It’s a warm day in June, and there’s a buzz circulating around the office that’s unusual for a Monday morning: “the interns are coming.” A few months before, hiring managers across the office courted these current students with the promise of expanding their education in a real-world setting and the potential to secure a full-time position at the end of summer.
Now the time has come for these enthusiastic scholars to begin their summer adventure. There’s a quick mixer to build excitement, a stop by Human Resources, and finally, a warm welcome from their summer manager.
At this handshake, there’s a crucial mistake managers make that could haunt them all summer, and it goes a little something like this: “Hey (intern name), great to see you again! I’m so excited to be your mentor this summer.”
No one wants a “friend” assigned to them
Look, as much as you want to be your mentee’s inspirational guide through the corporate jungle, you can’t make “mentor” happen. Those types of relationships grow over time, and can’t be dictated by a spreadsheet or an assignment from HR.
First and foremost, you’re their manager. For those who have never had an internship before, this may be the first time they’ve experienced what having a boss is like. Your success as an effective manager, without the friendship frills, can leave a lasting impression on an intern’s growth and opinion of the company.
“Mentors” don’t make hiring decisions
If you’ve set the right tone for your intern program, participants know they’re there to contribute to the company by getting real work done as they essentially “interview” for a full-time role over the course of the summer.
The latter is what’s important: the interview process is a critical evaluation of a candidate’s potential as an employee.
Calling a manager a mentor can hide from interns that they’re being evaluated week over week. Blurring the lines between supervisor and mentor creates an atmosphere where employees can put their guard down — posing risks for lapses in productivity that could impact company needs and lead to poor performance reviews.
Worst of all, it creates confusion for the intern when they don’t get return offers at the end of the summer and they learn the person posing as their “buddy” was also the person standing in the way of an offer.
Our advice: keep it simple
Mentorship is a powerful thing, and if all of your interns have genuine mentors, that’s phenomenal. Unfortunately, actual mentorship is too valuable for most people to luck into it through a coordinated HR pairing.
Imposing a mentor/mentee expectation on the relationship with your intern is inauthentic. If you see your internship program as an extended interview and not as a favor to a young person that could get them a job elsewhere — doesn’t this corporate cliche contradict with your internship goals?
Focus on being a good leader first, and let friendship follow.