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10 Tips for Setting Rules and Guidelines for Your Interns

By: Kate Supino

 

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As David Kiger, of Worldwide Express shipping fame, said in an interview in the Dallas Business Journal that was published in February 2013, “Nothing good can come from a lack of communication.” 

 
Mr. Kiger wasn’t speaking specifically about interns, but the adage holds true across all fields of business. Communication of expectations from the outset is crucial to a successful internship experience.
 
1. Don’t wait one day past the first to lay out guidelines. 
 
Your intern should spend the morning of their first day not meeting coworkers, but learning the rules. Otherwise you will inadvertently be setting them up to fail. Teaching them the ropes ahead of time will allow them to get a general sense of the office environment so when they do have their meet and greet, they will be better able to sense the organization of the office.
 
2. Have one set of rules for all the interns. 
 
The rules and guidelines should be written out and given to all interns. Never play favorites or share inside information with some but not all. Everybody needs to be playing by the same rulebook.
 
3. Don’t overwhelm your interns with needlessly detailed rules. 
 
This not only causes your rules handbook to be unnecessarily large, but it also confuses office newbies. Keep your guidelines broad, to cover a variety of situations. These will be easier for them to remember.
 
4. Remember that you have a larger role. 
 
Your office may be the first encounter your interns have ever had with a corporate environment. You are not only training them to work in your office, you are training them to work in offices in general, for the remainder of their corporate careers.
 
5. Cover yourself, liability-wise. 
 
In your guidelines, make sure you go over litigious situations like what constitutes sexual harassment, embezzlement, fraud, and client-company relations. Don’t assume interns already know the rules coming in off a college campus.
 
6. Make sure they cover themselves, too. 
 
College co-eds are accustomed to a very different style of dress than what you likely deem acceptable in your office. In your guidelines, outline what type of apparel is appropriate and what type will get them sent home. Don’t leave anything left to interpretation.
 
7. Organize your company handbook in small chunks. 
 
Long, rambling paragraphs are hard to digest, especially in the exciting first days of an internship. Instead, break up information in small bites that are easy to digest. Use bullet points, numbered lists, and graphics whenever possible to break up pages.
 
8. Assign an office buddy. 
 
This person should be a trusted and friendly member of your permanent staff who can help your intern adjust to office life. They will be there to answer those small questions about lunchroom etiquette, where the pencils are kept, and how to get the copier unjammed.
 
9. Be prepared for a mess-up. 
 
Not every intern is going to be able to hold their own right out of the starting gate. Don’t be too quick to give up on someone who appears to constantly misstep. Often the most eager-to-please interns make the most mistakes out of anxiety and fear of failure. Handled with gentle reins, this type of person often becomes one of the most capable employees once they are allowed to relax and learn at their own pace.
 
10. Model other companies’ intern programs. 
 
If you feel you are at a complete loss as to how to go about setting guidelines for your interns, don’t hesitate to make a few phone calls to colleagues. Chances are they will have had some experiences from which you can learn.
 
Your experience with interns can be a positive one if you provide excellent guidelines and training. Even if you are not able to eventually offer them a permanent position, your role as their corporate mentor and possible reference is invaluable to their future success in their chosen field.
 
Published: October 8, 2013
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