The Fast Train: How To Onboard Interns

Onboarding can take months. And that's hardly an option for summer interns.

Apr 17, 2020
Management

SMITH BRAIN TRUST  There’s a lot to learn when you start work with a new company. There are all those day-to-day routines – where to park, where to find coffee, and where to turn with your IT questions. Those are the details that a new employee can pick up quickly.

Understanding the organizational culture, however, can take months.

That creates a challenge for human resources experts. When employee onboarding can take as long as three months, what does that mean for onboarding interns?

HR Dive recently reached out to experts at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business for insights on managing the onboarding process.

Some HR managers find success with a three-step onboard process, basically, pre-boarding, orientation and ramping up to productivity.

Pre-boarding can help engage the intern early as a high-potential full-time candidate and to ensure they are learning as much about the company as they can before their first day. "I've seen pretty commonly [that] the onboarding and training actually starts before they even formally start the job. It's about building the relationship," Nicole M. Coomber, associate clinical professor of management and organization at Maryland Smith, told HR Dive. "There are a lot of smaller interactions that happen before they come on board so that they have a lot of clarity on what they're actually doing when they get there."

Adds Coomber, "I think the more you focus on that relationship before they formally start, and the more you can offer them support and coaching in that time period, the more value you're going to get from them."

After an initial, formal onboarding, organizations can turn their focus to continuous, experiential learning.

"[Students] want to gain the experience that prepares them for the next professional opportunity and the chance to build relationships with other professionals in their field. That really sets apart a positive internship experience from a negative one," Rachel Loock, associate director of career services at Maryland Smith, told HR Dive.

Internships can also provide management training for an employer's high-performing employees, Coomber suggested. Interns benefit from working with highly engaged, high potential leaders and the employee benefits from new leadership experience.

Given their relative inexperience, interns have much to gain from simply witnessing the operations of a company and meeting leaders around an organization.

"Internships need coaching," Coomber said. "It's a particular leadership style, where you're being very clear about what you want them to do. So you want a lot of clarity around what you actually need from them." This involves explaining why a task is done in a certain way, what the company has learned through a process and how to provide feedback.

Some ways to provide unique opportunities for exposure that may also combine experiential learning include: projects that involve working with other departments, presentations to senior leadership, informal meet-and-greets, and company-wide social events.

Read more at HR Dive.

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About the Expert(s)

Nicole M. Coomber

Nicole Coomber is on the faculty in the Management & Organization area at the Robert H. Smith School of Business.

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Robert H. Smith School of Business
Map of Robert H. Smith School of Business
University of Maryland
Robert H. Smith School of Business
Van Munching Hall
College Park MD 20742