5 Tips for Managing Interns This Summer

May 23, 2012

1:30 pm

This post was adapted from the original that appeared on Social Tables’ blog.

When I graduated from college in 2004, I was more confused than the day I enrolled. In an attempt to figure things out, I interned for a local Congressman.  After 6 months, I was hired full-time and asked to reinvent his intern program – and reinvent I did.  Fast forward 4 years: I created a diverse group of 65 well-trained, young politicos, many of whom are rising stars in the political world today.

A lot of what I learned back then can be applied to your startup’s intern program.  Here are my top 5 tips:

  1. Introduce them.  A couple of weeks before they start, introduce them to the team via email and to your audience of friends, customers and prospective customers via your blog.  Place them on your team page, introduce them to anyone who comes into the office, and introduce them to other startups in your accelerator or coworking space (this gives them the opportunity to meet other like-minded interns).
  2. Share information with them.  After your interns sign an NDA, share your company calendar with them, your decks and marketing materials, and cc/bcc them on different emails to make sure they feel included.
  3. Make them feel welcome.  Take them out to lunch, invite them to client meetings, and have them shadow you early on.  At Social Tables, we started a Potbelly Fridays tradition – I buy the entire team lunch and we eat together.
  4. Assign them meaningful work.  Talk to your interns early on to learn what it is that they’re trying to get out of the experience.  Give them ownership of a portion of your business and include tangible goals.  These tasks should include a combination of operational and strategic work.
  5. Coach them early and often. Interns joined your startup to learn, so make sure you mentor them.  To do this, ask them how they would get a task done.  After listening, give them feedback on the process they’ve outlined with relevant frameworks and examples from your experiences. You need to understand how they think before you can tell them what to do. They learn faster that way.

The United States was recently dubbed “Intern Nation” by Ross Perlin (an excellent review of that book can be found here).  We are known for our unapologetic use of interns, but I can’t stress enough how important it is to make them a part of your team and give them meaningful work.  By doing so, you will encourage their enthusiasm and support their entrepreneurial spirit and drive.  Good luck!

Dan Berger is the Founder and CEO of Social Tables, an event planning software platform based in Washington, DC.  You can follow him on Twitter @danberger

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