Strategies & Tactics

How to Provide Encouraging Feedback to Interns

June 1, 2018

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A PR intern walks into her supervisor’s office expecting to be complimented on the excellent job she’s done crafting a press release. After all, she’s acing her courses and is president of the local PRSSA Chapter. The supervisor hands her a marked-up hard copy and tells her to rewrite it since the quality of the work is not up to the professional standards of the organization.

Do you identify more with the intern or the supervisor in this scenario?

Students seek out internships to gain real-world experience, get course credit, perhaps earn some spending money and prepare themselves for a job after graduation.

Companies seek out interns to prepare the next generation of workers and identify potential new hires.

The needs of interns and their employers are clearly distinct, yet supervisors must understand that they are not only bosses but also short-term educators and mentors.

Selecting the right tone

I’ve occasionally struggled with how best to provide feedback to interns. Do I cut them some slack knowing they are inexperienced communicators? Or do I critique their work as if they were full-time staffers, thus exposing them to “real-world” professional standards?

To be honest, I’ve probably done a little of both depending on the individual and the specific assignment. Keep in mind this does not apply to clearly unprofessional transgressions like tardiness, inappropriate behavior, laziness, etc.

Following are some tips for providing feedback to interns that address their need to learn in a professional setting:

  • Be honest but encouraging. Thinking back on my experiences as an intern, I would want to know both my strengths and shortcomings, and be nurtured rather than intimidated.
  • Set expectations up front. During the orientation process, let them know they will be working on actual projects that represent the organization.
  • Focus on the learning experience. Let them know you’ll be judging their work by professional standards but also that it will be reviewed at multiple stages.
  • Be pleasant. If you come across as too harsh, then you might discourage them from approaching you with questions or concerns.
  • Point out the good and the bad. Don’t just focus on the mistakes but also point out what they did right.
  • Recount your past mistakes. Tell them about your own slip-ups and lessons learned.
  • Share internal resources. Give them access to internal resources like files from previous projects, writing style guides, media databases, etc.
  • Model expected behavior. Share your work habits, tips and tricks. For example, have them proofread from hard copies and read their text out loud before routing to you.
  • Turn mistakes into teachable moments. We’re all human. Work with them to devise and implement corrective actions and steps to avoid errors next time.
  • Acknowledge improvements. Compliment the intern if you see progressive improvement in the quality of his or her work.
  • Put it in writing. Most academic institutions require a written assessment from the employer in order for interns to receive credit. Use this as an opportunity to document and summarize their performance.


As a general rule, aim for consistency in supervising and assessing all your interns. Strive to create an environment that attracts the best candidates and entices them to want to work for you after graduation.?

Glenn Gillen, APR

Glenn Gillen, APR, is a senior account manager at S&A Communications (www.sacommunications.com) in Cary, N.C. Follow him on Twitter: @ggpr.

Comments

Kirk Hazlett, APR, Fellow PRSA says:

Good advice here both for managers and for interns. Each side has responsibilities as well as expectations. This can be a valuable learning experience for both, so make the best of it...and TALK to each other!

June 13, 2018

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