I spoke to an employer recently who told me she had two interns this summer. Smiling, she told me, “One of them is fantastic. I wish I could keep her permanently. The other—not so much. I was ready to send him home after one week.”
The conversation then evolved into trying to answer the question: How do we end the internship well for these students?
August is upon us—and many of you have employed summer interns. It’s almost time to say “goodbye” and send them back to school. Do you have a good exit plan for these young professionals? Do you treat the productive ones differently than you do the immature, not-so-helpful ones? How do you best help them move forward? Let me suggest nine actionable items we can take with interns:
1. Speak in terms of their best interest—not your organization’s.
Often, interns confess that they feel like a piece of meat. They’re “cheap labor.” To be honest, that’s frequently how many companies see them. Before your interns leave this summer, why not meet with them and listen to them. Ask about their dreams. Then, respond in terms of their best interests, not in a utilitarian manner, where you only project how they can be useful to you.
2. Clarify the strengths you see in them and the likely context they’d best fit.
Once you’ve listened, have a list ready that details their personal strengths; one that communicates how they’ve added value to your organization. Often a student won’t see from your perspective and may have little idea what’s most valuable to the boss. Then, relay the most suitable contexts in which you can see them fitting. Help them see their potential.
3. Help them build a portfolio and offer them a reference.
Frequently, interns don’t know how to capitalize on the work they’ve accomplished in their summer internship. The employer can add value by helping them log in the projects and tasks they’ve worked on and how they can be added to a resume and portfolio for future positions. If you’re comfortable, offer your name as a reference.
4. Play the game: What’s it like to be on the other side of me?
This one’s fun. In order to allow for some 360 Degree Feedback, play a round of a game where you ask: “What’s it like to be on the other side of me?” Have them share first and then take time to share how it feels to be on the other side of their words and behavior. This can shed so much light on a young person who’s not self-aware. Your feedback may be the most honest, revealing evaluation of their EQ they’ve ever had. This is your opportunity to unveil any weaknesses you’ve spotted.
5. Talk about what they’ve learned and how they’ve grown.
Give them time in your meeting (or at a meeting they have with a colleague) to share how they have made progress in their experience and what they’ve learned during their internship. This is key to helping them process what actually happened. Get into details. Encourage them to write it down. Perhaps even post a blog about it.
6. Introduce them to some of your network.
One of the most important gifts I try to give our interns is exposure to some of my network. As a seasoned professional, I’ve built up a network of colleagues and friends. When I see an interest or a talent in an intern, I make an introduction to someone who’s doing similar work. They get to grill that person with questions and learn. It’s often one of the most energizing time for our interns.
7. Aid them in constructing a long-term plan.
If you have time, offering some aid in building a long-term plan can be priceless. The reason is—students often possess an unrealistic perspective on how quickly they’ll progress to an executive position or management. Your wisdom may save them not only from embarrassment but from feeling “remedial” as they launch their career.
8. Warn them about the realities of the gap between school and career.
This one is a second cousin to the item above. Students can have an idealistic view of how their college course has totally prepared them for the full-time position. While I can remain very positive about the need for higher education, I always communicate how different an eight-hour workday on the job is compared to a school day on the campus. I talk about the practical value of soft skills and EQ, vs. the classroom which measures memorization and test scores.
9. Celebrate during their final week.
Don’t let your interns leave without a proper send off. I believe a well-lived life includes times of celebration. Be sure and celebrate the contribution your interns made to your workplace. It’s healthy for the staff to show gratitude for the “cheap labor.”
Let me share a personal note. We invite three classes of interns every year at Growing Leaders—one in the fall semester, one in the spring and one each summer. If you know a college student who’s interested in leadership, encourage them to apply: GrowingLeaders.com/internship.