Onboarding Sets Interns Up for Success

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Interns and smaller businesses both benefit from well-structured internship programs. Students gain valuable, real-world work experience, while small and mid-sized businesses enjoy affordable workforce support that becomes a talent pipeline for entry-level positions.

With summer around the corner, it’s a good time to consider how to help your interns reach their full potential. It all hinges on an effective onboarding process.

The Four Cs of Onboarding

The Society for Human Resource Management describes the building blocks of successful onboarding as the “Four Cs” – compliance, clarification, culture and connection. Smart companies apply them to both permanent and temporary positions.

  • Compliance covers the basics like office procedures, policies and rules. Make sure incoming interns understand what they can and cannot do from an organizational perspective and how to accomplish essential job duties.
  • Clarification involves plainly communicating the interns’ roles and responsibilities. For example, describe projects they’ll be working on, explain how you expect them to contribute and make sure they understand how (and from whom) they’ll get project direction.
  • Culture is a broad category that highlights the importance of familiarizing interns with the shared values, attitudes and beliefs that characterize your organization and define its nature. Take them on a tour of your facilities so they can see how the office is laid out as well as how employees interact with each other. Share your mission statement, and explain how they fit within the organization. Let them observe meetings and more informal employee activities so they gain a sense of organizational norms.
  • Connection refers to the relationships interns must develop to be successful. Spending time on and off the clock with other employees and interns will make them feel like part of the team.

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Onboarding Tips

To help interns quickly feel comfortable and confident in their new positions – the keys to higher productivity – follow these best practices for successful onboarding:

  • Plan ahead. Remember that onboarding begins before interns report for work. Establish ambitious but realistic goals for your interns, and identify relevant, challenging work they will handle. Decide which manager or managers will oversee them and exactly what you’d like them to accomplish.
  • Reach out. Once candidates accept an internship offer, stay in touch with them before their start date. Clearly communicate your expectations on the phone or via email. Be sure to share both bigger-picture details, such as their specific responsibilities, and more basic information like work hours and appropriate attire, because an internship may be the first “real” job for some interns.
  • Handle logistics. Make sure your interns’ email, technology and work stations are fully functional before they arrive. Get as much paperwork out of the way before they start, so they don’t spend their first morning in the office filling out forms. Equip them to hit the ground running.
  • Welcome them. Most interns report vivid memories from their first day on the job. Make sure they feel comfortable as soon as they arrive by assigning someone to greet them, accompany them to their desks, answer any questions they may have and eat lunch with them. Introduce them to key employees – especially the people on their teams and the managers who will be supervising them. Consider giving them a welcome bag with snacks and a small gift that reflects your company’s unique culture.

A successful internship begins with thoughtful, effective onboarding. When interns feel like they belong and clearly understand their roles, they can quickly make meaningful contributions that benefit both them and the companies that hire them.

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Written by Jeanette Coleman