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What Should an Organization Expect from an Intern?

What should you expect when you hire an Industrial-Organizational Psychology intern? While there will be differences in background and work experiences among the students, there will be some common abilities and motivations.

  • Someone who possesses good analytical and research skills
  • Someone who is motivated by challenging work, who wants to make a difference, and who is eager to learn about “real’ organizations
  • Someone who will have a different perspective from people who have worked in your organization or industry

Interns have the potential to make a contribution to your organization; however, you should not expect them to be able to take the initiative or to get things done without the direct support of their supervisor. Initially, they will not understand the context of their work nor will they understand what they need to do or how they need to communicate to get their ideas accepted. For the internship to be fully productive, organizations need to provide well-structured projects and a supervisor who has significant organizational experience and a practical understanding of how an intern will be effective in their role.

What Internship Managers Should Expect from an Intern

  • Interns will want to get involved in as many projects as possible. Their time with you may not be long enough to let them see a whole project from start to finish. Take time to explain how their work fits into the large project.
  • Many interns will have had no exposure to the actual application of I-O. Their solutions to problems may be very academic and not work in applied context. Interns will need help working their solutions so they fit in applied settings.
  • Interns will be looking to develop their written and oral communication, problem solving, critical thinking, and interpersonal skills.
  • Interns can be an excellent source for future employees. Take the time to train and advise them.
  • Help introduce the intern to other employees of the company doing a range of work so they can get exposure. Depending on how long the intern is working at the organization, it might sometimes be better to perform a number of tasks or to work more closely with someone with similar interests.
  • Organizations benefit from and thus need to develop relationships with graduate programs. These relationships may include some or all of the following: adjunct teaching; research partnerships with professors; supporting the grad program’s I-O student association; going to local meetings (e.g., PTC) to network with students.
  • Assign one staff member (or more than one) to develop an internship experience process, and consider evaluating the effectiveness of your interns and your internship program.
  • Upon successful completion of an internship, interns may ask for access to data for future projects. You may want to have a conversation about this issue early on if confidentiality or other issues will preclude such access.
  • Do not have the intern do only menial chores (copying materials, creating binders, etc.).
  • Interns may have little formal work experience. You may need to spend time with them on a regular basis (e.g., an hour a week) mapping out work schedules, giving feedback, helping them act professionally, etc.
  • The intern may have classes at the same time as the internship, so their work may need to be scheduled around their class schedule.
  • Discuss your company policies around ethical conduct, and with whom the intern should consult if he/she has any questions about ethical behavior. All interns should be held to high ethical standards of behavior, and understand the consequences for lapses in ethical conduct.

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