Helpful pointers to achieving great outcomes from Interns

BY Joanne Mitchell |

Employers often ask us what they can do to ensure their intern has a really positive learning experience while adding value to the company. From our experience with 5,000 host companies, we've compiled a few simple rules that will help your intern become a valuable member of your team and perhaps even a future employee. 

You get what you put in

You need to invest some of your team's time and effort into the engagement to get good outcomes. This is no different than hiring a professional consultant. An intern needs a subject, a realistic objective, clear scope, face time with you or your team, organised data and documentation or feedback on findings, to add value. Like most things in life and business - if you invest the time, you will reap the reward. Interns respond well to support and interest in their experience. If you treat the engagement seriously, and invest in it, so will your graduates. 

Understand their drivers

Understand what constitutes success for your intern, and think about how that fits in with your own organisational objectives. Understand how much total time is required for a project, over what period it falls for your business (ie. peak or off-peak) and the time the graduate has available. This is key to set realistic expectations for your team and your interns. 

Project selection and preparation

Project selection is key. An external, smart but inexperienced graduate, with limited time to spend with your business brings strengths and weaknesses. They offer: 

  • Fresh thinking
  • No pre-conceptions
  • Up to date theoretical frameworks from their degree/disciplines

Avoid tasks that are mission or time critical. Projects that rely on deep expertise or business understanding are fantastic for graduates to learn about from observing. Try to allow your interns to add value on tasks like exploratory research or innovation, or precursors to work your team can build on, such as strategic review or business analysis. 

Preparation and clarity

Graduates tend not to respond well to ambiguity and they may not have any professional experience. Be thorough with the brief, encourage the students to ask questions and be creative. Clearly advise them on your expectations, the timelines they need to be mindful of and what they need to deliver. Provide examples. Give the intern some incentives if they are putting in the effort to do a great job. Time, attention, lunch, a reference or recruitment opportunities are excellent motivators. 

Project management

Encourage your PM to hold the graduate to account for their tasks. A project charter, well defined scoping, status reports, scope changes, sponsor briefings - all contribute to helping the intern take the project seriously and deliver outcomes. 

The intention is that your graduate is delivering a valuable outcome. Ensure someone on your team is overseeing the interns work. Check that the deliverables and supporting analysis are being handed over appropriately. 

Help them leverage the positives out of their experience and highlight what they've learned. Reflection is they key to experiential learning. Give the students some tips on how to reflect and process the experience. Let them know how important the experience they have just had will positively influence the rest of their careers. 

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