Manager of color listens to intern ideas in the office
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3We’ve all heard the joke: interns are just gofers that laze around all day and never contribute. Assuming this is true—which, to be fair, it often isn’t—is this really the fault of the intern? Given how competitive internships are these days, why would they risk slacking off?

Just as noncommittal leadership can make for ineffective teams, it can also make for under-utilized interns. Interns are, in fact, an incredible resource that can seriously bulk up your team’s horsepower.

Here are three tips collected from GLOBIS MBA corporate mentorship partners and their interns. Go forth and maximize your interns’ potential!

Give interns the autonomy of a full-time employee.

The only difference between a full-time employee and an intern, says an Asahi Mutual Life Insurance manager, is that interns don’t have access to confidential information.

Yokogawa Electric Corporation (Yokogawa) agrees. A good manager will encourage the intern to utilize their areas of expertise and use constructive feedback to maximize improvement, just as they would with a regular employee. 

Not only will the intern appreciate your trust, but you may also find them working harder to prove worthy of that trust. Result: they’ll more eagerly follow your lead.

“I really enjoyed being given so much autonomy throughout my internship,” said Yokogawa intern Josephina Florendo. “I was able to apply the knowledge I gained throughout my MBA with full latitude.”

Sumit Awasthi felt similar benefits. “I really appreciated how [my manager] encouraged me, trusted me with tasks, and boosted my morale by showing me my work’s value.”  

By attending all the meetings and activities a full employee would, your interns will actually learn more, too. “I observed how [my supervisor] negotiated with partners and let each team member express their opinion,” says Natcha Kittimongkolchai. “This really showed me how people skills are essential for being a leader.”

It’s intern Tianshu Rosie Zhang that says it best, though: “Try to take the intern as your full-time employee, and he or she might prove you are actually right.” In her case, it’s true. She accepted a full-time position with her internship company, Oisix ra Daichi Inc., and explicitly stated her supervisor’s mature treatment of her as one of her reasons for accepting their offer.

Communicate a lot (especially about goals).

Some interns do their best when given pre-determined goals, and others flourish when asked to set their own goals. Regardless of which strategy you take, follow up about their progress regularly. This two-way communication is vital.

Once goals are agreed upon, managers from Yokogawa recommend talking through them in detail. From there, you should use daily communication about those goals to avoid big mistakes.

A manager from Asahi has similar advice: make time every morning for a quick ten-minute meeting. Confirm your intern’s achievements from the previous day, and approve their tasks for the current day.

Similarly, give them opportunities to communicate what they’ve done in their own words, and what they learned. This can be in the form of a presentation to the rest of the team or a report shared by email.

No matter how the intern is performing, follow up with guidance regularly. Guidance, not micromanagement. Your intern will appreciate your understanding the difference!

Make mistakes into learning opportunities.

Whether or not your interns’ mistakes become learning opportunities or bad experiences depends on your leadership. Guide the intern through any mistakes. Explain calmly what happened and why. Give them constructive feedback.

Yokogawa recommends that departments avoid high-risk situations by making all team members aware of the limitations of the intern—both the extent of their skills and what they’re allowed to do. Outside of that, make sure the intern is given appropriate and explicit directions before any task. And again, it also helps to make sure they understand the goal behind the task.

Remember, any consequences to the business are the responsibility of the manager, not the intern. 

And just because a task may be difficult for your intern doesn’t mean they won’t like it. Some people really thrive in a challenging environment. Intern Nil Postius says, “The liberty to work my own way on my project permitted me to understand myself better. I now know I can be useful even if the path is long and hard.”

Remember: you’re still learning, too.

Like any leadership skill, harnessing the full value of interns takes practice. Though they are there to learn, your interns are also chock full of valuable, up-to-date industry knowledge. Don’t be afraid to learn from them.

Experiment with how you use intern knowledge. Eventually, you’re sure to find a rhythm that’s right for your team and your goals. 

Are you an intern? Check out our article about being a stellar intern here!

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