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Setting Expectations with Interns

Like setting expectations with your team and manager, it’s also critical to set expectations with your interns. A lot of expectation setting happens during the onboarding process (as we referenced in our article “Good Internships Begin With Good Onboarding”), but it’s an important practice to continue and revisit throughout your intern’s experience.  We examine three cornerstones of expectation setting with interns to support your work.

1. Set Ambitious but Attainable Goals

Goal setting can help you and your intern align on the big picture vision for their role and identify what skills and experiences they hope to get out of the experience. Unlike annual goal setting, goal setting for interns should align with the short-term nature of their commitment. Additionally, interns are likely to need an additional training time so think about how your goals might set learning objectives as well as particular deliverables for projects.

As a best practice, we recommend setting no more than three big-picture goals with your intern if they are working a three-month term at fulltime. For a longer-term or part-time schedule, we recommend adjusting accordingly but not exceeding five. For each goal, provide:

  • What support and resources are available to help them meet the goal
  • What benchmarks leading up to the goal need to be met to support completion of the goal (these might involve internal deadlines you set with your intern to make sure they are on track.)
  • How the success will be measured (make it tangible, like a target click-rate if the intern is working on communications and marketing, or something qualitative but easily identifiable like independently able to answer all phone calls, if the intern is supporting some front office administrative work.)

2. Define Deliverables

Discussing deliverables goes hand and hand with goal setting and refers to the specific project outcomes and work the intern will produce. Think about how to scaffold your support of interns to build their ability to take ownership and work independently on these deliverables. It may also be helpful to create work plans for your interns. Work plans can help you and your intern schedule when drafts are due, map out meetings they should attend, and set review timelines.  Like setting goals, make sure you’ve built in generous learning time for your intern to get up to speed with their projects.

Since many interns are early in their careers, it may also be useful to provide examples of what you’re hoping a deliverable will look like. Consider sharing former intern projects or best practices your team uses when putting together similar work. You may also find it helpful to specify what you’d like to see in drafts as the work progresses so you can provide guidance to your intern before they get too far along in the work.

3. Provide a Clear and Consistent Reporting Structure

To make sure your intern is on-track with work and has the chance to ask questions and get feedback, plan to check-in with your intern on a weekly basis. Additionally, check-ins can help you get to know your intern and gain insight into their future aspirations. This can help you think about other opportunities for them and how this internship can support them with their long-term ambitions. Offering mentorship to your intern is a valuable part of the experience and having meetings weekly helps make space for that as well as day-to-day updates.

We hope these suggestions help you plan for your next intern and your work together. If you have other thoughts on expectation setting with interns, email us at to let us know and share your suggestions!


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