The intern exit interview: 5 questions companies should ask themselves, not their interns

By Tom Bergeron
New Jersey | Aug 15, 2018 at 7:15 am
Editor’s Desk

It’s that time of year. The time when summer interns are leaving your office and returning to college.

It’s the time when all companies should be asking themselves a number of things.

That’s right, the intern exit interview should be given to company executives — not the intern.

We offer five questions company executives should be asking themselves right now.

Question No. 1: “How much did our company learn from our intern?”

That’s right.

Interns shouldn’t be about having someone around the office to do the little things staffers don’t want to do. (I hope we’re past that.)

But they also shouldn’t be about what companies can teach them.

Yes, structured programs where interns go from department to department learning new things — in a not-so-subtle way for companies to gauge whether they should be future hires — are nice.

But if your internship was a one-way program, one where the company predetermined what the interns should do and learn, you made a big mistake and missed a big opportunity.

Smart companies learned more from their interns than their interns learned from them.

Question No. 2: “Did we ask our interns how they would run our company?”

Did you ask your intern if your business model appeals (or even applies) to the way they consume products, information and services?

Did you ask your intern if your social media strategy is relevant or outdated (or nonexistent)?

Did you ask your intern if your company’s culture works in today’s world — and will attract tomorrow’s workforce?

Twenty years ago, interns may have said they wanted to buy all their products online.

The company that listened now has booming sales.

Ten years ago, an intern may have said the office should be filled with open space, not have permanent offices, have workstations throughout the building that made it more like a coffee shop, have flex hours and flex days (in regard to working from home) and unlimited vacation.

Oh, and they want the office to be in a city. Because they are planning to live there. And they are not planning on having a car.

The company that listened hasn’t had any trouble attracting this generation for today’s full-time jobs.

Five years ago, interns may have said they get all their information on Instagram and Twitter (not Facebook, BTW).

The company that listened is now talking to its next generation of workers on those platforms.

Question No. 3: “Did we ask our interns if they would they take a job with our company if offered upon graduation?”

Don’t flatter yourself. Don’t assume any intern would.

This is an open job market. The next generation has options.

They are not going to take any job just because they need a paycheck.

Many are so far in debt that a job that will just keep them spinning their wheels and never getting back to zero has no appeal. Nor should it.

And, after watching the previous generation (their parents) get mistreated by companies that they devoted themselves to, don’t assume this generation will repeat that performance.

They won’t.

You need to offer more than a job. You need to offer a purpose. Your intern would have told you if you are, but only if you asked.

This question will tell you everything you need to know about your corporate culture.

The company that listens to the answer will move ahead of the competition.

Question No. 4: “Did we ask our interns which one of their classmates had the best internship experience this summer?”

They already knew. They already knew by the end of the first week, if not the first day.

They live in real time.

Everything is about attraction and retention.

This is your chance to learn how other companies are attracting the employees you want.

Did you find out what they are doing?

And make changes to measure up?

The smart companies did.

Question No. 5: “Did we ever consider that our intern might have been the smartest person in the office?”

Maybe not this summer. But moving forward.

Best management lesson I ever learned: Don’t assume you are smarter than someone just because you have had more experience.

You’re not smarter … you’re just more experienced.

Didn’t all of us serve as interns at one time?

I imagine people such as Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos may have been interns once, too.

You think any of their earliest supervisors still think they are smarter than Gates or Bezos?

This question goes to the heart of every business — and it applies to every employee, not just interns.

You have hired people because you think they are talented and will help your company.

Are you constantly asking them how they can help your company, and asking if your company is meeting their needs — or are you just telling them what to do each day because you’re the boss?

If you’re not, your company eventually will lose its perch in the business world.

A startup will pass you by.

And that startup will have been started by someone who recently was an intern.