You’ve hired your summer interns, but are you doing your best to ensure that they and your organization are getting the most out of the experience?
There is no doubt that internships should be a mutually beneficial experience for the employer and the intern. Too often, I hear about disappointing internships where an intern’s primary responsibilities were relegated solely to making copies, answering phones, organizing online files or making frequent coffee runs.
While students should embark onto an internship experience knowing there will be a fair amount of clerical (aka grunt) work, the point of an internship is that it provides a real educational opportunity for students to receive hands-on, real-life training in the field of their major. Many former interns will admit that their internship experience was far more valuable in their decision to pursue their career than anything they learned from textbooks and classroom lectures.
I understand that you are a busy executive and that you don’t have the time (and possibly the patience) to hover over an intern all day. I don’t think you should have to, but I do firmly believe that as well-established experts in our field, we have an obligation to guide our industry’s future leaders, just as our mentors did for us.
In order to prevent any daily hand-holding sessions, employers can adhere to a few tricks of the trade I’ve acquired over my years overseeing various agency internship programs.
What Employers Can Do
1. Make a job description and stick to it
Doing this lets the intern understand the required duties but also lets your team know the boundaries of what they can and can’t ask of an intern. Once you get to know your intern’s capabilities and skill set, you may be able to add some specific tasks to the job description.
2. Have a program/timeline in place
Interns need structure. Don’t expect your intern to wait enthusiastically each day for you to decide what projects to give him or her. Understanding that you can’t anticipate every scenario, at lease have some structure and consistency in the program/schedule (e.g., Every Thursday is a “Lunch and Learn” session where the intern(s) brown bag their lunch and listen to company experts talk about their job and provide career advice)
3. Make the internship an enriching experience.
It’s typically understood that interns will be given a fair amount of grunt work, but make sure you allow them to have access to real business experiences. A client conference call may not seem like an exciting activity for you, but it can be a great learning experience for an intern.
4. Be a mentor
I know you are a very busy person, but as I stated earlier, I believe we professionals owe it to those interested in our field to provide them with an accurate glimpse into the field they would like to enter and the skill set needed. Make it a weekly habit to monitor your intern and give them feedback – whether it’s positive or negative – since it’s part of the learning process that lectures and textbooks can’t teach. Lead by example.
5. Don’t’ burn bridges.
Let’s face it, we’ve all been burned by a bad intern experience. As much as you’re ready to boot them out the door or vow never to have another one again, remember that the interns are still very young and don’t have much finesse in professional settings. And, though it’s hard to imagine, you never know how your paths might meet again (your intern’s aunt might be the contact you’ve been wooing for new business for years).
Best wishes for a great internship partnership this summer. If you have any additional tips to how you make internships an all-around success, please feel free to share them.