The blessing and the burden of the summer intern: finally, you have someone to help with all those odds and ends, those administrative details, the daily never-ending tasks and projects sitting unfinished since last summer. But you also need to figure out exactly what this bonus set of hands should be prioritizing, without getting bogged down in instructing, equipping, and supervising your intern so that the task is done right.
Fear not. Here’s a quick look at how you can make the most of that intern you hired back in the chilly days of winter so that you, your business, and your intern can all benefit.
1. Make a List of Needs
You can make this list before your intern starts, but it’s still worth doing even if you’re a few weeks in.
List all the specific tasks and projects that you could potentially hand off to your intern. Include repetitive tasks as well as bigger projects that you may not have finished (or even begun) just yet. Not all of these would be completely off your plate; big projects, for example, might require several folks working together, including the intern. But write down anything that needs doing.
To decide what is intern-worthy, and what needs to stay in your hands, first divide your list into two categories: tasks and projects. For task assignments, focus on the ones that are easiest to learn, so that your intern can quickly start working rather than spend a long time learning more complex tasks.
For projects, dream big! Many small business owners already have a long mental list of ideas and improvements; now is the time to give them attention. Then, narrow your list down based on practicality and importance. Note which projects you feel comfortable putting in an intern’s hands, and which can be easily divided among your intern, yourself, and your other employees.
2. Prioritize Projects
Reread your list with an eye towards projects that can be completed during the time period of the internship. It might be tempting to assign all the repetitive tasks you hate to your summer intern, but providing a balance between mundane tasks and interesting projects is key.
Assigning bigger projects can give your business long-term benefits. When you have your intern tackle a project or two, your business can benefit from them long after the summer is over.
Projects could include areas such as researching insurance, documenting your systems, creating and implementing a social media strategy, or systematizing your customer follow-up method. Ask yourself what projects are hanging out, unfinished, that would help your business. Your intern will benefit from having a real accomplishment during the internship, and your business will benefit from a completed project.
3. Be Specific with Assignments
Avoid vague, open-ended assignments such as, “do something with our social media,” or “get the office more organized.” You can’t expect a summer intern to read your mind. Instead, make sure each task or project is specific, with a defined goal, a limited scope, and clear due dates.
You should also think about the easiest way to teach each task or project. If you have a coworker who is an expert in a task, you may want to have him or her train your intern. You may also want to provide written instructions to equip your intern without having to wait for your instructions–and to know when they’re done.
4. Get to Know Your Intern
You might already have a good idea of your intern’s abilities and interests from the hiring process. But you might not. Now is the time to find out over coffee, lunch, or an informal meeting. Your business will gain the most by using your intern’s skills and strengths. So, talk with your intern to find the magical intersection: the tasks and projects on your list that match your intern’s skills and interests. Those assignments will be easiest, and most interesting, for your intern while providing the biggest payoff for your business.
If you get to know your intern well, you’ll be able to determine if he or she might be a fit for full-time employment down the line. That means you might one day have a new employee whom you don’t need to train!
5. Keep Communicating
This work experience is most likely new for your intern, and things that might be obvious to you and your employees may be brand-new to your intern.
Don’t assume understanding. Instead, provide clear instructions and expectations for each task or project and give your intern feedback on completed assignments. Check in regularly (weekly is okay; daily is even better) to avoid confusion or frustration. If you’re not available, assign someone else to answer questions and check in.
A summer intern can be a great help for a small business. When you are clear about the work you need help with, use the strengths and skills your intern brings, and keep communication flowing, you’ll have a great summer experience, and so will your intern.