The summer is a great time to bring on extra help in the form of an intern. College students often are looking for employment opportunities related to their majors--or at least for some summer work.
An internship can be a rich opportunity for both of you. For students who might be unsure about their college major, it gives them the chance to learn more about a job area without making a long-term commitment to an employer. An internship also gives you, the employer, a chance to "test out" the intern to determine if you want to hire the student for a full-time job upon graduation. There's no long-term commitment on the part of the employer or the intern.
When it comes to hiring an intern, the process is similar to that of hiring any other employee, with two major exceptions. First, you need to have a specifically stated end point of employment. Also, keep in mind that the intern most likely won't be as qualified, skilled or experienced as a more seasoned employee would be. Nonetheless, you still should look for many of the same traits and characteristics as you would in any other employee: commitment, technical ability or potential ability, social skills, intellectual curiosity, eagerness to learn and work hard, willingness to accept positive and negative feedback, and the ability to follow instructions and complete a project.
How you manage interns will also be slightly different. Because the length of employment will be limited, you need to get right to the issues that will lead to success on the job. You need to explain the goals and the overall purpose of the tasks, the level of interaction with supervisors and managers, who else will be involved in completing the tasks, the skills necessary to accomplish the goals, your expectations for the final product, the milestones along the way, and the expected completion date. Above all, you'll need to quickly assess the intern's ability to perform the tasks. Identify the intern's strengths and limitations, as well as the amount and type of supervision they'll need to have a positive experience while achieving the goals you've set for them.
Even though the student's employment is limited, as an effective manager you should try to devote even more time to that person than you would to other employees. You don't have time to wait and see if the intern "turns around" or adapts to the work demands. Instead, you should intervene as soon as you observe less than optimal work performance. To avoid the intern feeling "picked on," discuss this management approach as soon as they start. This will help the intern better understand your intentions and actions.
The intern may even feel relieved when you step in and address any concerns because they may not have known a problem existed or maybe felt insecure about the task at hand. By speaking up sooner, you'll have a better chance of setting the intern on the path to success. If an intern's performance still isn't acceptable, you can always place them in another position more in line with their skills or terminate them, if necessary.
With all this in mind, before hiring an intern, determine how much time you could devote to the student. If it's not much, consider a less-strenuous position for them that would still teach them something about the business. It may not be exactly what the intern was looking for, but that's the reality of having a job in the "real world." Just make sure you're honest about the position upfront.
As long as the overall goal of acquainting the intern with the reality of your specific workplace is accomplished, the internship can be considered a success for both of you.
Dr. David G. Javitch is an organizational psychologist, leadership specialist, and President of Javitch Associates in Newton, Mass. Author of How to Achieve Power in Your Life, Javitch is in demand as a consultant for his skills in assessment, coaching, training and facilitating groups and retreats.