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I'm tasked with training the new intern who is about to start on my team. I've never trained anyone before; how can I ensure we get off to a good start? I want him to feel like he can come to me with issues.

Edit to add: I won't be his supervisor, but we're hoping he'll be able to lighten my workload in the future so I'll be showing him the ropes. We're a rather tight-knit team, we all sit together in a cubical pod, so availability isn't an issue, I'll be like 10ft away. I've worked with three interns: the first came in just before I did and is awesome, but graduated; the next I didn't train but worked closely with, and was more typical in not knowing how things work, so I plan to hold the new guy more to that one's standards than the guy who had been around the block a few times before we got him.

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A related question is this one: workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/13531/…, except the difference is that the person doing the mentoring is younger than the interns! –  jmort253 Sep 15 '13 at 22:00

3 Answers 3

up vote 4 down vote accepted

"A king who's not willing his pawns to become queens will lose the entire game."

I really liked @enderland's answer, but indeed, their answer is too long. I would say several key points I've learned from training interns and after-graduates.

  • Treat them as equal, but allow them more time to do the same tasks;
  • Never give them boring tasks that you wouldn't be happy to do yourself;
  • "It's better to see once than to hear ten times". Do some tasks together with them;
    • If it comes to do their tasks (versus your tasks), arrange a rule of fair: one "their" task done together, one "yours";
    • If you are in I.T., try pair programming;
  • Keep yourself aware of what they are doing at any given moment. Whatever tools you use (written reports, etc), don't forget to meet them in person;

Your final goal is to train an intern to replace yourself as much as possible. Don't be blinded with fear of competition; if the corporate culture is healthy, there is nothing to fear.

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How does this address I want him to feel like he can come to me with issues? –  enderland Jan 5 '13 at 14:48
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@enderland I guess the OP did not wish to do the intern's job, but wishes the intern not to hesitate asking for help. Treating the intern as an equal colleague will certainly help building a friendly atmosphere. –  bytebuster Jan 5 '13 at 15:12
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+1: Great quote! Very true and very applicable! –  Jim G. Jan 6 '13 at 0:25

EDIT: two people have made comments about the length of this. Sorry, but when you have an intern, to manage them well in almost all cases is going to be lots of work. If this answer is too long to be effective for you then you are going to have serious patience issues working with interns.

My experience is the overwhelming majority of managers in all fields (especially technical fields) are quite poor at managing interns well. If this wasn't the case this answer would have been a lot shorter.

Neither of the other current answers addresses how to create an environment which does this

I want him to feel like he can come to me with issues.

This is a huge important part of the question and one which quick "short answers" are not going to be able to easily address.


Preparation for an intern - what to know

It sounds like you are going to be the day-to-day person responsible for the intern. Before I even begin, let me say - you are going to have a huge effect on how this intern views your company and their experience, and the intern is going to take a ton of your time initially.

Let me say this again: your actions/inaction will strongly affect the intern, more than you realize, and require a ton of your time.

Most managers/mentors make the mistake of treating an intern as a full-time employee. This is a bad idea for a variety of reasons, but the key reason is:

  • Interns normally have limited/no work experience and limited school experience

What this means practically is interns have no idea how corporate environments operate. This is manifest in more ways than I can possibly hope to list, but there is a large difference between an academic environment and a corporate environment. The intern will have the majority (15-20 years vs 0-12 months) of their experience in an academic environment with constant feedback and well defined projects/homework.

So, with respect to the above, you must remember

  • Interns won't have a good feel for "corporate culture" (and, even if so, probably won't know your culture).
  • Interns almost never work on projects longer than 1 semester given academic terms.
  • Interns have received constant feedback for nearly two decades on all their schoolwork/projects. Homework gets grades. Larger projects are broken into week or two week deliverables, etc.
  • Many interns are closer to high-school than being college graduates.
  • Most interns never have had a manager before, and normally if so, it's in a service environment (retail, food service, etc) and not an office environment, and will not understand how communication with managers works

Execution - what to do with an intern

Ok. So now you know this and you have met your intern and have shown them around, introduced people and coworkers, shown them where the bathrooms are, fought your IT department to get them a computer setup, bought them lunch (pro-tip: college students can be bought easily with $5 worth of food), introduced them to the projects they will be working on or at least the background information. Now what. (first make sure you do this).

The first thing you do is establish a meeting with your intern. A minimum of once a week. The purpose of this meeting is to ask your intern how things are going and make sure they know they can communicate any problems or issues they are having. but enderland, how do I make sure they know this is the purpose?! You can just tell them. It's probably better if you have an official weekly meeting but make an effort of asking your intern "how is learning that new tool going?" or "how'd that task go?" or something similar each day

Second, figure out how your often and how intern wants feedback, guidance, and answers to the, "am I doing a good job?" question. I'll answer it for you initially - much more often than you can possibly imagine. But enderland, employees don't normally get feedback from bosses often in the real world. Correct - but remember what we talked about above. Interns don't know this and their entire world for several decades has been centered around constant feedback. Make sure to be aware of this and give feedback or encouragement.

Now, some interns will not want this, which is fine. But make sure to assume interns want considerable amounts of feedback. Most do, but almost all won't say anything to you about it unprompted. Don't act as if they don't unless you talk about this specific issue with them.

Third, try to figure out whether your intern is too busy or not. Most interns won't know to ask for more work but rather sit being bored. The flip side is most interns will freak out if you overload them with work. Be mindful of this.

Fourth, don't assume anything about your intern. Many managers make the mistake of thinking their intern is having a great experience because they haven't said anything or complained or asked for more work. This is not necessarily true at all. Many interns will not initiate this sort of communication because they have no experience in the workplace. Most managers make the terrible mistake of assuming their intern will communicate as if they were a full-time employee.


The trend for interns (or tl;dr)

This could all be summarized as communicate, initiate communications, and communicate more than you think is needed. This doesn't matter if you are talking about training or any other element of your intern's experience.


This answer and this answer to different questions contain very relevant content as well.

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Let me say this again: your actions/inaction will strongly affect the intern, more than you realize, and require a ton of your time. - OK. Fine. Suppose I agree with you. Now what? If interns require such a large time investment, why would anyone ever want an intern? // Overall, this answer is just way too long. Great for bedtime reading; but not succinct enough to be very useful. –  Jim G. Jan 5 '13 at 4:22
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I think this is really useful - it's possbly a little on the long side but gets across the key point of communication and effectively how to become the interns "go to guy" - buying lunch is a small part of that along with the weekly / or more frequent catch ups. –  Michael Jan 7 '13 at 11:15
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(would +10 if I could!) - assuming that interns are easier to manage because they are lower on the totem is a fallacy, and personal experience of internships I've gained the most from have followed this process –  Dibstar Jan 7 '13 at 14:26
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@JimG. If a person asks a complicated question with a complex answer, you get a long answer. This one is NOT tl;dr. It is spot on. If you only want to read succinct answers then you are missing out on lot of information you should have. Life is complicated, not everything can or should be reduced to a twitter. –  HLGEM Jan 7 '13 at 19:01
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@JimG. A company would want to have interns because it gives them an opportunity to train someone in the skills relevant to their business and potentially encourage the intern to come and work for them full time afterwards. In a competetive environment sometimes the best way to get good new hires is to have trained them up yourself –  RWY Mar 20 '13 at 10:53

My suggestion is: do not babysit him.

  • Treat him like a colleague, but always make sure he understands safety rules (electricity, ladders, heavy flying objects).
  • Do not play institutionalized pranks on him (and don't let others do it).
  • Give him a bit more work than he can chew to avoid boredom.
  • Share at least some pieces of your accumulated wisdom with him.

In the end you have to learn whether he has diligence, intelligence and integrity.

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How does this address I want him to feel like he can come to me with issues ? –  enderland Jan 5 '13 at 14:48
    
@enderland, what is primary here - the desire of the OP to have the intern come with issues or the interests of business? Interns are by definition clueless and will come with issues provided they are treated in a civil manner, not shouted at etc. There's also a danger that the intern is forced to sit through war stories only to provide audience for the OP, or is lectured endlessly... –  Deer Hunter Jan 5 '13 at 16:14

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