Five Rules for Managing Your Interns

By 1stFive Archives
Cover image for  article: Five Rules for Managing Your Interns

Welcome to the first issue of the new weekly HookedUpGen Insight, for, by and about Internet Natives and their emerging role in media, marketing, advertising and entertainment. Follow us at @hookedupgen and at www.hookedupgen.com.

1. RECOGNIZE HOW IMPORTANT YOU ARE TO THEM AND HOW IMPORTANT THEY ARE TO YOU

Today's interns are Internet Pioneers -- the first to spend their whole lives with the Internet and mobile as an embedded part of their lives. The Internet is the defining influence on Internet Pioneers, and they are hooked up to and dependent on the Internet for managing almost every aspect of their lives. They'll eagerly embrace the latest apps, innovations and technological advances that simplify and enhance their connectivity, yet just as quickly reject companies, products and services that are overtly marketed to them without demonstrating a clear value. The chasm between pre- and post-Internet generations is a wide one. Most of your interns, because they straddle both, are part of a special group that has grown up in the 21st century-connected world but remain encumbered by the baggage of the 20th-century world they are inheriting. Taught in an environment that promoted individual expression, these young adults aren't satisfied to sit back and let others tell them what to think or how to feel. They have voices and they want to use them. And an explosion in the world of social media has allowed them to do just that. They're bringing with them into your organization an expectation that their opinions and knowledge will be valued. Unlike older Millennials, they have grown up recognizing the economic, social and political challenges ahead. Far from being entitled, they embrace work and are focused on their careers and future. You are probably the first "boss" they have in their careers and your actions and management style will have a lasting impact. Your interns represent the first in a wave of Internet Natives who will be joining your company over the next several years. This year's interns offer a window through which you can view your future workforce.

2. EMPOWER THEM

Your interns may not understand (or accept) your traditional corporate organization chart, power structure, or functional silos. They have grown up online – where they have equal access to authority and have an equal voice. They have learned to take the initiative, make decisions, reap the benefits and rewards of their actions as well as face the consequences. They expect to share responsibility as your equal, while relying on you to guide them through the maze of traditional hierarchies that they simply are unable to either comprehend or effectively function within. While they are willing to perform entry-level tasks, they are competent and can be much more valuable to you when you empower them to take responsibility and contribute to more meaningful projects and learning opportunities. Create opportunities for your interns to meet others in your organization, and assure they have an opportunity to meet with and engage directly with senior corporate executives. As much as you can, allow interns to engage with and learn about all aspects of your company and build many relationships. If possible, allow interns to join you at external meetings, events and industry gatherings.

3. THEY ARE YOUR MENTORS

Your interns are there to learn and gain experience. They also bring to you and your organization a far greater understanding than you have of social media, mobile, digital trends, technology and emerging culture. Even if you're young, they've grown up in a world far different from yours. They represent a tremendous opportunity for you and your company to learn their view of business, their perspectives on your organization and your customers, their ideas for more effective management, their guidance on using social media and digital technology to more successfully achieve your business goals and objectives. Allow them to mentor you on how you can best provide a valuable summer program and positive work experience for them. When you seek their opinions, listen to them and be open to them. Share your knowledge and experience recognizing that it's your role to guide them and educate them. Think of them not only as interns, but as apprentices there to learn and prepare for the future. Ask for their input on your projects. Assign them well-defined responsibilities and give them clear goals. Engage them in your projects and activities so they understand the context for their own work and can contribute to yours.

4. RESPECT THEM AS INDIVIDUALS

Meet each intern individually and, if you supervise several interns, meet with them regularly as a group. If you do manage more than one intern, treat them equally. If you socialize with one, socialize with them all, and always maintain your professionalism. Seek their feedback and ask how you can support them more effectively. Listen to their goals. At the beginning of the internship, ask them their expectations for the summer; follow up during the summer to discuss if their expectations are being met, how their objectives might have changed, and what they'd like to do less of, more of, and differently. Give them an opportunity to soar on their own at least once during the course of their internship by taking ownership of a project. This group of young adults has a very clear sense of their own place in the world, but as they enter YOUR world and the corporate world for the first time, your actions and style will be watched and noted. Recognize they have grown up in an online environment of equality and fairness. Do not engage in any form of overt or unintended sexism, favoritism, bias, partisanship, or inequality. Embrace and support diversity. Whatever cultural baggage you and your organization may carry, view that culture through their eyes and be respectful of them. If this is your first experience working with an intern, let them know you are learning just as they are.

5. BE HONEST AND MAINTAIN YOUR RELATIONSHIP POST-INTERNSHIP

If there are issues that you believe are preventing you from having a positive experience with your intern(s), and/or if your intern is performing or behaving in ways that are not in the interests of your company or his/her best interest, it's your responsibility to communicate your concerns. But unless you're very well trained in corporate human resources, seek the guidance and involvement of your HR team before engaging in those conversations. Criticism should always be constructive, positive and supportive, and problems should be addressed as opportunities and learning moments. As the internship winds toward the end of the summer, consider taking your interns for a social gathering and invite others in your company to join you. Hopefully, your company will agree to underwrite this. Before their internship ends, review with your intern(s) their resume and social media presence. Share some career advice and ideas for future career moves. Ask their plans and how you can support them. If you are inclined, write them a reference letter. To continue the relationship post-internship, extend a LinkedIn invitation and be sure you have their contact information and that they have yours. Sit with them for an exit interview, and always end their experience with you and your company on a positive note and with a supportive comment.


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