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Mentor’s Guide to Successful Internships

Working with an intern or student is an excellent way to vet potential candidates for longer term employment and build awareness about careers in research.  Internships can play an important role in supporting a student’s career interests and their vision of an ideal work environment.  When interns have a positive, educational, and valuable experience they may be inclined to share this with others which in turn can help ensure a pipeline of interested candidates. This document offers guidelines to consider and may help you provide the most impactful internship experience as a mentor.

Advantages of Interns

While training and working with interns can require additional work, there can be many advantages as well. Benefits of working with interns may include:

  • Opportunities to promote University Hospitals as a great place to work
  • Building a pipeline of potential candidates
  • Providing current employees mentoring opportunities, allowing them to gain additional professional growth
  • Providing support to a current team and opening bandwidth to perform tasks that may not have otherwise been completed
  • Making an impact in someone’s future
  • Opportunities to gain new insights into current processes and procedures

Provide Real Work Assignments

The overall goal is for an intern to learn the tasks and duties of a specific position.  Therefore, it is important for an intern to have hands on assignments, perform tasks related to a position, and do valuable, challenging work. Remember to start with smaller tasks and build on them to ensure both parties feel confident in the intern’s ability to perform.

Establish Goals

Consider which aspects of the position are most important and how best to train an intern on them. Set achievable goals for your time with the intern -- goals should be centered on the tasks that are most important to be successful in the position. Some things to consider for setting achievable goals are:

  • Make sure goals are reasonable and attainable. Take into account such things as the amount of time and resources that are available.
  • Create benchmarks to help assess the progress of the goal. Benchmarks will help keep all parties on track.

Create an Outline

The outline will help provide a guide and resource for the intern to refer back to.  It can be overwhelming for an intern to learn and perform new tasks they may not be familiar with, in addition to working in a new environment. 

Outlines provide a way for the intern to stay on track, establish and be held accountable for benchmarks, learn the “rules” of the job in a less formal way, make sure they are learning various aspects of the position, help retain the information learned, and be a reminder for any questions an intern may have.

Provide Opportunities to Learn

An internship may provide the first experience in a professional work environment. In addition to learning about the ins and outs of the job, consider encouraging opportunities to learn and gain additional skills.  This could include:

  • Providing them with networking opportunities
  • Demonstrating workplace etiquette and professionalism
  • Encouraging additional education or training
  • Providing mentorships/communication with additional staff members or roles
  • Allow them opportunities to communicate with managers
  • Have them attend team or staff meetings

Maintain Communication

Make sure to have a consistent reporting structure and active communication with an intern.  Build into the design who their contact person will be and how frequently they will be connecting and communicating with this individual.  This helps make sure that the intern is on track with the work provided or assigned.  Additionally, it provides an open time for the intern to ask questions and address any concerns or issues you or they may have. 

Allow for Mistakes

Interns will make mistakes, but they should feel comfortable communicating with their mentor. Understand your mentee’s stress and confidence level in the workplace. A mentee is less likely to perform well if they are fearful. Mistakes can be a great way for a student to learn, so work to support the student in creating an environment of open communication and provide a safe environment for growth and learning.