How To Work With Interns As An Entry-Level Employee

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blue door and cool brick wall with guy standing in front of them pretending to be observing something mesmerizing while in fact staring at a building on california street and 3rd that reminds him of home wherever home is

It’s OK to play the cool guy to interns at work, so long as you put up some boundaries (though not a literal brick wall).

To every college student out there, the words “entry level” may as well be the equivalent of  “major leagues.” As a full-time worker, you get a bunch of things that would make your collegiate self squeal with joy: benefits, respect, responsibility, and most of all, a SALARY (*cue singing choir*). It’s so awesome, you may very well forget those dark days of being the unpaid intern whose desk was in a supply closet.

That is, until you have to work with the unpaid intern whose desk is in a supply closet.

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Many of us recent grads were interns ourselves not so long ago. I feel like this, in and of itself, makes us inclined to be the “cool guy/gal” to the interns in our offices. We wouldn’t ask them to do anything too mean or demanding, right? But what if your boss makes you? Or, what if the interns start to think you’re a little too cool, and begin telling you things your precious professional ears shouldn’t hear from a coworker.

As a recent call-up to the bigs, I’ve found that working with interns when you’re a recent grad can be a fine line to walk. Fortunately, there seems to be a way you can do it right.

Be The “Cool Guy/Gal”

If you’re not already the cool guy/gal with the interns, like I mentioned above, you should be—for multiple reasons.

First, you were literally in their shoes a period of months ago. You know what it’s like to be an intern far more than your supervisor does, given they’re likely a decade or so removed from the whole “college” thing.

While your boss probably knows how to manage the team well, he or she might not understand the pressures facing a typical millennial (student loans, terrible job economy, etc.). You do, because you’ve either lived through or are currently living with those problems. That puts you in a position to be as empathetic as possible.

If you’re treating interns in your office like they’re your grunts, you’re doing it wrong. That just shows you’ve got a nasty superiority complex and your empathy skills are severely lacking. Remember, you were in the exact same place as them once upon a time.

That doesn’t mean you need to be BFFs with the interns, though. At my last job, I didn’t directly supervise or constantly interact with any of our interns. That didn’t stop me from chatting them up, asking them how things were going, hanging out with them at company events, and letting them know that I was there if they ever needed anything.

But Set Boundaries

If you’re a really good at socializing with the interns, you’ll eventually become friends with them. You may even spend time with them outside the office, which is awesome! They’ll likely look up to you as somebody whose footsteps they’d like to follow, and you’ve earned what could be your very first professional mentee. Good stuff.

But understand that while you may be friends outside the office, inside those four poorly painted walls, you’re still coworkers. In some cases, an intern might be more like your direct report.

If it gets to the point that they’re work is slacking because they think you’ll take it easy on them (you’re best buds, remember?), you have a problem on your hands. You may think it’s really a problem for them, but remember, interns are almost always temporary. You actually work at your company. If you can’t get them together, that’ll just show your manager that you’ve got poor leadership and management skills. Goodbye, promotion.

So, to sum up: If you can be friendly with interns while also maintaining some professionalism in the office, you’re doing it right!

Entry-level workers: Any tips for working with interns? Share them below!

(Photo: Matteo Bittanti)

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