Run an Intern Program

Developing Evaluation Standards for Your Intern Program

As a host organization, you need to provide interns with periodic performance evaluations.

Since a defining characteristic of internships is a focus on learning, providing feedback is even more important for interns than for fulltime staff members. In fact, it is crucial to the learning process that interns know in which areas their performance is meeting or exceeding employer standards, and in which areas they need to work harder or make adjustments (as well as suggestions for what those adjustments might be).

Of course, intern evaluations will differ by company. In some organizations, an intern evaluation might consist solely of an informal lunch spent discussing strengths and weaknesses with a supervisor. In other organizations, intern evaluations are formal, written, and regularly scheduled.

While it is up to your organization which way you go, we recommend that written intern evaluations be part of your feedback process.

In the ideal situation, an intern's supervisor would fill out an evaluation sheet ahead of time and then go over the report with the intern present. This way, the student and supervisor can discuss the assessment: The intern can ask questions, and the supervisor can elaborate on comments and scoring.

Written intern evaluations are beneficial for a variety of reasons:

  • Written evaluations most clearly communicate which areas of intern performance need adjustment.

  • With informal, oral evaluations, interns may not remember everything the supervisor says; it's less likely interns will make the proper improvements if they can't recall all the issues they are supposed to correct.

  • With written evaluations, interns can keep the progress reports and refer back to them periodically to make sure they're working toward peak performance.

  • Written evaluations provide proof of supervisors' performance reviews. In the case of future disciplinary action—or if an intern is wondering why they were not invited back or offered fulltime employment—a written evaluation eliminates the intern's ability to contend, "I was never told I needed to improve in that area."

  • If an intern is receiving school credit for participation in the internship program, written evaluations are most often mandatory. Getting into the habit of providing written performance evaluations for all interns simply makes your program run smoother and ensures all interns are evaluated equally.

But what if you own a small business and are just starting a single-intern program? It's still recommended you implement a standardized process of written evaluation coupled with supervisor discussion.

The reason is that your small business may grow, and you may decide to take on more interns. Creating a scalable program and laying a solid foundation from the start is much easier than revamping a disorganized program once it's in place.