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How to be a good internship mentor

Group of interns at a table taking notes

Interns can play a valuable role for companies.  

They can provide an extra hand on projects, helping organizations complete them faster and more efficiently. They can also form an internal system of talent for firms to help fill job openings. 

But it’s important for companies to nurture their interns. Internship mentoring is an integral part of the development process. It not only provides a more hands-on approach to helping interns improve their job skills and understanding of how to behave in the workplace, but also makes them feel more appreciated by an employer, demonstrating an organization’s investment in their professional growth. That can boost workers’ motivation and, in turn, the quality of their work.

Yet, mentoring an intern can only succeed if it is conducted skillfully. It requires a willingness of organizations to give interns responsibility and provide feedback. Consider these guidelines to help you effectively manage an intern.

Match the intern’s skills to the internship

According to the Pew Research Center, Millennials make up one-third of the U.S. workforce. They are likely candidates for internships at your company – and they seek to make real, on-the-job contributions. But according to the 2016 Deloitte Millennial survey, two-thirds feel their current organizations are not fully using skills they offer. 

Before you can align their passions and skills with your internship’s job responsibilities, you need to discover your intern’s professional abilities. Various assessment tools are available online.

Inspire progressive skills development 

Give interns a major problem-solving project, such as studying how to launch a new product or service that customers have requested. Such assignments can help you tackle a project that you don’t have time to handle yourself, or that could benefit from a few extra hands. 

They can also help in interns’ development, giving them a stronger sense of how a business operates and aims to achieve its goals. But it’s important to carefully outline the reasons for the project and its potential impact on an organization. 

You might start by identifying a range of skills they will need to tap. Explain how developing one skill, such as predictive analysis, creates the foundation to learn other skills, such as precise communication. A good internship mentor provides feedback along the way, or at least at the conclusion of a project, so the interns will have a fuller understanding of what they are doing well and where they need to improve.

Seek their ideas 

Workers and managers trust each other more in environments where questioning and problem solving occur openly and spontaneously, even when exclusive one-on-one meetings are rare. To ensure interns are learning technical processes, don’t just itemize the steps. 

Ask interns about problems they think might arise if the technical task or process - such as repairing equipment - is not performed precisely or if they have ideas on how to do it faster or at a lower cost. Emphasize that their input helps your business be more successful. 

Teach interns about customer service and presentations

Interns learning how to interact with your customers need guidelines, even scripts, on addressing common customer questions and needs, or how to make a sale. Have mentors coach interns on articulating answers to customer concerns. 

Take this approach a step further and create a buddy system between seasoned workers and interns so they receive feedback throughout their time with your business, not just during a training period. A similar approach can help interns learn how to make effective presentations. An internship mentor can review the essentials of putting together a presentation and then provide input on an ongoing basis about interns’ work. 

Clarify your business mission and values 

Displaying and clarifying how your mission and values apply to your business motivates workers to stay focused on your business goals and the best ways to interact with customers. 

For example, “acting with honesty, integrity and respect,” is a common principle promoted by businesses today. If this value applies to your business, ask interns how they felt when a customer service representative treated them respectfully and how it affected their thinking about a brand. 

Also, encourage interns to share how your customer service is being perceived by their peers or family members. Their insights might expose your business to hidden service issue or, better yet, generate a new, positive online review. 

Mentoring can help interns improve their skills with all the resulting benefits for their careers while also having a positive effect on an organization in the short and long term. Learn more about how you can grow your business in the Small Business section of the Learning Center.

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