Managing Internship Programs

Managing Summer Interns? Don’t Make This Mistake

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It’s a warm day in June, and there’s a buzz circulating around the office: “the summer interns are coming.” A few months before, hiring managers across the office hired these current students with the promise of expanding their education and the potential to secure a full-time position.

Now the time has come for these interns to begin their summer adventure. There’s a quick mixer to build excitement, a stop by Human Resources, and finally, a warm welcome from their summer manager.

At this handshake, there’s a crucial mistake managers make that could haunt them all summer. It goes a little something like this:

“I’m so excited to be your mentor this summer.”

No one wants a “friend” assigned to them

As much as you want to be your mentee’s inspirational guide through the corporate jungle, you can’t make “mentor” happen. Those types of relationships grow over time, and can’t be dictated by a spreadsheet or an assignment from HR.

You’re their manager first. This may be the first time some interns experience what having a boss is like. Your success as an effective manager can leave a lasting impression on an intern’s growth and opinion of the company.

“Mentors” don’t make hiring decisions

If you’ve set the right tone for your intern program, participants know they’re there to contribute to the company by getting real work done as they essentially “interview” for a full-time role over the course of the summer.

Calling a manager a mentor can hide from interns that they’re being evaluated week over week. Blurring the lines between supervisor and mentor creates an atmosphere where employees can put their guard down. This posing risk for lapses in productivity that could impact company needs and lead to poor performance reviews.

Worst of all, it creates confusion for the intern when they don’t get return offers at the end of the summer and they learn the person posing as their “buddy” was also the person standing in the way of an offer.

Our advice: keep it simple

Mentorship is a powerful thing, and if all of your interns have genuine mentors, that’s phenomenal. Unfortunately, actual mentorship is too valuable for most people to luck into it through a coordinated HR pairing.

Putting a mentor/mentee expectation on the relationship with your intern isn’t authentic. If you see your internship program as an extended interview and not as a favor to a young person that could get them a job elsewhere — doesn’t it contradict with your internship goals?

Focus on being a good leader first, and let friendship follow.

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