7 Things to Know for Intern Onboarding


Ah, summer. The days are longer, the temperatures are higher, and you probably have a fresh new batch of interns onboard to help keep the gears of your organization turning. All you need to do is onboard and train them.
…You were going to onboard and train your interns, right?
Like any new hire, your interns are only as good as the information given to them. Whether they’re with you for 3, 6, or 12 months, giving them all of the tools to help them succeed both as individuals and within your organization will benefit everyone. Here are our 7 tips for training your interns to crush it.
…You *were* going to onboard and train your interns, right? 7 crucial tips for intern onboarding. Share on X

1. Have a Vision for Their Entire Internship

If you’re baking a cake, you’re going to have a recipe, ingredients, and an understanding of what steps you need to take in order to get to sweet, sweet cake, right? Crafting a successful internship is like making a successful cake (minus the funfetti).
Map out your goals for your incoming interns: What do you want them to walk away with at the end of their time with your organization? What do you need them to accomplish to make your life easier? What icing can you add to the top? Plan it all out, week-by-week, and have that recipe ready to go before Day 1.

Speaking of…
Crafting a successful internship is like making a successful cake (minus the funfetti). Share on X

2. Give Your Interns a Warm (or Iced) Welcome

We get it. It’s tempting to show your new intern to an empty desk, set them up with an email account, and then immediately start giving them spreadsheets to fill out. But just as you probably analyzed every bit of the first impression they made on you in the hiring process, the onus is now on you to make a good first impression on them.
Make sure they get to meet everyone on the team and learn their names. At Whole Whale, we have a tradition of one-on-one coffee meetings for all new employees. These one-on-ones with each Whaler gives us a chance to learn more about our new coworker and gives them a chance to hear from us about what we do and why we do it. Plus: Free coffee.

Online training for nonprofits

Join Whole Whale University

Learn from our decade of experience with courses, webinars, templates, and guides!

3. Make Sure Your Interns Know Your Mission

The Curse of Knowledge is real. To quote the Harvard Business Review:

“Top executives have had years of immersion in the logic and conventions of business, so when they speak abstractly, they are simply summarizing the wealth of concrete data in their heads. But frontline employees, who aren’t privy to the underlying meaning, hear only opaque phrases. As a result, the strategies being touted don’t stick.”

What this means: You know your mission inside and out. It’s what gets you up in the morning and it’s what keeps you up at night. Rather than assuming that your interns know why it’s important as well (because shouldn’t they if they applied to work for you?), review it with them. Show, don’t tell, and things will stick.

4. Kick Off Their Internship with a Training Session…

We’ve all fallen into the trap of assuming that it’s better to take 20 minutes and do something ourselves versus taking 40 minutes to train an intern to do it for us. (Spoiler alert: It’s not.)
Start things off by reviewing your goals for them, hear about the goals that they have for their time with you, and walk them through the major processes: HR, dress code, chain of command, and other top-level protocols. Then show your interns the roadmap you’ve planned for their time with your organization. Give them a chance to see their week-to-week or month-to-month laid out.
We assume it’s better to take 20 min and do something ourselves vs taking 40 min to train an intern on it. (Spoiler alert: It’s not.) Share on X

5. …But Don’t Stop at Just One

Yes, training interns takes time. But that’s partly the reason they’re working for you — to learn. Set up one learning goal each week that ties in with the projects they’re working on and do a training session in 30 to 60 minutes depending on the scope of learning. Over time, the investment will pay off (just as you had to learn all the ropes at the beginning to do what comes so easily to you now).
These meetings are also chances to go over feedback, both your feedback for them and vice versa. Keep those lines of communication open!

6. Have Actual Work Planned for Your Interns

It’s 2017. At this point, most organizations are past relying on interns to pick up coffee/dry cleaning/Blockbuster rentals left at an ex’s apartment (true story. And RIP Blockbuster). While you don’t want to give your intern too much responsibility — like running your social media strategy — you do want them to be handling real projects that have a real impact. This is where outlining your mission to them will help them to understand how each task fits in with that mission.
Also: Have one larger project for them to work on throughout the duration of their time. If you’re redeveloping your website, having them on content migration duty is the type of work that they can build on over time and, towards the end, see a big picture come together. It also serves as a solid backup if they have free time and you don’t have a pressing task.

7. Think About Your Interns Outside of Your Organization

Chances are high that your interns are a) about to graduate college, b) have recently graduated college, or c) are pivoting career-wise. In all of the above cases, they are looking for work — either in the immediate future or in a year or two. Give them opportunities to network both within your organization and in the larger field.
Bring them to your organization’s donor appreciation event, take them out to your local nonprofit happy hour (if they’re of age), and give them resources on local Meetup groups and access to former interns so that they have a chance to make new friends and chat with those that came before them.
You can’t spell “Internet” without “intern.” Now that you know how to onboard your interns, check out our guide on the top internship posting websites to find them.