many interns who’ve had less than stellar experiences say that their biggest issue was not understanding what they should be doing. If you have specific tasks you’re planning on assigning to your intern, then make sure you’re clear about them. On the other hand, if you’re planning a day where the intern shadows someone to learn the ropes, then be clear with the intern that their job that day is to simply observe and take notes.

Talk to Your Staff

Most companies will let department heads know that an intern is on their way, and of course employees within the department the intern is assigned to will also be aware, but too often issues arise because other employees didn’t realize that the new face was an intern. They may think a new employee has been hired and they weren’t given the opportunity to apply for the position, which can easily be avoided by simply announcing an intern is on their way.

Remember Your Role

Interns often walk into their internships with a clear idea of what they’d like to learn, and you should have a clear idea of what you have to offer as well. Remember that at the end of the day, the purpose of an internship is to give interns valuable insight, experience, and education. While this can pertain to the specific work you do, it can also pertain to holding down a job in more general ways. For example, if you’re working with a college-age intern who’s never had a professional job before, then they may simply not understand concepts that are a given for professionals. For example, an intern who shows up a few minutes late every day may truly not realize that this isn’t acceptable in your work environment.

Preparing for the big day can be as simple as jotting down the most essential things you want your intern to walk away with, or it may be as involved as ordering a new computer and desk. It’s always true that a little planning creates a smooth experience for everyone.  

What interns aren’t telling you about their internships

As a business that works with interns, you’re doing a great thing by giving hands-on experience to a student, youth or unemployed adult in Rhode Island. That said, there may be some things that your interns aren’t telling you, and if you don’t know about these problems, you can’t take steps to address them.

Here are some things that interns may not be telling you when they participate in your internships in Rhode Island:

  • “I’m not getting the experience that I need.”  Your company and all of the business that it’s doing is certainly important, but don’t get lost in the trap that it’s too important for an intern to tackle. The days of having your interns staple papers and make copies all day long are well on their way out. If you take the time to let your interns in on the actual work, there are several benefits that can come about. For starters, your return on investment (whether it’s time or money) will be much better when your interns are producing actual work. Additionally, allowing your interns to take ownership of tasks and projects helps to facilitate growth and contributes to better morale. In return, your company will be known as one of the quality internship providers in Rhode Island, and the reputation will help you attract better talent in the future.
  • “I’m not always who you think I am.”  Traditionally, interns were in the younger working generation. If the first people you think of when you think of when someone says “intern” are 20-year-old college students, those are absolutely great people to add to your applicant pool. But there are also some non-traditional interns that can offer you their own unique skill sets, which come from having already been in the work force for a while. Often times, individuals that are mid-career and looking for a change will make great interns. Keep in mind that these applicants have their own real-world work experience that they’ve gained through past employment, and they might be able to contribute value to your team that you otherwise may not be able to find with less experienced applicants.
  • “I’m not making ends meet.”  When it comes to internships in Rhode Island, many applicants aren’t going to look solely at paid internships, but if there is a paycheck associated with the internship, it will definitely attract attention. While your business budget is a vital part of your plan, so too should be employing quality staff members. If you can find it in your budget to pay your interns, they’ll likely be appreciative and respond well. If you’re offering internships in Rhode Island that have to remain unpaid, think about offering other perks that can attract top quality talent to your company. If your interns are in unpaid positions, it’s highly likely that they’ve sought part-time paid positions elsewhere to help make ends meet. Try to be mindful of this, and be flexible with hours whenever possible so your interns can earn their own money while helping your business make money, too.
  • “I’m overqualified.”  Remember, they’re not saying this to you, so this isn’t necessarily a negative thing. If you have “overqualified” interns, put them to use!  Who ever said no to a team of great people, right?  If you have interns that have great skill sets in certain areas, allow them to explore and enhance those areas while they work with your regular staff members and teach them what they know. Overqualified interns can turn into stellar full-time team members when the internship has ended!

Finding the right talent: Getting past the skills gap

Finding the right talent for your company can be a real challenge in today’s economy. There is a very real gap between the soft skills that are taught in schools and the hard realities of working for your company. Whether you are in high tech, manufacturing, or the hospitality industry there is bound to be a specific skill set that you cannot do without. Yet, all the HR departments and recruiters in the world never seem to find enough people to fill these crucial positions. There is one tried and true way to acquire the talent that your company will need in the future, and that is to grow it yourself.

Although internships are a traditional way to acquire talent from the college ranks, there is an internship skills gap to overcome that is as severe as that of potential employees.

Successful Internships

It is possible to overcome the internship skills gap. To be a successful for both the intern and your company, internships must be:

  • Carefully monitored
  • Comprised of meaningful work
  • Be designed with a concrete goal that can be achieved or failed

A successful internship is meant to produce an employee that is ready, willing and able to be hired to entry level positions in the company. There needs to be a balance between the personal goals of the intern and the organizational needs of your company. Although some interns will be satisfied with college credit and will move on to different career goals, the aim of your company should be grooming candidates that are likely to make your company their primary career goal.

Finding The Right Intern

There are different sources of internships that you should consider when trying to overcome the internship skills gap, weighing each against the needs of your company:

  1. High School – Although some think that high school students lack the requisite maturity to be a successful intern, adding these individuals to the pool may increase your chances of discovering a truly talented individual who could be an asset to your company.
  2. Undergraduate – The most popular source of interns, undergrads are often exactly where you want them to be in life to make the most out of an internship. 
  3. Graduate – Grad students or recent grads often lack meaningful experience and are aware of this fact.  Your internship is often they only way they have to get their foot in the door, but they also have living expenses that may force them to take paid employment elsewhere. Take the time to consider paid internships for individuals with high academic achievement.
  4. Career Changer – This is often an overlooked candidate, but hard working individuals that wish to transition into your field mid-career can often be your best chance to overcome the internship skills gap

Problematic Internships

Not all internships are mutually beneficial. Interns are not intended to be free labor; rather they should be enrolled in a short term learning program designed to identify, evaluate, train and hire future employees. 

Internships should not:

  • Be idle positions where no real results are expected 
  • Replace positions that should be assigned to a full time employee
  • Be composed of more than 20% of non-specialized work like covering phone or filing

The internship skills gap doesn’t have to be insurmountable. Internships may just be the ideal fit for your company, providing you with talent for the future and developing your future leaders as well.