The 4 Kinds of Managers You'll Encounter as an Intern (And How to Handle Them)

Landing an internship is all about firsts. You’ll have your first “real” office job, your first experience with the corporate world, your first opportunity to work with a team to solve actual business challenges—and maybe even your first manager. Even if you’ve had a job or two while in school, working with your first boss in an office setting is a completely different experience. The stakes are higher, the pressure is greater, and the rewards, like getting an offer for a full-time gig, are larger.

To make the most of your internship, you’ll have to work well with your new boss. Here are four of the most common types of managers you’ll encounter during your internship, plus some key tips for leaving the kind of lasting, positive impressions that can lead to a full-time gig.

1. The Friend

Common at small companies and startups, the Friend is likely to be close to your own age. He’s a young professional who’s risen to a management position quickly, and this is probably his first leadership role. The Friend wants to get to know you. He wants to talk about your interests, your hobbies, your school, and last night’s Game of Thrones episode. Most of all, however, he wants to be liked. For many first-time managers, being liked by their direct reports is at the top of their priority list, primarily because it wasn’t long ago that they, too, were entry-level employees.

Make it Work

First, be open. The Friend needs to know that you trust him, and he needs to feel like you genuinely like him. Find common interests. Share your favorite music, books, and hobbies. But don’t forget to make it clear to your new boss that you want to learn as much as possible while helping his team and the company as a whole be successful. Ask for projects that will teach you new skills. If you’re struggling with a task, don’t hesitate to ask for guidance. The Friend will love the opportunity to help you develop as a professional.

2. The Participant

The Participant loves to brainstorm. She loves gathering her team around a table and talking through ideas, and she really loves working alongside them to bring an idea to fruition. But don’t mistake this approach for softness. Just because she likes to be in the weeds doesn’t mean she doesn’t expect preparation, execution, and results. And since she’ll be working closely with you, be prepared for your actions and methods to be observed.

Make it Work

Getting the most out of an internship with the Participant means playing well with others. Not just her, but every member of her team. Win her over by an excellent team player. Listen more than you talk, and be receptive of others’ ideas. Ask your team members for help and guidance, not just your boss. Most of all, don’t feel defensive. Just because she’s working closely with you, don’t take that to mean she doesn’t trust you. She does. She just wants the two of you to work together.

3. The Prover

Some managers love to riff on ideas and fill up whiteboards with concept after concept. The Prover isn’t one of them—but that doesn’t mean he isn’t creative or willing to help. Quite the opposite, actually. He just wants, well, proof. He doesn’t believe that an idea will work without concrete evidence. He won’t be willing to help you solve a problem until you can prove that it is indeed a problem. He’s the least touchy-feely manager on this list, but he’s also one of the managers who can teach you the most.

Make it Work

Be prepared. If you have an idea for a solution to a problem, don’t suggest it until you’ve done your homework. Know how much it will cost, how long it will take, and who needs to be involved. And are you sure it’s even a problem? Can you replicate the issue? Can you be sure how much the problem is costing in money or time? He’s called “the Prover” because he needs proof. This doesn’t mean he doesn’t believe you or isn’t interested in what you have to say. It just means he wants to see that you’ve done your due diligence before bringing an idea to him. Adopting this approach can take you far with every manager you’ll have over the rest of your career.

4. The Planner

Everyone has that one friend who won’t even commit to a night out without knowing exactly where you’re going and when you’ll get there. Now imagine that friend in 10 years’ time. That’s the Planner, and she knows exactly what she wants from her team and from her career. That means she also knows precisely what she wants from you, too. The Planner doesn’t go with the flow—she creates the flow and manages it daily. If you’re going to make the most of your internship, you’ll need to follow the plan very, very carefully.

Make it Work

The Planner needs to know that you’re on board with the plans she’s made for her department and for you. Make sure you understand her designs clearly, and don’t be afraid to ask if something isn’t clear. The Planner also can teach you a lot about project management, so let her. Ask her how she manages to keep so many balls in the air at once, and she’ll be happy to show you. She’s also an expert problem solver, so do your best to come to her with solutions rather than problems. For example, don’t say: “X is broken. Can you help?” Say: “Here’s how I think I should fix X. Does that sound like the wisest solution to you?”

It may take some time to figure out which type your new manager is, or curveball, they may even be a hybrid. But once you do, follow these tips to make the most of working with them. You never know, they could be the one to offer you another first, your first full-time job.

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About Richard Moy

Richard Moy
Richard Moy is a Content Marketing Writer at Stack Overflow. He has spent the majority of his career in talent management, including a stint as a full-cycle recruiter and hiring manager. In addition to the career advice he contributes to The Muse, he also writes test prep and higher education marketing content for The Economist. Say hi on Twitter @rich_moy.

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