Run an Intern Program

Solutions to Employers’ Top Intern Time Issues

When classes are in session, student time demands seem to come from every direction. So even with the best of intentions, interns can get overwhelmed trying to balance schoolwork, socializing, and earning money to keep college life afloat.

But you’re an employer who’s counting on intern commitments. You need solutions to the problems resulting from packed student schedules and inexperienced prioritization.

In other articles, we discussed the virtual internship and 8-hour internship as options for addressing the time crunch faced by busy school-year interns.

Below we’ve given additional solutions…  ideas that can benefit any internship arrangement.

Employers’ Top-5 Intern Time Issues… Solved!

1. Problem: Falling way behind on workload.

Solutions:

  • Encourage open and honest communication. The primary reason interns fall far behind is they’re afraid to admit they’re struggling. By the time they are forced to fess up, so much work has accumulated that the supervisor has to step in.

The solution is to make it clear that interns should come to you when they start to get overwhelmed—rather than letting things spiral out of control (and thinking they’ll catch up later). Explain that it’s easier to delegate duties in the initial stages; also, you can alert others ahead of time if a deadline won’t be met.

  • Teach how to communicate about time issues. It’s not enough to merely encourage interns to communicate with their supervisors; telling them specifically how they should talk about timeline issues will make them feel more at ease. For example, should they email their supervisor? Schedule an in-person sit-down? Wait for formal meetings? Or simply call or pop in as issues arise?
  • Put projects in context. When assigning new tasks, make sure to put them in context, priority-wise, with other projects. Instead of leaving an intern to stress about how they’ll fit something else into a busy schedule, explain, “This should be started after we wrap up X project, but before you begin work on Y.”

2. Problem: Missing specific deadlines.

Solutions:

  • Explain the importance. Since most students don’t have formal work experience, they may not understand how their piece of the puzzle impacts the big picture.

Therefore, explain how simply being a day or two late on a deadline can create a domino effect… which can have significant consequences. Not only does this drive home the message about meeting deadlines; it also highlights the company-wide value of their (however small) contributions.

  • Teach “promise only what you can produce.” It’s important that interns learn to identify and assert their own limits. Therefore, teach students to speak up if a project is assigned and they honestly don’t feel they can complete it in the allotted timeframe. Emphasize how it’s always better to under-promise and over-deliver than to leave someone in a lurch.

3. Problem: Skipping work for studies.

Solution:

  • Advise planning ahead. Sure, internship attendance is excellent at the start of the semester. But when midterms roll around, there are suddenly a lot of “sick” days.

The solution is to address the issue at the onset of the internship and teach students how to plan ahead. Stress that things will get busier during exams, but that they are still expected to honor their commitment to the company.

This might mean they anticipate increased academic demands and only take on two days a week from the start, or they may ask in advance for reduced hours during finals. Or, it may simply mean the student accepts that during exam weeks socializing won’t fit into their schedule.

4. Problem: Not realizing the above are problems.

Solution:

  • Give basic guidance. The best supervisors understand that interns may not know seemingly obvious principles about the work world. And as a manager, making interns aware of “how things work” is one of the most valuable lessons you can leave them with.

So instead of assuming the intern surfing Facebook is lazy or fundamentally flawed, start by teaching him or her about the line between work and leisure. Instead of waiting until a student worker simply shows up late without an excuse, explain upfront the expectation of being at work at a certain time, or getting preapproval for an absence.

5. Problem: Varying intern availability and/or fluctuating employer needs.

Solutions:

  • Consider “contract interns.” If you run a small business or a company whose workload changes seasonally or sporadically, consider hiring interns on a per-project basis.

As long as you guarantee the intern a minimal number of hours per semester, you can call on students to pitch in when a project fits their specific skills or academic concentration.

This has the advantage of helping interns get quick and focused experience in an area of interest.  And as an employer, it allows you to receive assistance on an as-needed basis, eliminating worry as to whether your workload can support an intern the entire semester.

  • Get creative. Gone are the days when every employee must work 40 hours a week at your office. Yet some employers still fail to think outside the box when it comes to creating internship programs.

The solution is, rather than trying to fit potential interns into a preplanned program, feel free to put together an arrangement that meets your needs and the availability of your top intern candidates.

Maybe this means a few hours a week onsite and another handful from home as a virtual intern. Or maybe it’s a reduced-hour arrangement like the 8-hour internship, or even the first and third weeks of the month, when your inventory arrives.

The bottom line is that there are few real rules when it comes to utilizing intern talent. And finding the right fit may be more important than whether they can work weekdays from nine to five.

Employer takeaway: For employers, most time-management issues center around students’ struggle to allocate time during the school year. Most of the solutions entail emphasizing honest, straightforward communication, preplanning, and approaching scheduling issues with an open mind. Finally, always remember to give praise and positive feedback when interns do succeed at staying on top of their workload and meeting time commitments.