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Ten Tips For Managing Interns

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This summer, my company decided to go big. As we mapped out our goals, we decided to expand our usual (paid) intern program from 3-5 interns to 27 interns. And we succeeded in building a team full of smart, energetic people who were ready to contribute and eager to learn.

Hiring an intern team is a great opportunity to energize your permanent employees with fresh ideas -- but you have to be ready to focus those green students on productive tasks that are challenging but within their reach. We think we succeeded. Along the way we learned a lot about productively directing youthful energy (that's the polite term for herding cats) and motivating the entire team. Now that we've had a minute to catch up, here are our top 10 lessons learned:

  1. Value interns -- so that they feel valued. Help them understand company goals and how their activities contribute to those goals. Include them in team meetings and decisionmaking. Assign them mentors so that they have a non-supervisory authority figure to consult when they need help.
  2. Help them learn to manage their time. As students, they are the only one who suffers if they take ten hours to write a paper instead of two. As an employee of a business, they have a responsibility to use their time wisely. You'll have to help them learn how to budget their time.
  3. College students do not understand what constitutes "sexual harassment". What may constitute teasing in the cafeteria may be a fireable offense in the modern workplace. Provide specific guidance and examples to help them understand what's OK and what isn't. (There are a lot of great online training resources on sexual harassment in the workplace.)
  4. Don't look them up on Twitter. You really don't want to know what they do on the weekends.
  5. Cut losses quickly. Most of your interns will be fabulous. But if you're not careful, the ones who start with small problems will consume more and more of your time until you don't have time to spend mentoring the really productive ones.
  6. Set expectations explicitly. Make sure to make even the most mind-numbingly obvious expectations -- like no shouting -- very clearly from the beginning. For young people in their first job, they need help understanding how to behave in the workplace.
  7. Make sure they understand the difference between a parent and a boss. They may be accustomed to talking back to their parents or negotiating with their teachers -- but that doesn't work with bosses. Help them understand appropriate communication by giving them direct, honest feedback.
  8. Feed them. Whether it's pizza or giant jars of peanut butter, keeping food around keeps them around -- and happy.
  9. Bring the fun. Install a ping pong table. Organize group excursions. Give them prizes. Help inject energy and excitement to break up the work day. Help them develop personal connections with each other and their colleagues to develop team cohesion.
  10. Help them broaden their horizons. Make sure you provide personal development opportunities like resume-writing workshops and brown bag lunches with executives. Offer to make introductions to potential mentors when appropriate. Showing respect for their potential will help the feel connected to your company and your goals.
In summary, the key to building a productive and motivated intern team is to focus management resources on giving them the mentorship, resources and feedback they need to thrive. If you can commit to good leadership, your intern team will amaze you with their skills and achievements.