School’s Out for Summer: Best Practices in Internships

In the United States, internships are a critical aspect of a CV or even a college application – from junior year of high school til the end of college (and again in grad school), students would put ourselves under stress to find the perfect ‘summer internship.’ These could be paid or not, in your hometown or far away, but for everything from getting into university to securing the first full-time job, these internship roles played a critical role in academic and professional progression. In Turkey, the idea of interns is less critical and less structured, but has increasingly gained momentum in recent years. To that end, a few best practices from hiring interns into your start-up:

1. Be welcoming. We know you are busy – there are a million urgent items so taking any time away from those almost seem like sacrilege. However, the first impression is the most critical. Make sure the team is aware of the intern’s background and role before they arrive; have a desk and computer ready; and be prepared to dedicate at least a day of you / your team to onboarding them. This investment upfront helps create a positive work environment for the intern, while also providing the team the opportunity to give brief updates on what they do and how the company works in their own words.

2. Treat them like a real member of the team. The intern should have a clear role – ideally with a workplan on recommended activities, as well as expected deliverables. I was very excited about an internship with a prestigious company, until I realized that my day-to-day role was an ad hoc list of odds and ends that my manager pulled together after I walked in that day. At smaller companies I’ve had the opportunity to roll up my sleeves and help drive real products and campaigns. Having a single clear project, with a timeframe and a deliverable, is most rewarding. The biggest driver of mutual success in an internship program is making sure both sides are getting value out of it.

3. Provide professional development. Related to the above, setting expectations is important, but giving feedback relative to those expectations is critical. Have a mid-program check-in (most internship programs were 8-14 weeks, depending on the industry and region) to see how the intern is progressing on deliverables but also to get feedback on the company, culture, and experience.

4. Assign a buddy / mentor. Having someone unofficial to ask questions ranging from “where is the bathroom” to “what is the company’s values” is a critical part of any successful internship program. Having a name and email address of one of my first “buddies” helped me ask the “dumb” questions – what time do I show up in the mornings? What’s the dress code? Someone asked me to do a write-up but what does that mean? – in a risk-free way. In return, the “buddy” gets light-touch exposure to mentorship. As I reflect on this, I am still quite close to several of my internship mentors and mentees from the past decade.

5. Take a bow. Close off with a final presentation, where the intern presents what they worked on, activities, end result and estimated impact, to a room of cross-functional management. I still remember the presentation I did at one of my internships as one of the most intimidating yet most fulfilling of my life; having to explain concepts that are outside of the audience’s daily scopes truly helps both intern and team realize what an expert that person has become. Follow this off with a final review on the intern’s performance – including acknowledgement of whether or not they will receive an offer for full-time employment. If you’re up for it, close off the internship program with a little celebration lunch or happy hour as a special “thank you”.

Don’t forget, anyone who has worked at your company is a potential “ambassador” – future recruits for months and even years will ask them about the experience for working at your company and whether they should apply to accept an offer. Having a successful internship program not only provides an opportunity to have a great answer to those inquiries, but also if done consistently, helps reinforce your culture and values across your broader team as well.

20 May 2016