My very first college internship was with a fairly prominent New York newspaper. It was the one that my family grew up reading and the one that affirmed my love for writing when I was in eighth grade and it published one of my “Letters to the Editor” submissions. And by (what I believe to be) sheer luck, I somehow landed a gig in their features and entertainment section. I spent the summer of 2009 interviewing local experts on the increase in social media addictions, writing weight loss success stories and exploring the health benefits of sunless tanning.
Despite having to get a terrible spray tan as a part of my research – one that peeled off in a friend’s pool just three days after I stepped out of the booth – I was completely satisfied with my intern experience.
I prepared myself ahead of time for the clichés: getting coffee, getting teased by the other writers and being forced to cover stories about things like cat fashion shows and toenail fungus outbreaks at community pools. I set my expectations low because I didn’t want to spend ten unpaid weeks being disappointed with the experience.
But truth be told? The experience was one I wouldn’t trade for the world. I felt valued, was given clear direction through thoughtful mentorship and had autonomy to own projects, ideas and deadlines. (Am I a textbook millennial or what?)
It was a memorable experience that did what internships are supposed to do: Provide useful experience in a concentrated field to assist in the well-rounding and skill-equipping of a young mind on the cusp of entering the workforce.
Did it lead to a job offer? No. But the “real-world” experience I gained is continually put to use each and every day in my current nine-to-five. I think that’s a win.
And here we are, summer of 2015 and I’m six years (SIX YEARS!) removed from my first internship experience. As the season of interns descend upon us, make it a point to value your intern by using some of these helpful tips.
1. View their inexperience as something you can leverage (not a disability).
One of my favorite parts of being a millennial in the workforce is that (even if it’s fleeing…) I am still seen as new and inexperienced.
I know, I know. You’re totally thinking, Why would you want to be viewed as those things? Don’t you want people to think you know what you’re doing?
To answer your question, I like being new and inexperienced because I don’t think new and inexperienced always equates to incapable and inept. When done right, being “green” in a particular industry – or in the workforce in general – can be a hard-to-find advantage.
As marketplaces become increasingly competitive and as consumers become more and more inundated with messages that scream “Buy this!” or “You need us!”, finding innovative ways to communicate messages or more efficient means of accomplishing a task can be a huge differentiator.
Lean on your the young guns to provide a completely unjaded perspective on your industry or your approach to a particular problem. Their freshness could be just what your organization needs to get a leg-up on the competition.
2. Encourage them to ask questions (and take time to answer them).
Do you remember your first day of your internship or job? Do you remember not knowing where the office supplies were or figuring out which shelf in the fridge you could put your lunch on? Do you remember hoping / wishing / praying for someone to just take you under your wing and help you feel at home?
Be that and more to your interns. Welcome them into your office, take them to lunch, show them where the happy hour hotspots are. For the next three months, they’re your brethren – so make it comfortable for both of you.
Make sure they know you’re available for questions – about the industry, about ethics, about professionalism, about the parking garage, about anything.
Sometimes, the best way for you to learn and grow and establish yourself within a role is to be the teacher. Embrace your interns this summer and invest in showing them the ropes.
3. Ask them questions (and take time to listen to their answers).
Perhaps the best quality of the man who hired me (and who I inevitably worked under) was his unwavering interest in my professional goals. From day one, he made it clear to me that he cared about where I wanted to be and that he would do everything he could to equip me with the experience I needed to get there.
He could be my advocate because he knew the what and the why of his stance.
Take the time to get to know your interns. Ask them about their goals. Ask them about their professional interests or the way their passions align with your organization.
And then when tasks or meetings or objectives come up that could play to their strengths or goals? Involve them at the ground level. Give them a chance to shine at something they’re actually interested in and jump at the opportunity to be a part of their development.
4. Treat them like humans eager to learn (not dogs eager to be human).
Plain and simple: Don’t make the intern get you coffee. Don’t go all Devil Wears Prada and make him or her hunt down a not-yet-released manuscript of some crazy book to prove their capabilities as a human. Remember that – even if only a little bit – your intern is probably excited to get his or her foot in the door at your organization. Believe it or not, on some level, they’re probably really excited to work in a professional setting in a focused role.
Make it worth their while. Committ to setting your interns up as best you can to be successful – for themselves and for you.
What are some other ways you can invest in your interns this summer?
What have you and your colleagues done in the past to ensure your intern and internship program are mutually beneficial?