While the Hill is a sink or swim environment, you have to prepare your interns for their time in your office. They’re college kids and recent grads with little or no work experience, you can’t expect them to know how to behave in your office unless you tell them. They can’t be expected to play the game if they don’t know the rules. Here are some tips for bringing up good interns.
After all, you are training the farm team that will one day run this Congress. So take this responsibility seriously.
The Intern Bible. You need to have an intern handbook. This is not negotiable. Your intern handbook should include the following:
A code of conduct. A dress code for session and recess. A list of daily tasks. An explanation of the chain of command. A guide to basic phone etiquette and how to greet visitors. And, lastly, a guide to sorting mail the right way.
Your goal is to create a handbook that the interns can refer to when they have questions before they ask you. But what your intern bible includes is just as important as what it does not include.
Don’t Overshare in Writing. Yes, your intern needs to know that when the Boss asks for “sugar,” he means Stevia. Yes, your intern needs to know that Boss doesn’t like when you leave things on her chair. And yes, your intern should know that if they’re hungover and will be late, that they need to let you know that they will be late.
But none of these things should be written down. Ever. Why?
The quirky things that your Boss likes or hates can be used as ammunition against him/her. Just ask Don Young who had his intern guide published in Talking Points Memo. So if you have something personal to share with your intern, tell them but don’t write it down.
Eyes Only. This brings me to my next point, have a non-disclosure agreement. The interns will be talking to constituents. They will overhear things around the office. They will be privy to conversations between the Boss and the staff, visitors and the Boss’s friends and family.
Your interns need to understand that much of what they hear should not be shared outside the office. And they need to sign a legal document (reviewed by an attorney) that says that they will not share this information. Why?
Because if your intern tells his parents that a neighbor calls the office everyday to talk about his issues with Social Security and that he has said he’ll be foreclosed on, your intern has just violated his privacy and opened up a can of worms for your Boss.
Teach the Basics. We’ve gone over this before, but it is your job to teach your intern basic phone skills, basic professional etiquette, basic writing skills and Capitol Hill 101 (difference between a rule and suspension, what the cloakroom is, etc.). Once they leave your office, they carry your stamp of approval, so whatever you fail to teach them reflects poorly on you and your Boss.
Daily Reminders. If your intern is late, say something. If your intern is dressed poorly, say something. If they’re not living up to expectations, say something.
There is a tendency on the Hill to just ignore intern failings because they’re temporary employees. But ignoring small problems, leads to big ones. So act like an employer and tell your employee to show up on time, dress correctly and act right. Because failure to manage an intern well reflects as poorly on your management skils as it does on their work ethic.
Include the Interns. Encourage the interns to read the daily news clippings, the daily schedule and the newspapers (CQ, The Hill, etc.). Let them in on what is happening in the office, on the floor, etc. Make them feel like part of the team. If they feel like they’re included, they might work harder because they want to do their part.
Alright Hill Staffers and intern managers, what are your tips for raising good interns? Share them in the comments.