Creating a successful internship program starts with knowing that your interns are a lot like plants. Yep, we said it––plants.
They’re planted into new positions. They add to the cohesive garden of the company. You have to check on and assist their progress to yield the best results. And, under the right conditions, interns can grow to great heights. So, how do you grow your strongest interns and create a successful internship program?
Follow these simple steps to grow your interns to their fullest potential.
Step One: Create the Right Environment
Just like plants, interns need the right conditions to thrive. This starts at the soil, at the very base of where the seed is planted. For interns, this means a fertile and well-tailored internship program.
If you’re growing a seed, you choose your pot and soil before planting. If you’re hiring an intern, you set up your program and figure out the parameters before planting them into the position.
To do that, start by communicating standards and expectations ahead of time. Talk with your interns about what they’re looking to get out of the program. Gauge their interests to decide what type of base soil you should use to best utilize their time at your company, whether that means determining what projects they would most contribute to or enjoy. Establish time commitments and expectations at the seedling’s beginning.
Then make it clear by answering these questions and communicating that to your intern(s).
- What’s the intern’s role and responsibilities?
- Who will they work with? And who do they report to?
- What projects will they work on?
- How and when should they be communicating? (Via Slack, email, Teams?)
- What skills will those projects help them develop?
- How will those skills set them up for success in their career?
Step Two: Water – But Just a Sprinkle
Your seed is beginning to sprout and your intern is beginning to adjust to the office. It’s important not to drown them too early.
As your interns start their program, it’s crucial that you start low and go slow. Give the interns pieces of projects that introduce them to the work they will be doing instead of the full thing right out of the gate.
Clarify your expectations on the role and responsibilities at different stages: from the first week, to the first month, all the way to the final month.
If you have time, onboard your interns so they can experience and understand what your company does at the level any full-time employee would.
You wouldn’t want to over water your seedlings, so don’t overwork your starting interns.
Step Three: Feed and Fertilize
During the growing process, you have to feed your plant. During an internship, you have to offer continuous support to your hardworking (and often confused) interns.
Find thyme (time) to check on your interns often. Schedule weekly meetings to go over progress and questions that your intern faces. If staffing allows, have a designated member of your team act as the point person to your interns, so they know exactly who to reach out to when asking for help outside of their manager.
Step Four: Set Up Roots, Find a Field for Your Intern
Your plant is beginning to grow and your intern is beginning to get the hang of their work. It’s time for them to establish their roots. But that means experimenting with different soils and different projects before finding the most fertile area for them to set up.
SNP’s Director of Project Management and resident plant-doctor, Aiza Bonus-Robino, started as an intern herself. She offered insight on how to best raise healthy plants as well as how to create the most fruitful experience for interns. Her advice:
“The most important step to grow as an intern is to try to get your foot into as many projects as you can. You learn along the way what you really want to do. Even if it’s something that you think you might not be interested in, once you try it out, you may be like, wait, I do actually like this.”– Aiza
Give your interns different types of projects so they can flex different types of skills and work with a variety of people. If that’s not possible, help them find time with cross-functional coworkers to learn about their roles. This will set them up for success in figuring out what they want to do long term.
After exposing your intern to different fields and projects, communicate with them to find what direction they would like to go in. Find where they want to establish their roots and put them in a place where they will grow to their highest potential.
Step Five: Keep It Sunny
You want your growing plant to be happy. Hopefully, you want the same for your interns. A big part of plant growth is giving them the right amount of sun, just like a big part of intern happiness relies on a bright office culture.
Whether that office is in person, on Zoom, or somewhere in between, there are a few simple ways to maintain a sunny corporate culture.
- Be forgiving. This may be the first real job for some of your interns. Even if it’s not, it can be difficult to get adjusted to new work and a new environment. Your interns will probably (definitely) mess up sometimes.
- Give constructive feedback. Interns WANT to grow. Let them know what they’re doing right and how they can improve.
- Be human. Interns are people too. Making small talk, cracking jokes and revealing that you have a life outside of work (shocker!) goes a long way. Flaunt your company’s personality.
Step Six: Remember that it’s a learning process
No plant is the same. No intern is either. Expert Aiza’s biggest piece of advice:
“The most important step is realizing what each plant needs, because every single plant is different and it’s a lot of trial and error.”– Aiza
Sometimes plants need different things. Different soil, watering patterns, even sun levels. Pay attention to your interns just like you would pay attention to a plant.
If your intern isn’t growing how you might expect, attack the problem at the root. Talk to your intern and use active listening to see what’s interrupting their growth. Offer support and work with your intern to improve their work and experience.
So there you have it…
Interns are a lot like plants. They require a stable environment, water, and fertilizer to keep them healthy and growing. Based on their unique needs, they find their fields and establish roots. And they appreciate sunny conditions and happy surroundings. And no intern is the same.
From setting up the soil to using active listening to change conditions, use these steps to ensure maximum growth for your interns and create a successful internship program. Because every abundant garden starts with healthy seedlings.