How to Optimize Intern Engagement – 3 Key Steps

More likely than not, the topic of interns has come up at your startup. Determining when you’re ready to hire them can be tricky. But, what’s harder to determine, and usually overlooked, is how to maximize intern engagement throughout the course of their time with your company.

While it’s common for even the youngest companies to bring on a handful of interns during the summer and perhaps throughout the course of fall and winter semesters, too many startups fail to fully integrate interns into their company culture — as they would a full-time hire. Unfortunately, this can lead to a lack of communication and collaboration between the interns and full-time staff and even other interns. Failing to  whole-heartedly welcome interns into your company means they’re less likely to feel empowered by the work they’re doing and, as a result, won’t approach their work with the same passion and excitement of a fully onboarded employee.

Looking ahead to the fall semester, here are 3 easy steps you can implement to maximize intern engagement.

1. Intern Orientation

Rather than onboarding interns on an ad hoc basis, aim to bring them on all at the same time — think of each new group of interns as a class or cohort. This is easier to do in the summer when hiring managers are bringing on groups of interns to join their teams.

As a general rule, if you have more than 5 interns starting within a close time frame, coordinate their start dates so you can plan out a full orientation day. The full day of onboarding will give your intern class a good opportunity to learn about your company, its various business units, internal policies and procedures and also give interns a chance to fill out standard paperwork as a group. This full onboarding day gives interns the chance to get to know one another on the first day, especially helpful for those who won’t be working on the same team.

2. Assign an All-Encompassing Project

Many internships revolve around interns working on day-to-day tasks and small projects that full-time team members don’t have the capacity to take on. The goal of assigning interns an in-depth project to work on over the course of their internship is not only a chance for interns to showcase what they’re learning and working on, but also an opportunity to have a strong, and hopefully lasting, impact on the company.

Working on a large project with other interns or individually will help interns feel a sense of purpose and participation. It will also drive them to work hard as they know that the other team members are counting on that particular deliverable. Lastly, assigning interns a long-term, large-scale project, gives interns a true deliverable they can put on their resumes and discuss in interviews.

3. Weekly Lunch & Learns

Another great way to keep interns motivated and connected is by hosting a weekly lunch and learn.  These sessions can operate as life skill discussions on things that your interns can leverage at your startup and in their future positions. Topic ideas include building a LinkedIn profile, how to network, defining your personal brand, optimizing your resume, how to prepare for an interview and how to find a future job or internship.

Providing weekly, half-hour sessions over an eight to ten week period where team members from across the company lead interactive conversations is hugely impactful.

By creating engagement goals and a true work plan, you’ll soon discover that interns are not only more motivated by their work, but are truly contributing, fully-integrated members of your team. Keep in mind that interns are potential hires, so no matter how you onboard your interns, it’s always important to engage them as much as possible. Giving interns more opportunities to interact and work with your employees will afford them the opportunity to excel — a win-win for both the interns and your organization.

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Rose O'Connell
Rose O'Connell
Technical Recruiter

Rose O'Connell is a technical recruiter at AthenaHealth. She was previously a Talent Specialist with OpenView.
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