Moving on up!

Mar 19, 2012 by

I’m really excited to share that I was recently approached about becoming a guest blogger at Opportunity Knocks, a national online job site, HR resource and career development destination focused exclusively on the nonprofit community. I’ve shared, used and borrowed from their resources for years so I was very happy to say yes! I’ll be posting there periodically and wanted to share my very first submission which went live on their website (and then was sent out in an email newsletter – even better!) a few days ago. To learn more about Opportunity Knocks, sign up for their newsletters, browse jobs and of course keep up with their excellent bloggers, head on over to their website.

Free Labor? Not Quite.

There are a lot of things that nonprofits have in common: tax status, mission-driven work, dedicated employees, and – the topic of this post – interns. The same goes for individual nonprofit professionals – at one time or another almost all of us have supervised interns.

Here’s what often happens: You ask for help and your boss tells you to hire an intern…but provides no further guidance or instruction because it’s easy. Right? Um, no. In fact I think that supervising most interns is actually harder than full time staff because they have very little experience and frankly they aren’t “beholden” to the organization by things like pay and benefits. So how do you make sure that the free (or even very cheap) labor provided by your intern doesn’t end up costing both of you a lot in wasted time, energy and frustration?

Here’s what you can do:

1) Calm down – Do not talk to your intern when you’re angry. In fact if you have any problems with your coworkers or significant others, don’t ever talk to them when you’re angry. You won’t be able to control your emotions or the conversation.

2) Write it down – What is the problem as you see it? How long has it been going on? What specific examples do you have of unprofessional behavior or work not getting done? Tip: if you don’t have specific examples, you may want to reexamine whatever you think is a problem to make sure it actually is one.

3) Schedule a private meeting – This is not the time for a hallway or bathroom conversation. It needs to be scheduled and it needs to be private; you don’t want your intern to feel ganged up on nor do you need to involve anyone above you during the first conversation.

4) Explain your concerns using “I” language – Telling someone about all the things he or she is doing wrong (even if you are correct) is a sure fire way to make him or her feel attacked and then defensive. Instead, frame your concerns just like that: as YOUR concerns. It is entirely possible that your intern is not aware of how his or her actions are affecting you so let that person know.

5) ListenSimple yes, but not always easy. Understand that something may be going on that you don’t know about – and the only way you will learn about it is by listening to what your intern is saying. Do not just smile and nod: actively listen, take notes if you need to and then repeat back what you hear to make sure you got it right.

6) Set up a plan to resolve the issue – Once you’ve said your piece and your intern has said his or hers, the next step is to figure out how to work on fixing whatever is broken. What do you need? What does your intern need? The next steps must be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound; basically at the end of the following month (or whatever time parameter you choose) you should know whether each step has been achieved. This may be the most important part: your intern generally doesn’t have years of experience to fall back on so he or she needs very clear guidance from you in order to excel.

7) Follow up – After some time has passed, have another private meeting to talk about how things are proceeding. If things have gotten better, you can choose to continue following the plan you laid out or take a step back. If things have not gotten better, then it’s time to consider whether more serious steps are warranted.

I hope these steps will help you – and your interns – get even more great work done!

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  • Awesome! Looking forward to reading your thoughts over there!

  • Kaleem