Congratulations! You made it to the end of the summer, and hopefully your internship has been successful for everyone involved. Pat yourself on the back for a job well done!
However, you still have one more very important task to complete before you call it a semester: You must officially close out the internship. To successfully conclude the experience, there are two key areas that I believe you should be focusing on over the next couple of weeks that can really have a positive impact on both your current interns and your program moving forward.
- Acknowledge the last days of the internship.
- Conduct an appropriate exit interview.
To start, you might want to consider hosting some kind of formal event to signify the conclusion of the experience, for both your team and your intern. One very simple yet meaningful gesture is sponsoring a farewell lunch for your team during the final week of the internship. During this meal, your employees can acknowledge the contributions made by the intern over the course of the last few months.
This type of celebration can involve brief presentations, anecdotes, and/or musings from individuals who worked closely with the intern throughout the semester. Frequently, students like to be the center of attention, so this type of recognition is usually well-received. If you wish, you might ask the intern to prepare an overview (e.g., a final project, presentation, or portfolio) about what they learned or accomplished during the experience, and share it with the group. Reflecting on the experience will help the student internalize the skills he or she has developed, and will enable you provide a sense of closure. The key here is to keep things light and fun. Although you want the student to feel like he or she “owns” this experience and is coming away from it a better, stronger, more enlightened individual, you don’t want to make this culminating celebration feel like yet another pressure-filled, stressful assignment that will be critiqued.
Second, you may want to conduct an exit interview with your intern to capture specific information from them. The information they provide through the exit interview can help you and your organization revise and improve your internship initiatives. In order to evaluate the effectiveness of your internship program and/or position, it’s critical for you to employ this practice with your intern at the end of the semester. In addition to providing a sense of finality to the internship (for both you and the student), an exit interview will allow both of you to reflect on the experience and assess how beneficial it was to each party. The student’s feedback will help you and your organization find ways to better accommodate student interns in the future. Exit interviews with interns may also reveal a wide range of opportunities for improvements in organizational business policies, procedures, and systems.
It’s very important that the exit interview remain informal and casual. It may even be better to think of it as a conversation. Your goal is to create an environment where the student will feel free to discuss his or her thoughts. Even though it’s a good idea to keep this conversation relaxed, you should provide some sort of a structure and keep the discussion focused. Here are some examples of questions you might consider incorporating into the exit interview. Feel free to provide a copy of the questions you’d like to discuss to your student in advance, so that he or she has adequate time to brainstorm, compose his or her thoughts, and effectively participate in this discourse. For example:
- Did this internship meet your expectations? Why or why not?
- Did this internship successfully relate to your educational and career goals? Why or why not?
- Do you feel that the work you did was meaningful? Why or why not?
- Did you obtain a clear picture of the career possibilities within this organization? Why or why not?
- How do you feel that this experience has impacted your future goals and/or influenced your perspective about the industry/field/profession?
- Did you feel respected and valued as a member of our team? Why or why not?
- Do you feel that the supervision and guidance you received was adequate? Why or why not?
- What did you enjoy most about your experience? Least?
- What comments or suggestions would you like to offer to make this internship experience more meaningful?
- Would you recommend our company to other students who are considering internships? Why or why not?
Keep in mind that exit interviews are only as effective as you make them. In other words, you must be willing to actively listen to the student’s ideas and probe for more information. Don’t let them get away with comments like: “Everything was great!” Ask for details, specific examples, and clarification. In this situation, think of your intern as a consultant. Since you wouldn’t ask a consultant to sugarcoat the truth, why shouldn’t you encourage the student to provide candid responses to your questions?
- Ending the internship is as much of a process as starting the internship, and it should be planned out in advance.
- It’s nice to formally conclude the internship with a special lunch or party. This gesture makes the student feel special, and it allows other employees in your organization to express their thanks.
- Let your intern know what to expect, in terms of a future position with your company. Then clearly and specifically delineate any relevant next steps.
- Conducting an exit interview will help you solicit helpful feedback about your internship program, and it will permit your intern to share his or her ideas about improving it.