How to onboard and support interns—and maximize their experience

An HR exec shares guidance on ensuring your intern program runs smoothly and is enriching for all parties involved.

Managing interns this summer

As much of a summer staple as the backyard cookout or beachfront vacation, summer interns are preparing to join companies across the U.S.

If you’re bringing on interns this summer, but perhaps not sure where or how to begin, a good starting point is learning from those who already have programs, protocols and policies in place.     

Stephanie Garcia, chief people officer at Real Chemistry, recently shared this trove of guidance for all your intern-related needs.

Getting started

Garcia suggests first figuring out what specific tasks an intern could feasibly accomplish—and then sussing out the “experience you would like to provide.”

“Having an intern is so much more than an extra pair of hands,” she says. “It provides them with an experiential learning program and an opportunity to contribute to meaningful client/customer-focused work. By envisioning an ideal summer intern experience, you can work backwards from there to make it a reality.”

She also conveys that it’s crucial to consider the commitment you’re making when you decide to bring an intern aboard. It’s neither ethical nor wise to select an intern without a management plan in place. You should designate someone who will actively oversee and mentor your intern—rather than leaving them to twist in the wind for a couple months.

“Having dedicated individuals to oversee the program is crucial, as is enlisting others who are committed to being a line manager, mentor or supportive team member to an intern,” Garcia says.

There are plenty more pitfalls companies should be aware of, here. Garcia notes that expecting too much is a common mistake.

“Avoid getting caught up in the finer details of someone’s background,” Garcia says, adding:

“This will likely be their first-ever professional experience, and they may not have much technical experience. Instead, reframe and assess their candidacy through the lens of their potential for growth. If you can couple that with a robust onboarding process, where you can train interns on the skills they don’t yet possess, then you have a program primed to grow in-house talent.”

Overcoming the remote work barrier

Even in the best of times, in face-to-face environs, onboarding apprentices requires keen attention. Orchestrating a smooth, enriching experience for your young novices in a remote setting—amid an ongoing pandemic—presents more unique challenges. Garcia suggests:

  • Be intentional. “Plan a program designed to provide specific experiences, especially those that may not happen as organically given the remote workplace setting,” she says, offering mentor relationships and social engagement as examples.
  • Always overcommunicate. Interns might have experience in a remote academic setting, but Garcia warns there will be a transition to a remote workplace setting. The remedy? “Clear and constant communication will help set expectations and provide a roadmap to put them on the right path,” she says.

Garcia says her company Real Chemistry, which plans to onboard about 90 interns for its 10-week program this summer, is creating an intern-specific newsletter that will “bridge the gap between their offer letter and the date they begin their intern experience.” The newsletter will complement a “Welcome Week” and other group projects.

She says of the newsletter: “Not only is it a way to send out reminders, action items and program information, it’s also a great way to maintain contact over a long period of time and keep the interns excited for the summer program to come.”

These sorts of personalized touches are a nice way to make people feel like a part of the team—not to mention an important piece of the training puzzle. Garcia says Real Chemistry is also “inviting the interns to a ‘pre-start’ briefing call, where they can meet their program manager and key contacts and ask questions.”

Tracking progress and gathering feedback

As for tracking interns’ progress, that depends on your specific goals and objectives. What is it you want your candidate to accomplish, exactly? Which metrics will you monitor? Garcia offers her team’s approach:

“We have dedicated time for a mid-summer and end-of-summer performance review for each intern. By having our managers submit documented feedback—both qualitative and quantitative—in our performance system, we have built a structured approach to measuring intern performance. This, in addition to the verbal feedback managers share with interns, will help determine individual success and help top performers in the class.”

The work’s not finished when summer ends, however. Be sure to gather feedback so you can improve your program down the line. Garcia says her team takes a “360-degree approach, gathering feedback from our interns, intern managers and key stakeholders to ensure we are able to continuously integrate and calibrate our program.”

She imparts three parting bits of internship wisdom:

  • Balance the structured program elements with the work driven by the intern’s team for a comprehensive experience.
  • Provide multiple forms of support. “Not only the intern line manager, but the wider team, an assigned buddy, their program manager, and HR contacts should all be part of the support team,” she says.
  • Have fun! Interns can be a great addition to any team, and they can offer wonderful insights—if you give them time, space and freedom to learn and contribute. And, if it goes well, it could become a tremendous recruiting tool for your company. “It’s an awesome opportunity for the team to get to know them better over the summer … with the potential to bring them back full time later on,” Garcia says.

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