In my experience, and thanks to some feedback from current and former students, college students appear to want a boss who has the following characteristics.
"I want a boss who ..."
1.) Is specific
Okay, I know this sounds weird, but follow along with me for a second.
As a former college student, I can attest that one of the most anxiety-inducing things in the world is going into a job or internship without knowing exactly what you're supposed to be doing. That's where this type of boss comes in.
A so-called "specific" manager (as I'm calling it) will lay out the goals they want a student to achieve, both in the long-run and short-term. This doesn't mean that the boss has to hold the student's hand the whole way.
In fact, a manager can simply instruct the student in creating their own goals (in conjunction with the manager's needs, of course), so the young worker can have some direction and more efficiently achieve exactly what is most required.
Overall, many college students I've spoken to agree that providing clear and regular guidance is one of the most crucial actions a boss can take to achieve an efficient and happy workplace.
2.) Doesn't get involved in office politics
I think the only thing worse than what I said before (that is, entering a new job unsure of what you're supposed to do) is going into a job and immediately getting bogged down in nasty office politics.
We've all had that experience: Boss A doesn't like Boss B so if you associate with A then you're disliked by B, or Coworker Y gossips about Coworker Z and makes for an uncomfortable atmosphere, etc.
Nobody enjoys working in such an awkward and emotionally charged situation, and students just getting their first taste of the job market especially don't want to have to deal with longstanding office grudges or mercurial bosses.
So, a boss that holds him/herself apart from office politics and can rationally instruct a student is a true gem.
3.) Is respectful of me and my time
This one's a biggie. College students often have busy academic schedules that they can only partly control -- sometimes specific classes are only offered at certain times, for example -- so having a boss that understands and works with that timeframe is crucial.
If a manager is constantly keeping a student late or demanding too much of their personal time for work, there's a problem.
Respecting a student's time also includes making some allowances for the amount of time he/she takes to fulfill tasks. While a boss doesn't need to grant their young worker an exorbitant amount of time compared to normal, they should understand that students usually lack experience and so will naturally take longer to accomplish some duties than a more seasoned worker.
Savvy managers can help alleviate this longer timeline by providing clear instructions and encouraging questions.
4.) Provides quick feedback
After receiving specific instructions (#1 on this list), getting prompt feedback regarding a student's finished work is next in importance. Fast feedback is especially important when a student is first learning how to do a task, since granting quick corrections when a task is still fresh in a student's mind is the best way to ensure they remember how to complete it correctly.
Positive feedback in particular is also good for a student's morale and can encourage them to be more productive instead of hesitant to take the initiative, which is a trait many workplaces highly value.
Therefore, a boss who makes a point of providing prompt feedback, whether that consists of constructive criticism or praise, is invaluable for getting a student ready for their future jobs.
5.) Follows through and keeps their word
Many students I've spoken with value the previous four characteristics on a professional level, but actually hold this fifth trait high on a personal level.
This is because an employee doesn't like to feel betrayed if their boss doesn't keep their word or support them, even on minor issues. Such an occurrence can sour a student's perspective about the workplace and their potential future managers.
For instance, if an employer promises to support an inexperienced student on a project but then throws them under the bus in front of their own superiors when the student makes an honest mistake, the relationship between the manager and student often descends into resentment and distrust.
Or, to go back to trait #3 on this list, a boss should be careful to fulfill their word if they say a student can leave for the day at a certain time. This is a minor example, but in general, going back on one's assurances makes a boss appear unprofessional and indecisive.
6.) Is organized
I think we can all agree that a disorganized boss is more of a burden than a help. After all, if a manager can't keep their own responsibilities in order, it's nearly impossible to help an employee (especially a young one such as a student) do the same, which results in an inefficient and oftentimes stressful work atmosphere.
And like I said before, if a student's manager isn't able to provide clear instructions and expectations because they themselves can't pinpoint what they need, it's the student who suffers the most.
7.) Has experience
This one may be the most obvious on this list, but having relevant experience is a job requirement for most managerial positions for a good reason. Like having a boss who's disorganized, an untrained student working under an inexperienced boss is a similarly perfect recipe for disaster.
So, if a boss knows they don't have the specific expertise necessary to best advise the student, the kindest gift they can give the student is the mentorship of a different manager or coworker who does have that skill set and the capability to teach it.
And in my experience, I've respected managers that I've had much more (and learned a good deal more) when they could admit they didn't have the time or knowledge to teach me and instead delegated the task to someone who did.
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