Internship Kick-Start, Part Three: How to Manage Your Interns Effectively

Flexibility is the name of the game for managing an internship program—but there may be some pitfalls along the way.

‌This is day three of our internship series. Check out day one, on why associations should consider internship programs, day two, on what internship programs need to succeed, and day four, on managing interns remotely.

When it comes to an internship program, the broad strokes matter, but what might be more important is how interns are managed on a daily basis.

They’re raring to go, but the wrong strategy can discourage them, or even lead them to quit. So with that in mind, here’s today’s focus: How to manage interns effectively.

Expect Adjustments

Sarah Sladek, the founder and CEO of XYZ University, works closely with many organizations, and what she has heard anecdotally from some of them is that today’s aspiring workers are walking into a culture shock. Their lifelong use of technology has fostered a desire for immediacy—a quality sometimes at odds with the working world.

She cited hearing of prospective interns who have turned down an opportunity because the paperwork process was taking too long.

“They want things to happen instantaneously, because that’s the world they’re used to,” she said. “So I think that employers need to kind of be aware of what to expect.”

Another area where management challenges may arise is in adjusting to software, as many grew up with Chromebooks, tablets, and Google Docs—not Microsoft Office.

“When they come into a Microsoft Office environment, there’s a little bit of a learning curve or a gap,” Sladek said.

Where Gen Z Needs Help

On the plus side, according to Sladek, many interns start out very skilled when they begin their positions and are capable of delivering results beyond what the associations that hired them had expected.

But that doesn’t mean managers should just let skilled interns coast along—even the savviest among them will need some coaching. For one thing, Sladek pointed to the lack of soft skills that interns haven’t had the chance to hone, particularly outside of one-on-one settings.

“They can be a little bit anxious in group situations,” she explained. “And again, this points back to how they were raised and what they’re comfortable with.”

Give Them Responsibilities—but Know the Risks

Sladek said, based on her firm’s research of Gen Z work habits, that it’s important to create a loose management approach driven by regular check-ins, perhaps around a project that may not be an internal priority but that can benefit from a fresh set of eyes.

But when it comes to management, Sladek cautioned that the wrong approach can be a huge demotivator—particularly if their efforts don’t see the light of day.

“If Gen Zs are told to come up with an idea, then they do, and then there is a little bit of, ‘We’re not going to implement that’ in any way, shape, or form, Gen Zs will disengage,” she said. Knowing this going in, you can carefully frame expectations and projects so that their concerns are being heard, even if not every idea is a winner.

(Associations Now illustration; gilaxia/E+/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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