Four Questions You Should Ask Your Interns—Every Week
Routine One-On-Ones (1:1s) are standard practice here at Viget: our sagacious senior staff meet regularly with their esteemed junior colleagues to check on the status of projects and professional goals and, most importantly, to help remove blockers to progress. Heading into our internship season last June, I wondered if it might be useful for me, as the internship coordinator, to adopt a similar approach with our interns.
But I was hesitant. Each intern would be assigned a mentor -- an expert in their field, who would be in charge of the intern’s work and learning experience. Why schedule an extra meeting with, of all people, a recruiting person? On the other hand, this was Viget’s -- and my -- first time launching a cohesive internship program, and I wanted to know, week to week, how everything was going.
So we gave it a try. Every Wednesday, I met with all seven interns, for 10-15 minutes each. Most meetings were in-person but, for the three interns in other offices, I held meetings via Skype. And it proved valuable! Here's what I asked and why it was helpful.
1. "What are you working on this week?"
I began most meetings with this question. I usually got a quick technical response to which I’d reply, “Fascinating. What’s that?” The intern would then explain his or her work in normal terms that I could understand. This was good for me in my ongoing quest to understand what the heck everyone does around here anyway. It was good for interns, I think, because it compelled them to describe their work in simple terms and to reflect on its quality and whether they were achieving their summer goals.
2. "How are things going with your mentor?"
It took me some time to realize that a) interns are in awe of their mentors and b) interns are not in awe of me. And rightly so. Our mentors are experts with years of professional experience, and they produce some of the best work in our industry. Our interns know this -- that’s why they choose to join us -- but they can also be a bit intimidated, especially in the early weeks. I, on the other hand, am pretty bright but a relative ignoramus (as covered above), as well as a safely neutral party. I found that the interns could open up to me as a result. I’d sometimes hear things like “I just don’t want to bother my mentor” or “My mentor seems really busy.” We do expect our interns to work independently; no hand-holding around here. But these conversations gave me the chance to reassure interns that there’s no such thing as “bothering” a mentor, either. I could then circle back with mentors to make sure they’re reasonably accessible for help and questions.
3. "What could be going even better right now?"
Most weeks the answer was simply, “Everything’s awesome.” But sometimes issues did arise, usually having to do with time allocation. In several instances, interns realized that they were spending too much time on one project or subject, at the expense of other topics they wanted to explore before the summer’s end. Through my 1:1s, I became aware of these issues before mentors did and was able to help make sure they were addressed quickly.
4. "How the heck ARE you, anyway?"
Perhaps most importantly, the weekly 1:1s let me get to know each intern better on a personal level. We chatted about: what, exactly, slacklining is; why you should go see a doctor if you’ve just gotten a concussion from slacklining; who the best professors on campus are; how our internship compares to other internships; which city has the best tech scene right now; why anyone would want to be a professional rock-star instead of a front-end developer (oh wait, our front-end devs ARE rock stars); and so much more. These conversations were fun and nice, of course, but also valuable from a long-term recruiting perspective. I consider our former interns pals in the industry to keep in touch with for years to come.
"But do I really need to meet with interns every single week?" you ask.
Maybe not. For some interns, our conversations could have happened every other week. I recommend tailoring the frequency of your check-ins to each intern’s personality and to the overall internship schedule. But the bottom-line is: check in with your interns regularly, even if -- I mean, especially if you’re the recruiting person.