How to Be the Best Leader to Your Interns

Leading experienced employees is hard enough. How much more difficult is it if they’re people who know almost nothing about the job? Luckily, managing interns doesn’t have to feel like the blind leading the blind. People who complete internships are 13 percent more likely to find jobs after college, making this a hugely valuable experience.

If you want to get the most out of your interns, and for interns to get the most out of their work, make sure to keep these pointers in mind.


Create a List of Tasks

If you’re prepared to work with your interns, they’ll be prepared to work with you too. So think carefully about what types of tasks to assign them. Ideally, those tasks should not be so easy that interns can do them with their eyes closed but not so hard that they’ll run crying for the hills after the first day.

For example, marketing majors can get their feet wet with social media strategization, while someone tech-inclined might be up for beta testing new programs and processes. Don’t be afraid to throw in other tasks to mix things up, so your interns won’t get bored and unmotivated.

Make a Work Plan

Once you know what tasks to assign your interns, it’ll be easier to come up with a work plan for them. Aside from job responsibilities, a work plan should also include detailed goals, expectations and other information interns may need throughout the duration of their stay in your company. That way, they’ll have a clear idea of what to do on a day-to-day basis, and you’ll have a clear idea of how to evaluate them at the end of it all.

Schedule Orientation Activities

Before they start working, interns should know exactly what they signed up for. Take an hour or two to orient your interns about company information such as mission and vision, organizational structure, house rules, etc. Give them a tour of the office, introduce them to your colleagues and ask them if they have any questions so far. The more you treat them like new employees, the more seriously they’ll take their work.

Lend Them a Hand

Keep in mind that, depending on your interns’ program, their stay could last from 10 weeks to three months. Even if you think they’ve learned everything they needed to know during the orientation, it won’t hurt to hold their hand at first. After all, you don’t push a newbie swimmer into the water and do nothing even when they’re visibly flailing and panicking.

Of course, you’re going to have to let your interns go at some point. If you feel they can already do what’s expected of them without having to be spoon-fed, that’s a good time to go about your business as usual and not worry about them committing common internship mistakes.

Make Them Feel Welcome

Being an intern can be nerve-wracking, so make sure you give them the reassurance they need. Take them out for lunch once in a while, and ask them if everything’s all right at work. Encourage them to talk about themselves and their career goals, and do the same for them in return.

Also, don’t be afraid to lighten things up. If your intern’s upset because she accidentally spilled her bag of nuts all over her table, reply with: “Don’t worry about it. When I was an intern, I got coffee all over someone else’s shiny new keyboard!

Make Them Feel Wanted

For interns, there’s nothing worse than feeling like excess baggage. They may only be temporary members of your company, but they do want their voices to be heard for all they’re worth. As John Dewey would say: “The desire to be important is the deepest urge in human nature.”

Make sure to ask them for ideas whenever they’re not busy. If you think their idea is terrific, say: “Wow, that’s brilliant! Why haven’t we thought of that before?” If it’s not-so-terrific, you have three choices:

  • Clarify the idea further
  • Try to turn it into a better one
  • Turn it down as gently yet firmly as you can.

Check In Regularly

A weekly or bi-weekly meeting can do the trick. This might seem like extra work for you, but it’s worth letting your interns know how they’re doing on the job so far. Also, it’s a good opportunity to address any concerns interns might have about their work while they’re only a few days/weeks in.

Conduct an Exit Interview

Regardless of their performance, interns will leave with a good impression of your company if you grant them an exit interview. It’s an opportunity for two-way feedback. Getting 65 percent of employees and interns to conduct exit interviews is an achievable goal.

The intern can tell you how to improve future internship programs, and you can tell the intern how they can possibly succeed in their chosen career paths. To start with, here’s a list of sample exit interview questions for interns.

 Keep in Touch

If an intern turns out to be a star performer, it’s worth making it easy for them to contact your company long after they’ve left. Give them a link to your LinkedIn profile, ask them to connect, and offer to give them a testimonial. They’ll appreciate the favor, especially if you make the effort to write a stellar recommendation.

Or you may even want to offer them a job. Eighty percent of employers view internship programs as a form of recruitment.


Remember: Every intern is different. Some of them will catch on to the job pretty quickly. Others might take a few more nudges in the right direction. Regardless, it helps to put yourself in your interns’ shoes and remember why they’re at your company in the first place. When you treat interns with the respect they deserve, they’ll also do their best to be an asset — even a temporary one — to your company in return.


Are you an intern, or are you managing a team of interns? Share your experiences and advice in the comments.

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Sarah Landrum is the founder of Punched Clocks.
How to Be the Best Leader to Your Interns
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How to Be the Best Leader to Your Interns
If you want to get the most out of your interns, and for interns to get the most out of their work, make sure to keep these pointers in mind.
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Punched Clocks
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2 Comments on How to Be the Best Leader to Your Interns

  1. Charlene Rhinehart
    July 26, 2016 at 11:50 pm (5 years ago)

    Great advice! Point #5 and #6 are key to creating an inclusive environment for interns. If interns do not feel valued and appreciated, it is less likely that they will perform their best in the workplace.

    • Sarah Landrum
      July 27, 2016 at 12:04 pm (5 years ago)

      Thanks, Charlene! Those were actually the two points that stuck out the most from my experience in internships – It can make the biggest difference in your attitude and approach to work!


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