What Your Millennial Intern Is Really Thinking


So you’ve decided to host your first intern on their Work Integrated Learning placement (internship). Fantastic! You are now getting involved in the training of the future workforce.

Something that is often forgotten by host company mentors is that a student is not like your typical hire. In fact, they are not a typical hire and are there primarily to learn. Often this is their first time to ever set foot in a professional workplace environment.

They’re also a millennial and will have certain hopes, dreams, fears and doubts that will likely be different to your own when you first joined the workforce.

After spending over three years working with recent graduates (with the majority being international students), here are some of their most common concerns. This is a guide on how to get inside their head so that you can really understand them and ensure that their Work Integrated Learning placement is a win-win for all involved.

1. I graduated over a year ago! Accounting fundamentals are like a distant memory. How am I going to know what to do?

Your student needs to be reassured by you from the beginning that they will be trained on how to do specific tasks. They may also need some guidance on how each task relates back to what they learnt in University. Encourage your student to take their textbook with them and each time they are assigned a task, direct them to relevant chapters in their textbook so that they can bring that learning together.

2. My mentor is so busy all the time. I’m only an intern. I need to ask them a question but I’m afraid to interrupt them.

A student needs to know when it is appropriate to approach you. In their first week, a good idea is to schedule in 30 minutes each week for a regular catch-up. This catch-up should focus on both technical skills and employability skills. Have they attended team meetings? Have they joined a team member for lunch?

Week one is also a good time to agree on a protocol for when they have questions. For example, step one is to Google it, step two is to ask a colleague (tell them which colleagues specific questions should be aimed at), and if all else fails, they should come to you but remember to check that they’ve already taken the suggested steps.

3. What if nobody speaks to me?

As a mentor, your role is also to inform your team of their shared responsibilities for looking after the student. Let them know a week or two prior that you will have an intern joining the team. It should be everyone's role to make the student feel welcome. Perhaps organising a morning tea for them in their first week would be a nice idea?

Team members should also be made aware that they need to inform you if there are any issues as soon as they arise so that they can be resolved. If you are partnering Performance Education Group to host your intern, our team is on standby to help and can intervene where necessary.

4. What if I make a big mistake? Will I be in trouble?

Again, sometimes mentors need to be reminded that an intern is not an employee. They are there to learn and observe. They should not be given tasks/ decision making responsibilities that should be taken by a senior staff member. Start by giving your intern simple tasks to complete then check in regularly on how they’re managing. The most important thing is to explain to the intern why they are being given simple tasks as some will jump to the conclusion that you don’t trust them and that their entire internship placement will be like this.

5. Everyone in the office is working late so I guess I should be too?

Interns should never be in the workplace outside of the times stipulated on their training agreement as it is an unpaid Work Integrated Learning placement. Many students will have study and family commitments external to their placement. Make it clear from the beginning that they are not expected to be there outside of hours.

6. I’m a qualified BA, I should be involved in the full process and at all client meetings. Why am I sitting in the office typing up meeting minutes?

Often a student may have very high expectations of what their Work Integrated Learning placement will entail. Be specific on what skills they need to refine before being given bigger projects. Give them the opportunity to attend client meetings in an observational capacity. After meetings, ask them what they observed. Ask them for feedback too.

7. Why am I being asked to do admin? Surely that’s someone else's job? I’m a qualified graduate!

If your intern is an international student, they may come from a culture where administration is only done by people without professional qualifications. You may need to explain that administration is a component of all roles in Australia. Maybe you could offer some examples of administration that you have to do yourself.

Explain to them why this is important and how it will give them a bigger picture of all components of their role. Give your intern a specific project or task to manage (within their capabilities) outside of the day-to-day tasks. Through doing this, they will learn time management skills and will have ownership of something from beginning to end.

8. Surely it’s okay for me to keep my phone on my desk and check in on social media updates throughout the day?

This will depend on the workplace. Your millennial student will be used to having their phone constantly within their reach and may not even realise that constantly checking it is inappropriate. Be clear with your policy regarding social media and when it is appropriate for them to be online (for instance lunch time only). You may even be able to tap into their social media savvy and have them make suggestions to your social media pages for instance during their internship placement.

9. I don’t know how to ask for a reference.

This is something student's Placement Consultants will guide them on but they can also be very uncomfortable about doing so. In their final few weeks, you should let them know if you’re okay for them to put you as a referee on their resume. Perhaps you could offer to write a LinkedIn recommendation for their profile? Part of this conversation should also include any areas they need to work on and praising them for what they have done well.

Hosting your first intern is an exciting and rewarding experience. We can help guide you through the process with your millennial intern from the first initial meeting to the end of the placement. 

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