How to Handle a Not-So-Great Intern

I’ve been with Indiana INTERNnet for almost three years, but every once in a while, I make a mistake. It may be a small typo in an email, forgetting to follow up with a voicemail or messing up the formatting in a PowerPoint presentation. Humans aren’t perfect! I quickly own up to the mistake, correct it and move on.

That’s why when interns make mistakes, it’s very important to realize that no one, not even yourself, is capable of delivering perfect work 100% of the time. For most interns, an internship is their very first experience working in a professional setting. Many things are new to them, so they need the freedom to learn and grow from their mistakes. However, what should you do when your interns mistakes become a bigger issue? Here are some examples:

You noticed your intern posting inappropriate things on their social media channels
You log into Instagram one morning and see photos of your intern after a wild tailgating weekend. Or, you check Twitter and see your intern posting some unflattering things about their internship. Whatever it is, that issue should be addressed immediately.

Let the intern know what you saw and explain that inappropriate photos could potentially negatively affect a future job/internship search. If they are posting negative messages about their internship, take the time to figure out what’s going on. There could be a deeper issue within your internship program that needs to be addressed. Also, remind your intern to come to you first if they are unhappy instead of airing their grievances on social media.

Your intern is dressing unprofessionally
As I mentioned, for most interns, an internship is their very first experience working in a professional setting. Plus, with SO many ways to dress (smart casual, business casual, business professional), and each company having its own dress code, it’s very easy for interns to get confused about what is OK to wear in the office.

If there is an important meeting or event that an intern will be attending, let them know a couple days in advance what type of dress is appropriate. If it’s a professional meeting, be very clear that the dress code is business professional and a blazer is required. For a more casual event, let them know jeans are OK. Also, try to remember that professional clothing is very expensive. Not every college student has a full wardrobe of business attire. If they need help building up their collection, have them check out this blog on how to dress for less.

Your intern isn’t being proactive in their work
In everyone’s work there are busy days and slow days, but it’s how you fill your slow days that matter. That involves being proactive and seeking out projects. It can be a bit frustrating to discover that your intern has been spending their days doing homework instead of looking for a new project to work on.

One thing to keep in mind though is that interns are typically not with your company for very long. They may not know all of the potential projects they can assist with. A way to combat this is to check in on your interns! An employer once told me that she meets with her intern for about 10 minutes each day. They discussed what he was working on, any questions he may have and what he could be working on in the future. That short check-in really helped to keep her intern on track with his work.

Mistakes are OK in internships! They’re meant to serve as a learning experience to prepare interns for work in the professional world. Be patient with your interns. Provide them with plenty of feedback, and don’t forget to check in!

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