Internship Supervisor Training

By Cindy Lewis

Most career development professionals will not question the importance of internships. Internships allow students to gain knowledge in their field, network with professionals, add skills to their resume, and can lead to full-time jobs fifty percent of the time (Merritt, 2008). Internships also promote growth and push students out of their comfort zones. Internships can even result in a student changing career directions. Yet, we often focus on the student experience during an internship and neglect the impact that the employer has on the quality of the internship experience. When I decided to do research on internship supervisor training in the workplace for my dissertation topic, I was amazed to find that there was very little research conducted on this topic. Internship supervisor training was rarely mentioned in the literature with the exception of the field of psychology where internship supervisors for graduate students are required to have 15 hours of supervisor training (California Board of Behavioral Sciences, 2014). Requirements, models and strategies can also be found in the new NCDA monograph, “Clinical Supervision of Career Development Practitioners” (Hoppin & Goodman, 2014).

Employers Want Internship Supervisor Training

While conducting interviews for my dissertation, I found it very interesting that most internship supervisors wanted some type of supervisor training. They all felt it was very important. After two years researching this topic, I decided to write this article to inform career services practitioners on my initial findings.

Internship Supervisor Training is important for a number of reasons. One finding in the literature (Patel, 2015) and in my study is that the needs and expectations of an intern often fail to align with the needs and expectations of the supervisor. In other words, the interns and the supervisors are not always on the same page. How do we remedy this? Internship supervisor training ensures that needs and expectations are discussed early on in the process to prevent misunderstandings. In addition, the intern and supervisor relationship is a critical part of whether or not the intern views the internship opportunity as successful or not. It is vital for supervisors to build a strong relationship with their interns as well. This translates into a better internship experience for everyone.

When asked what prepared supervisors to manage interns, many stated they were prepared to manage an intern because they were once an intern themselves. Others mentioned that managing full-time staff has helped them in supervision, but managing an intern can be more difficult than managing staff because their salary and level of motivation differ. Internships are usually entry-level in nature and often require more time from the supervisor to be devoted to training, mentoring, and feedback.

Training Format Needs Vary
When asking employers about how internship supervisor training should be provided, if it was provided, and who should facilitate it, the answers came as a surprise. Many internship supervisors had very different preferences on how and who should provide internship supervisor training. Some preferred a workshop format, while others wanted a simple training manual. One supervisor even wanted the student involved in the supervisor training. A few mentioned a video training online where they could listen to short segments on topics, or pass certain segments onto other staff who manage and supervise college interns. Because my study just looked at non-profits, additional research is needed to see if the advice crosses fields, as I expect it would.

Then I asked internship supervisors who should provide the internship supervisor training? The majority of participants said the student's university academic department faculty or program director should be in charge of supervisor training. A few said the employer as well. Some wanted a combination of facilitators that might include the employer, the academic department, and/or the career center, although the career center hardly came up in other interviews. Another idea from interviewees would be to provide a handout for internship supervisors that include tips like these:

  • The first day is critical! It sets the stage for the rest of the internship so make time for them on day one.
  • Introduce the interns to all staff members and give them a tour of the office.
  • Ask your interns if they are receiving credit for the internship and if so what will be needed.
  • Schedule at least one hour of time on their first day and at least one hour per week on a continuous basis to discuss progress, issues, or questions about work.
  • Ask your interns about their career goals and try to gear projects to their interests.
  • Attend conferences with your interns and have them research best practices in your field.
  • Create a training file or check-list for the intern to review with pertinent procedures or policies.
  • Have the intern create the manual for future intern training.

Workplaces Need Well-Trained Supervisors
In conclusion, internship supervisors need more guidance and direction on what to expect from an internship in the workplace, such as a non-profit organization. Depending on the student’s major, different departments have different procedures. Ideally, career services departments should be aware of the procedures for all majors (undergraduate and graduate level) in case issues arise. Finally, providing ALL internship supervisors with a simple handout on “how to be an effective internship supervisor” would be a welcome addition to any internship program.

California Board of Behavioral Sciences. (2014).  Associate clinical social worker supervisor information & qualifications.  Retrieved from http://www.bbs.ca.gov/pdf/forms/lcs/asw_supervisor_info.pdf  

Hoppin, J. M., & Goodman, J. (2014). Clinical supervision of career development practitioners: Practical strategies. Broken Arrow, OK: National Career Development Association.

Merritt, R. D. (2008). Student internships. EBSCO Research Starters. Retrieved from https://www.ebscohost.com/uploads/imported/thisTopic-dbTopic-1072.pdf

Patel, N. H. (2015). Undergraduate internship program structures for effective postgraduation employability: A case study of a mass media arts internship program. Electronic Theses & Dissertations Collection for Atlanta University & Clark Atlanta University. Paper 16.


Cindy LewisCindy Lewis, M.S., M.S., B.A. has over 15 years of experience in career development. She holds a B.A. Degree in Psychology, M.S. Degree in Counseling, M.S. in Public Policy & Administration, and currently is working on her Doctorate in Higher Education Leadership. Cindy is the Director of Career Services at California Lutheran University and prior to this she worked as the Associate Director at Pepperdine’s Graziadio School of Business and Management. Cindy started in career development at Los Angeles Valley College and West Valley Occupational Center in LA County. More at: https://www.linkedin.com/in/cindylewiseducation. clewis@callutheran.edu

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