How to Make the Most of your Interns

Interns add value and offer a fresh perspective. If you scoffed at that statement, you may be of the opinion that interns are only useful for making photocopies or making coffee. Many companies view interns as such. An intern is usually qualified and has the capacity and ability to perform effectively within their role, however their inexperience may be viewed as an inconvenience.  However, the purpose of an internship is to equip an individual with the relevant skills, training and exposure to the company with the aim of developing employees who can add value and contribute to the attainment of the company’s goals.

Gaining a competitive advantage in the workplace is the priority of any and all organisations. Organisations that are not utilising all of their human resources, including interns, in the most efficient way possible, are throwing away valuable time, money and skills which are crucial in gaining a competitive advantage.

Interns may feel unsettled, nervous and unsure of themselves when they start in the world of work. In order to maximise the value of the internship process for both the intern and the organisation, the following are suggestions from the first hand experience of two interns in a consulting firm.

Induction & Onboarding

A scheduled induction programme is beneficial. On the interns’ first day, meeting the other members of the team, whether or not they will work closely, is helpful in making them feel welcomed and included.

The induction programme may include:

• Icebreakers

It is important that interns get to know the team. Allocate time for the intern to get to know the people they will be working with. The ice breakers can also be used to convey the organisation’s values and culture. For example: An ice breaker exercise whereby the individuals of the team stand up in response to their agreement with statements such as: “I am religious” or “I am a parent”. The responses to statements such as these may aid an intern in better understanding what is appropriate/inappropriate in the organization, as well as who may share similar interests to them. These statements can be used in amongst other funny statements that may be used as conversation starters.

• Clarity is power!

Roles and responsibilities should be made clear so that interns understand precisely what is expected of them and what they are responsible for in the team. Outline and clarify the contracts, as well as policies and practices with your interns. It is also important that they are given the opportunity to ask any questions and receive clarity on anything they are uncertain of. Be approachable.

• Equip your interns

Interns should be trained on any skills or programmes that they need to fulfill their job tasks. In training, it is best to assume the interns are unfamiliar with the programme or skill and thus train them in a very detailed manner. If the intern already has an understanding of the content of the training programme the intern can always advise the trainer on the level of detail they require. This may assist the intern’s training as they do not feel they have to ask silly questions. This also applies in terms of informal office “rules” such as the manager’s favourite coffee mug or how to use the scanner.

Employee Involvement

Interns may experience difficulties that limit their learning potential as a result of the attitude of other employees. A smooth introduction and learning process may be aided by preparing current employees that an intern will be joining the team. Although, some employees may perceive the intern as an inconvenience, keeping them from their own work, if employees are told what is expected of them in including and training the intern, the intern may be valuable to the organisation sooner. They will be equipped to help with the work rather than needing help in completing their work.

Meaningful work

Just as with any other employee, it is important that the intern feels that their contributions are valued. Accordingly, interns may feel trusted when given work that has relevance and that they and their manager view as important. This can also be conveyed to the intern by giving them some autonomy in their job tasks. Although interns are inexperienced and the manager may not feel they are ready to trust them to make their own decisions just yet, allowing the intern to decide on the format of a document or asking their opinion in relation to an important project makes their work feel more meaningful. If they perceive their work as meaningful, the intern may work more productively as they are committed and willing to make an effort.


The internship process may be improved by allowing time for feedback and follow-up sessions with the intern. Open communication should be emphasised as this provides the platform for the interns to approach the managers and address any issues that may be hampering their learning. It is also important for the manager to convey genuine concern, as well as support. The feedback session will allow the intern to address any problems they may be experiencing, as well as identify any areas in which they need more assistance. These sessions also allow the manager to give the intern feedback regarding their contributions thus far. The manager may also utilise these sessions to provide the intern with guidance on how to improve their contributions. These sessions also convey to the intern that the manager views them as valuable and provides them with an idea of their progress through the eyes of the manager.

Using these suggestions may assist the organisation in making the most of their intern and the internship process. They provide the intern with the opportunity to learn and develop their skills and abilities in an environment that facilitates learning according to the company’s values and performance requirements. This process can be used to ultimately benefit the organisation as the intern may be molded into an ideal prospective member of the organisation.

Guidelines for getting started:

• The purpose of the intern induction is to welcome, prepare and equip the intern to begin their work tasks and fit into the company culture
• Current employees should be prepared for the onboarding of the intern and they should be aware of and accountable for fulfilling their duties such as training the intern, setting up the intern’s office space and so on
• Employees should be open and receptive to answering questions posed by the intern
• The work that interns are required to do should gradually become more important and meaningful as their skills develop. This conveys trust in their abilities and reassurance that they are performing at the required level
• Following up with interns reassures them of their performance and provides them with pointers on where and how to improve

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