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Washington Semester Program Internship Supervisor Best Practices

Set clear internship expectations from the beginning.

During the intern hiring process, make sure the intern and you will mutually benefit from the SPExS internship placement. Once the internship begins, discuss what you expect and what s/he can expect from you. To help this discussion, SPExS provides an Internship Duties Form that you complete together, outlining expectations about the work hours/schedule as well as projects. Supervisors should also explain office culture such as working styles, appropriate dress, and professionalism in the beginning. Describe the way in which you like to communicate with your intern.

Focus on a productive, goal-oriented internship

Consider an orientation period in the first several days, as the first stage of the internship. Provide information about the organization overall, introduce colleagues, train on office systems, and inform about events. Take the intern out to lunch or coffee during the first week to build the relationship. Consider other opportunities to keep the relationship positive. Focus on the goals and outcome of the work. Consider allowing the intern to rotate around the office with colleagues over the course of the semester. You may give an intern an informal working title such as the following: Communications Assistant, Program Specialist, or Development Assistant.

Encourage open and professional communication

Talk about your work and its impact. Become a mentor. Interns often are not aware of the "big picture" in the office; they have to learn from you. Prompt them with questions, including: How does the project affect public service? Is there a segment of the population that this affects in particular? Point out interesting books and articles related to your work that will enhance the intern's understanding.

Ask these questions to enhance understanding and increase productivity:

  • How will you benefit from the internship?
  • How will the intern benefit?
  • What special skills does the intern possess? 
  • What are the generational differences?
  • What are the cultural differences? What is distinctive about your intern's background?
  • What you are reading and how you are learning professionally?
  • What do you recommend for the intern to read, study, and learn?

Provide feedback

Give your intern positive and constructive feedback. Be honest in your communication. If you are concerned about finding time, remember that a few minutes of feedback early on can save you hours of problem solving later. Provide information about the intern's progress. Check-in with your intern to make sure his/her needs are met.

On-going feedback

Encourage the intern when s/he meets goals. When changes are necessary, explain why, preferably while the project is fresh on your intern's mind. If you overhear an intern stumble to complete assignments, offer immediate tips as soon as s/he finishes. Encourage other team members to do the same.

Final evaluation

At the end of the semester, complete an evaluation form for Washington Semester and share copies with your intern. Detail the intern's successes and provide constructive feedback about weaknesses. Include whether s/he seemed to learn during the period and whether s/he should be a candidate for a permanent job.

Build the relationship

Remember that your intern is in a new environment and may need extra support. Check in about the intern's well-being. Encourage peer mentoring or have members of your staff serve as mentors and friends. Demonstrate your willingness and interest in learning about your intern's background. Remember that a cultural difference can provide reasons for interesting discoveries and also challenges. Examine your beliefs for cultural biases or stereotypical thinking.

Remain in touch with your intern

The intern is a potential recruit. Don't look at interns as merely temporary help; view them as potential hires. Use internships to train students so they want to return to your office as full-time employees. Stay in touch with your intern after the program ends.

A good mentor does the following: 

  • Teaches and shares expertise.
  • Learns about others and their backgrounds. 
  • Demonstrates a positive attitude and acts as a role model.
  • Gets invested in the intern and cares about the intern's future.
  • Exudes enthusiasm for the work.
  • Values learning and professional development.
  • Provides guidance and constructive feedback.
  • Earns respect from colleagues and employees by setting a good example.
  • Does not abuse authority.
  • Nurtures confidence and self-sufficiency.
  • Avoids dictating choices or controlling a student's behavior.
  • Listens patiently.