Over the summer, we had a university student join us at work for an internship program, and I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to mentor them for those three months. I found it to be a rewarding and successful experience. While I had had various internships myself years ago, this was my first time being on the other side. This post is a summary and reflection of that time, and hopefully a chance to share some tips.
Before they arrive
Some initial housekeeping will ensure a smooth start:
- Email them before their first day to introduce yourself and prepare any necessary logistics. It may be their first job, and the world of work can seem new and daunting; the smallest gestures can help.
- Decide on the project that they’ll be working on. Give them ‘real work’: a meaningful project with real impact (i.e., it’s at least of value to your team) and that can be practically completed in the internship duration. However, you might like to consider keeping the deliverables off the ‘critical path.’
Setting your intern up for success:
- Have a structured onboarding plan: you’ll likely need to introduce them to new technologies, processes, and cultures, and these may differ from their university experience.
- Take the time to explain the project they’ll be working on thoroughly and walk them through any existing systems they’ll be working with/within. To quote Sagan, “There is no such thing as a dumb question.”
- Draw up a list of estimated weekly milestones for the internship program. This will help to give structure, set the pace, and track progress. It will also help to set expectations and identify any stretch goals.
- Have an early conversation to figure out the best management style (e.g., will it be hands-on or hands-off?)
Into the swing of things
As the internship progresses, be sure to keep the momentum going:
- Check-in regularly. For example, in the form of regular 1:1s and project progress sync-ups (these are distinct). Be sure to avoid micromanagement!
- Be responsive when they ‘ping’ you with questions or issues (you’ll probably be able to unblock them fairly quickly).
- Proactively reach out, as they may sometimes be too unconfident to ask for help.
- Follow along with their progress by reviewing their code, and offer constructive, actionable feedback where necessary.
- Give them exposure to many different people in different roles in your team or company, including on the ‘business-side.’ This adds to their experience and knowledge.
- Invite them to sit in on important meetings to watch ‘real-world’ decision-making in action.
- Halfway through the internship, have a ‘mid-point review’. This is an excellent opportunity to offer and receive feedback and gives plenty of time to act on it during the program’s remainder.
- Have fun! Schedule in some team-bonding, e.g., a team lunch, or play pool in your office games room
As the internship draws to a close:
- If they have to give an end-of-internship presentation, offer to watch a rehearsal.
- Have a review meeting with the intern at the end. Ask them how they felt the experience went, give them feedback.
- Have a definitive end. This could be in the form of a official send-off/farewell; perhaps you could say a few words to the team about the experience and thank the intern.
- If it’s welcome, keep in touch on LinkedIn. Good professional networking is rarely a bad idea.
Though it may be a non-trivial time commitment, mentoring an intern is an enriching experience, and I would highly recommend it. The benefits, while possibly long-term and indirect, are clear. To the company: it is a chance to gain some ‘home-grown’ talent (c.f. lateral hires); to the mentor: it is a chance to learn-by-teaching; to the intern: an opportunity to gain real-world experience as they start their career.
The views expressed are my own and not those of my employer.