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Test Your Intern & Embrace The Mentor Role

Posted by Rod Danan | Jun 12, 2020

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Welcome back for part 2 of the Internship Handbook! Hopefully, week 1 of your internship went smoothly and you are ready to integrate your junior talent further into your team.

If you have not read part 1 of the Internship Handbook, you can read it here. Otherwise, let's hop right into it.

Test Their Skills

During the first week, you should have taught your intern the 20% that would allow them to do 80% of what they need to do at your company. A test project allows you to measure how well they understood your teachings.

No matter if it is a developer, designer, or data scientist, 2-4 weeks will be a good length for this project. This takes into account that they are working part-time and will have some sort of learning curve.  Options for this project are endless and depend on your needs. Some examples are:

  • Convert Figma designs for a new job description form to HTML/CSS & React components
  • Use customer feedback to redesign account settings
  • Clean data coming from product analytics tools and find opportunities for business

Of course, make sure this task is still relevant to your business's goals. It should not be a test in the literal sense but more as a preview of your intern's ability. Besides, each task will still help the tech intern to understand the company and give them experience.

An important thing to remember is that this task should not be an urgent one. It will take a few more weeks until you can accurately forecast how long a task will take your tech intern. There are factors such as unfamiliarity with systems and lack of experience, along with the typical startup fires that pop up. Save the urgent tasks for your senior leads and give the intern a task further down the pipeline.

The main point of this test is to learn how the intern thinks, discover their hidden strengths, and clarify anything else you might have missed during week one. That's why "grading" the test is critical.

Embrace the Mentor Role

An internship does not work without both sides contributing to help each other. As the mentor in the internship, it is your job to help build a strong foundation for the junior tech professional. This is probably their first time working in a real company which means this first impression will heavily influencer how they work.

To make sure they build the right habits, be sure to provide feedback in a timely manner. When you notice a mistake, make a comment early to prevent it from happening again. Explain why the behavior or action was incorrect and provide guidelines to follow moving forward. Keep them on the right course.

Part of being able to give feedback is encouraging it in the first place. The intern should be utilizing Google to get by on technical issues when they can, but business-specific info is not Google-able. Make it clear that business questions should be freely asked. That way you prevent a deadly change to code or a data analysis based on incorrect assumptions.

Removing roadblocks quickly will benefit you as well. When you get pinged with a question from the intern, try to answer as soon as you can. Their schedule is likely tight since they are working 20 hours per week and getting stuck could derail their weekly commitment. If you more than one intern, setting up office hours for open questions could be a good choice. 

Start Planning Next Phase

Once you move into month two of the internship, things can accelerate. Before you hit the gas though, observe how weeks 2-4 go. Try to learn as much as possible about your intern to inform your plans for them moving forward.

For example, Dananza noticed that their intern was really meticulous with their code. This led to the decision to devote some of the intern's time to QA. The intern loved the opportunity to get features from 80% to 100% done. They still had the main project they worked on but the QA fueled their motivation.

Try to get a sense of how quickly the intern works during this time. Admittedly, this is tough. The standing theory (at least from us) is that you can say they will be 20% more productive in month 2 than they are in month 1. So if it takes them two weeks to convert five pages to HTML/CSS during month one, you can assume that they can do six pages during the same timespan in month 2. This math is not exact but this should inform product management on what to expect.


We are excited to see some tangible work come out of your intern so you can move your business forward. Good luck over the next couple of weeks!

  1. Test Their Skills
    1. Assign a 2-4 week project
    2. The project should not be an urgent one
    3. Learn how your intern thinks and clarify
  2. Embrace The Mentor Role
    1. You are an intern's first impression of working in tech
    2. Give feedback quickly and clearly
    3. Encourage Google for tech questions and yourself for non-tech
    4. Answer messages to keep the intern moving
  3. Start Planning Next Phase
    1. Identify strengths you can utilize
    2. Use current pace as a baseline for forecasting the future pace

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