Each intern should be assigned to a mentor within your organization. The mentor may be a department head, project leader, or long-time employee who is knowledgeable about the project the intern will work on. The mentor's role should include some initial orientation for the intern, as well as developing an ongoing relationship.
During your intern's first day, his/her mentor might fulfill some of the orientation roles. Ideas include:
- Give the intern a tour of your facility
- Show the intern the location and use of office equipment (photocopier, fax machine, etc.)
- Introduce the intern to others in the department and organization with whom he/she will interact
Throughout the internship, the intern will look to his/her mentor first with questions. The mentor should be prepared to offer guidance on project tasks and responsibilities, including instructions on how tasks should be carried out. The mentor should also be available for general questions pertaining to the company or the industry, so the intern can learn from the mentor's experience. The mentor might also be asked operational questions, ranging from use of the photocopier to the location of a local lunch spot.
The role of the mentor should involve a commitment of time to the intern's experience. Suggestions include scheduling a lunch together on the intern's first day so that the intern and mentor can begin to get to know each other. Some mentors may choose to offer an "open-door" to the intern, and encourage him/her to stop by anytime with questions. Other mentors might prefer the structure of a regularly-scheduled weekly meeting, where the intern is encouraged to bring a list of any questions he/she might have from the past week. Either way, it is important that every intern knows that someone is available to answer his/her questions.
A mentor can be a valuable resource for the intern in many ways. During the internship, the mentor might provide input and evaluation of the intern's work products. Additionally, the intern is beginning to build his/her professional network, so a mentor might look for opportunities to include the intern in meetings or to introduce the intern to other company and industry contacts. Finally, after the internship has been completed, a mentor might offer to be listed as a reference on the intern's resume. The mentor should also be in a position to advise management of the suitability of a later employment offer to the intern following graduation.
Project Team and Intern Supervisor
The primary goal of each student in seeking an internship is to gain "real world" experience in his/her future profession. It is beneficial for each intern to be integrated into a department or project team where he/she will not only learn from completing assigned tasks, but will also develop a sense of the organization and/or industry "big picture." Part of the learning experience should be an opportunity for the student to see how his/her own tasks fit into the timeline and outcome of the project as a whole.
Integration into a department or project team can also provide the intern with an opportunity to refine teamwork and communication skills. Others in the team can provide guidance to the intern, not only about specific project tasks, but also aspects of professional work ethic and culture, such as time management, meeting deadlines, or managing interactions with a difficult customer. Team members can guide the intern in learning to overcome challenges and in learning from his/her mistakes. An intern can benefit greatly from the experience of others on the team.
Interns should be assigned to a supervisor, like any other employee. The supervisor may or may not be the same person as the intern's mentor-that will depend on your organization's size and work structure. The role of the supervisor is to assign day-to-day tasks, monitor progress, and evaluate the intern's work products or outcomes.
Meaningful Project Work
In addition to integration into a department or project team, attention should be paid to the assignment of meaningful project work. Your intern is not looking to spend the summer making photocopies or getting coffee. Rather, your intern wants a chance to build upon what he/she has learned through coursework. Your intern wants to learn to apply what he/she has learned to a "real world" project. This does not mean that interns should be exempt from occasionally stuffing envelopes with the rest of the team, but the focus of the internship experience should be devoted to meaningful project work. There are several elements of meaningful project work to consider.
Within the scope of your project, consider tasks where an intern will be challenged to apply his/her knowledge or improve his/her skills. Remember, your intern is here to learn and gain experience. Consider your intern's skills and strengths, and give your intern a chance to make a meaningful contribution to a project.
Goals and Milestones
Set goals for your intern's progress. You can help your intern set goals for completion of various tasks including daily goals, weekly goals, and monthly goals. If the intern is working on a project with deadlines, setting goals can help ensure that these deadlines will be met. Guide your intern in breaking down larger tasks into action steps and setting goals for completion. Set milestones so that the intern knows he/she is working toward something, and has a sense of accomplishment when each milestone has been achieved.
Your intern will likely be part of your team for the length of one semester- approximately four months. Keep this timeframe in mind as you outline tasks and goals for the internship. It might be helpful to assign the intern to a project that will start and finish within the time of the internship. Alternatively, consider whether there are particular tasks an intern could finish within a project with a much longer timeframe. You can help provide your intern with a sense of accomplishment if he/she is assigned tasks that will be completed by the end of the internship. Furthermore, your intern will benefit from having a "finished product" for his/her portfolio.