How to train new student workers, interns, GAs, to work in your office.
I’ve been very fortunate in my career to have worked with some truly amazing student-workers and interns. When young, eager minds want to learn the business or your SAAC peeps want to toss t-shirts at basketball games, you never turn them away! Every student-worker, intern or GA I have had, has come into my office with a different skill set and level of understanding of college athletics.
When I first started supervising interns and student-workers, I was winging it with their training. I was showing them things on a need-to-know basis and not doing them the justice by taking the time to explain the scope of a project. I was leaving out crucial information, like how their work was going to contribute to the overall success of our athletic department. My first student-worker became my best friend - probably because he never took me seriously because I had no idea what I was doing.
Well, that ship sailed immediately. I needed a better plan, a better system. (Recognizing weakness is the first step to greatness, right?) How was I going to make my interns and student workers not only an asset to me and the department, but more importantly, an asset to a future employer?
I’ve put together a quick list on some things I’ve tried over the years that seem to have had positive results. I love to learn. I make it my business to learn something new every day, no matter how insignificant it may be. I’ve taken my own eagerness to learn and almost figured out how to train the perfect intern.
Set expectations (but not too high) Don’t ASSume anything!
Don’t be afraid to be basic! Start from the very beginning: this is the phone and this is how we answer it. I’m serious! You really don’t know what type of skill set this new addition to your staff has. Yes, you have a copy of their resume and yes, you’ve interviewed them but do you really know them, yet?
Your new addition(s) need to know what you expect and what standard you are going to hold them to. This can be as simple as, “I expect you to be in the office at 9:00 a.m.” I say that because if you don’t tell them, they won’t know. Just like if you might need to tell them the excel spreadsheet needs to have column headers to filter the data. Yes, I’m serious. But let them surprise you. Let them show you that they are ready to meet and hopefully, exceed, your expectations. Let them show you what their strengths are.
Training (before the training)
This was huge for me this summer. With a very tedious process involved in our weekly awards, I had last year’s intern put together a process document. When I hired my newest intern, I emailed the document for them to read over before they started working.
When it came time to the training session, they already had a working knowledge of the process and could now see it in motion as the steps were being shown to them.
It has become a guide for them to use but also a working document for them to add their own touches to.
Give them resources
You know what is confusing about your job. You can anticipate what questions will be asked in the first week: “Where is the restroom?”; “How do I print?”; “What’s for lunch?” (No, just me?)
I’m exaggerating…slightly. Give them a handbook with whatever important information they will need to get the job done. It may take some time to create initially, but you will thank me when you do. Put it all in there. Brand standards, social media accounts, file paths for folders they’ll need, how to set up a voting ballot in the back end of your CMS. Add screenshots if you’re an overachiever like me.
When you provide new staff members with the resources to answer the more simple questions, not only does it free you up some, it provides them with the tools to work independently and potentially develop their own style. Win, win!
I’ll never forget the first time my mentor dropped this phrase on me in reference to a student-worker. I was ready to lose my mind over something truly insignificant. My mentor sat me down in her office and said, “this is a teachable moment.” I’m sorry, it’s what? I have to fix this mess and you’re talking about “teaching” – she could not have been more right!
People make mistakes. It’s human nature. The important thing is to not make the same mistake twice. Provided no one costs the department an obscene amount of money or a headache, all mistakes can be rectified. It’s how you handle the mishap that will most likely stay with someone for years to come.
Don’t ever downplay the magnitude of the mistake, but methodically explain why it could have been the end of the world. Let them walk you through the steps they took to come to their conclusion and figure out where it went wrong…together.