4 tips to help your interns succeed

Getting them up and running right away is a good first step. Then check in with three evaluations, and establish protocols for project updates.

Each semester I mentor and manage a team of four public relations interns. Through trial and error, I’ve developed an internship program that enables students to get the most out of their experience while being sure they add value to our office.

Here are my tricks and tips to helping these fledgling PR pros earn their wings:

1. Alleviate first-day boredom.

I remember sitting at my desk alone for the first few hours with nothing to do at one of my internships. For the past three semesters, our interns have marveled at how we threw them in immediately—sink or swim.

On the first day, our interns go through an orientation. I review the basics, show them examples of the work they’ll be doing, and give them a full tour of the office. We also skim the internship guidelines, a 10-page document with almost all the information they need to get started. The document is updated each semester to pre-address issues I see with each batch of interns.

I also have three easy starter assignments for the interns on their first day:

  • Self-evaluation: Using the same criteria we use in their midterm and final reviews, the interns rate their skills. This helps the interns see the areas we’ll be evaluating and gives us a comparison for skill growth at the end of the internship.
  • Goals: I ask the interns to establish three to five goals related to skills or projects. This helps me assign work that fits their interests and ambitions.
  • Writing: To help the intern learn more about our writing formats and styles, I have them complete a news release about themselves and a feature story about another fellow intern. With these assignments, I can point out common errors and issues.

2. Ensure growth through mentorship.

One-on-one conversations can be immensely helpful to a young professional, so I implemented monthly mentorship sessions to aid in professional growth and networking. Often, the first mentorship session will be with me at the local coffee shop. I also schedule lunches with our vice president and encourage the students to attend professional development events with me.

3. Save your sanity with technology.

Managing four interns—and your own workload—can feel a bit like herding ferrets that are stoked on Red Bull.

I use Asana to minimize headaches and manage assignments and deadlines. The online app enables me to see a full history of a project, including a recording of the date it was assigned and any notes entered by the intern or by me.

This is incredibly helpful when juggling multiple projects and interns. I’ve also created an “Open Intern Assignments” area in the app where I put any unassigned work. This enables the interns to “claim” projects that fit their interests.

Because the interns often use their own laptops, I’ve required all assignments to be saved in an internship-specific Dropbox folder. Each intern has his or her own file, as well as access to files related to bigger projects they work on together. This prevents me from having to frantically text an intern when they forget to send me a document before heading off to class.

Group projects can get messy. When the interns were collaborating on a communication plan last semester, I remember being utterly confused as to which version was the most recent. Because of that, I now require a consistent file-naming format. It enables me to know which version of a document is the most recent and prevents me from editing the wrong one if an intern is out of the office.

4. Constant coaching is essential.

I remember receiving some tough feedback at the end of one of my internships. I had wished someone had chatted with me earlier about some perceived issues. Our interns receive three official evaluations during the semester.

Though it seems early, the initial evaluation has been incredibly valuable at addressing issues right away. We give this evaluation in the first two to three weeks to put straying interns back on track.

The midterm evaluation is a great checkpoint for showing the interns where their skills have grown and where they should put more focus.

The final gives them a good idea of how their skills have grown over a full semester. At the end, we turn the tables and ask the interns to evaluate our internship program and individual team members.

I use SurveyMonkey, which averages scores from each employee for the intern. Sometimes an intern will score very high in an area with one person, but very low with another. I always see this as a great opportunity to discuss perceptions and working with different personalities.

What other tips and best practices do you have for managing interns? Please discuss in the comments.

Rachel Esterline Perkins works for Central Michigan University, her alma mater, as the associate director of public relations and social media within University Communications. She blogs at Venturesome. A version of this article originally appeared on PRtini.


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