Onboarding Lessons from Summer Internships


I know two college students who eagerly started a summer internship. I now realize how much summer internships align to new hire onboarding, and often miss the mark. Sometimes, interns are left on their own without an outline of what their role is and not enough work to fill a day.

An internship is a two-way program. Organizations hire, sometimes paid and sometimes unpaid interns, because it provides a resource who is capable, interested, smart and motivated to learn and work hard. Also, internships build a pipeline for organizations for future hires who will be familiar with the organization, are well suited to its culture and have proven skills and capabilities. For students, an internship provides “real world” experience and an opportunity to learn and grow. The organization is responsible to provide a valuable learning experience by ensuring interns are given challenging work that helps them understand the business and provides a snapshot of the industry their working in.

So how can this be accomplished? Specifically because the intern will only be working for a short period of time, it’s vitally important to hit the ground running and onboard them quickly and comprehensively.

Similar to new hire onboarding, onboarding an intern provides a big picture overview of the organization and its goals, and provides an outline of the intern's responsibilities and expected deliverables. Just like a new hire, an intern can’t meet expectations and be successful in their role if they aren’t provided with some kind of job description. By providing an outline of their role, tasks and responsibilities, interns can be self-directed in managing their time and the work that’s expected of them.

Although there is a tacit agreement that interns are given some “grunt” work, there needs to be a balance where an intern can take initiative, show creativity and learn and grow from their assigned tasks. After all, companies interview and search for the best and the brightest interns, so it makes sense to utilize their skills and abilities.

Without a clear plan or job description, the value of the intern begins to diminish. However, it’s a win win if an intern understands her role, knows what tasks and assignments to complete, and can work independently, asking for support and direction when needed. This approach will help shape a well developed and confident intern who becomes a new employee the organization wants to hire.

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