Top 5 Mistakes Employers Make When Managing Interns

Angry Wet CatThere’s a veritable goldmine of tips for intern etiquette out there, but on the employer side—not so much. In a perfect world, hiring managers treat interns with the same professionalism, consideration, and respect they use with full-time employees. We at InternMatch, however, know that this isn’t always the case. Plenty of students who use our services are seeking internships to offset less-than-ideal experiences; we spill the beans on their most common complaints.

1. Inflexibility with Scheduling

Most interns are students first and foremost. That means their Google Calendars are abstract-expressionist works with overlapping commitments in academics, extracurriculars, athletics, and work. It’s in the best interest of both parties to find a work situation that jives with the student lifestyle. In your job posting, be clear about the weekly time commitment the position calls for—and stick to it. If internship hours vary according to project and event deadlines, discuss those parameters during the interview so your candidate has an idea of what to expect come busy season. Too often, students enter internships that creep up on hours but are afraid to complain, lest it means losing the gig. Some employers even take advantage of this with last-minute assignments—“Can u work 2nite?” is almost never an appropriate text to send your intern.

2. Unclear Responsibilities

In addition to time commitment, your initial posting should describe the tasks, responsibilities, and goals specific to the role. Lead interviews by outlining what duties are tied to the position; if the student is unenthused about the prospect of cold-calling, and it’s an integral part of the job, then it’s time to move on. Some employers bury less glamorous aspects of the internship under other duties, or mislead candidates about the breakdown of responsibilities—a sure way to breed resentment in the office. If you’re unclear about the terms of the internship and prefer to play it by ear, that’s okay! Hold weekly meetings with your intern to touch base; most of them will be thrilled to define their own goals and projects. One last no-no that a surprisingly large number of employers commit is treating the intern like a personal assistant: if you didn’t advertise making dinner reservations at Chez Panisse, don’t ask them to do it.

3. Lack of Guidance

Alright, so you’ve worked out a schedule that caters to both you and your intern, and you held an initial meeting that ended with an immediate To-Do list. You’re good to go, right? Superficially, yes, but your intern may still be in the woods about what resources they have at hand. An uninitiated intern may spend hours compiling data, for example, before another employee points out the Excel spreadsheet in Dropbox that dates back to 1997.

Clear management is essential to a smooth internship in general. Acquaint your intern with the company’s databases and online accounts to save time and energy on both ends. Likewise, introduce your intern to the whole team, not just employees in the same department, so that they know what skills and talent they can tap into. Lastly, brief interns on high-profile clients that they may come in contact with; when you send an email with instructions to “follow up with Wanda,” they’ll have the context to know exactly what you mean, and how to do it best.

4. Propagating Office Drama

Wait, Tim said what? To whom? The office water cooler is privy to some colorful anecdotes, but it shouldn’t affect your or your intern’s relationships with other employees. If there’s been friction in the workplace, set an example as an objective, mediating party so as not to force interns into choosing sides. New additions to the team are opportunities to neutralize office politics, not exacerbate them. Some employers put their interns in the uncomfortable position of having to sympathize with their complaints. As a rule, avoid badmouthing clients and employees (both current and past); not only does this bruise office relationships, but it also reflects badly on your organization and may discourage future applicants who hear about it.

5. Picking Favorites

Sometimes, when a new fleet of interns arrives, a few of them establish themselves as standout employees through a combination of friendliness, enthusiasm, and hard work. Interns who earn recognition should receive it, but we’ve also heard of employers who show favoritism, which is a different animal altogether. In these cases, employers alienate other interns by delegating special tasks to one worker, ignoring the achievements of others, and inviting the star to exclusive company hangouts. Most of the time, this partiality is unintentional, but it’s obvious on the receiving end, and can do serious damage to your interns’ morale and productivity.

Internships are opportunities for students to gain practical experience while providing invaluable support to the company. Avoid making these mistakes, and you’ll ensure that the partnership is a happy, healthy one.

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Nathan Parcells

Nathan Parcells is VP of Marketing and co-founder of Looksharp. He has spent the past decade helping students launch their career, researching best practices for hiring millennials (including running Looksharp's annual "State of College Hiring") and sharing these insights with employers. Nathan's work has been featured in Forbes, TechCrunch, Business Insider and more. Outside of work, Nathan is an avid rock climber, back packer and Bob Dylan fan.