Best Practices for Onboarding Interns

on August 10, 2017 Engagement Onboarding Training

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Intern season is upon us! Internships can be a valuable talent pipeline if you treat them as such. Employers are recognizing this resource in today’s increasingly competitive talent market, hiring approximately 5% more interns in 2017 than 2016.

In order to identify whether your interns are a good fit for full-time employment, they need to work on real projects and show whether they can lessen the workload for your team members. To do so, interns must be grounded in your company’s essentials.  

As with your full-time employees, onboarding can make the difference between interns coexisting with your team and truly becoming an integrated, contributing component. There are several critical steps you can take in order to set your intern up for success

1. Establish Clear Goals

More often than not, when internships go sideways, the cause is poor planning. Tien Anh Nguyen, VP of finance at OpenView Labs, notes that one of the most important components of a successful internship program is “setting a set of ambitious but realistic goals for each of the interns we hired, and working closely with them to realize these goals over the course of the internship.”

So when considering your company’s internship experience, first create a clear vision for the role interns will play. Ask your team leads and yourself: who needs or would benefit from an intern? What type of work would an intern do? Are there projects that could be completed within the time constraints of the internship? Would you consider offering a full-time position after the internship period ends?

Nailing down these details before you dive into intern project planning will ensure you funnel resources in the right direction and set the stage for a great intern experience.

2. Communicate Goals & Expectations

For some students and graduates, an internship might be their first job ever. So don’t assume they will know when to show up for work, what attire is appropriate, and other company policies. Set explicit expectations up front and communicate these ahead of time with a welcome email. Scott Redfearn, executive vice president of global HR at Protiviti, explains their communication strategy: “Once candidates accept an offer, we begin integrating them right away. During this time, we communicate often through email, webinars, social media, and in person.” This ensures that interns walk in on their first day with a sense of belonging and an understanding of the expectations for them at every level.

On the first day, have an orientation session where you relay organizational values, important aspects of the culture, and relevant procedures to be aware of. As you do this, keep in mind that you know your company’s mission, phraseology, and methods inside and out. As Harvard Business Review observes, “Top executives have had years of immersion in the logic and conventions of business, so when they speak abstractly, they are simply summarizing the wealth of concrete data in their heads. But frontline employees, who aren’t privy to the underlying meaning, hear only opaque phrases. As a result, the strategies being touted don’t stick.” So as you go through these “basics” with your intern, do take a step back and make sure you are clearly communicating them.

3. Plan Your Interns’ Experience Before Their First Day

While the full-time onboarding process often requires 90 days, that might be the full extent of your intern’s time with your company. That means that everything must be condensed and your intern must adapt to company culture, values, and workload in a fraction of the time.

This does not mean that you should skip over the all-important onboarding plan development process. Interns can provide great value to your company above and beyond simply performing menial day-to-day tasks, but only if they are properly folded into your company. Consider planning your intern’s experience before their first day so that you are able to take advantage of every moment they are with you.

At Google, the elaborate intern orientation process lasts one and a half weeks. Interns learn how Google’s data centers work, how the company functions inside and out, and what its goals are, all the while meeting other new “Googlers.” One intern recalls, “My first day was amazing…Just in the first week you feel like you’ve been an employee for a year… You get acclimated with the company very quickly.”

4. Get The Obligatory Paperwork Out of the Way

In order to make this kind of an impact on your interns at their start, schedule all of your interns’ introductory meetings for the first day and training sessions – which should begin on Day 1 but continue over the course of the summer – ahead of time. While you’re at it, consider scheduling weekly check-in meetings – as they do at Apple – and informational coffee chats with individuals across the organization over the course of the summer so you ensure they get an intimate understanding of the company. Your welcome email can even include an onboarding packet with the first day’s schedule so each intern knows what to expect.

Along these lines, take care of as many important details ahead of your intern’s arrival. Is their work area functional and equipped for them to hit the ground running? This will help you avoid wasting valuable time going to IT to get their computer, set up program access, etc. Get the paperwork out of the way and even consider leveraging technology to automate the process so your interns don’t spend their first morning filling out form after form.

5. Make Day One Memorable

As Morgan Hoogvelt, director of talent acquisition at Clear Channel Communications says, “There are only two days you really remember on the job—the first day and your last.” While the first day is important for all new hires, it is particularly important for interns. This will be a brand new experience for many interns: their first workplace experience! Additionally, because interns have such a short time to get to know your company, every day matters that much more. Make the day unique and reflective of your workplace.

Introduce new employees to everyone on your team (or to everyone company if you have a smaller business). Have at least one assigned buddy take them to lunch. Whatever your strategy, make the goal of day to make your interns feel immediately welcome, comfortable, and part of the team. Jeffrey Luttrell, Director of Talent Acquisition at Alorica, says, “We give our interns welcome bags and treats for the first day. This results in lots of smiles and thank you’s. It is our job to make our candidates feel welcome and appreciated. We need them as much as they need us and we cannot forget that.”

6. Get your Team Involved

Email your team to let them know about the intern starting as well as information about their background and what project they’ll be working on. Consider emailing the company as a whole to also inform them of the intern class coming in.

Many companies have woven mentorship into their intern and full-time employee experiences with great success. Matching interns with younger employees who have recently entered the workforce can be a great pairing, because they can relate more closely to the interns while providing perspective, helping integrate the interns into social networks throughout the organization, and help them see paths and career outcomes. This can be an opportunity for rising stars in your organization to display leadership and developmental abilities.

7. Don’t Forget to Wrap It Up

As with your full-time employees, it is critical to ask your interns for feedback at the end of their time with you. This will leave them with the assurance that you value their opinions. It will also provide information to improve both your team and the overarching intern process in the future.

Additionally, if an intern does a great job and you want to keep them for a full-time position after they finish school, the most important step you can take to improve intern yield is to make sure they know they have an option working with you before they head back to classes. Make sure to set aside time for an outgoing interview where you can address this question so that you and your intern end the summer the same way you began it: on the same page, with open lines of communication.blog_banner.png

Bart Macdonald

Bart is a Co-Founder and CEO of Sapling. He’s passionate about building software and training programs that prepare today’s HR leaders for the Future of Work. Prior to Sapling, Bart was an early employee at General Assembly in the education-technology space, and before that was an HR Consultant designing Onboarding and L&D programs for companies from 10 to 10,000 employees. He holds a degree in Human Resource Management from Macquarie University in Sydney, and is now a proud Californian resident.