Choosing (and Using) Your Intern Wisely

It’s not easy being the intern. Let’s face it—they get a bad rap.

Interns mean “free labor”, “low man on the totem pole”, or any other negative expression. Years ago, interns were the gofers, the “gal Fridays”, and the errand boys. They’re the ones who will gladly take on everyone’s grunt work with a smile. They spend their time at the company hidden away in a broom closet slaving away behind stacks and stacks of paper. Once in a while, they’ll staple something.

But the reality is that internships are highly coveted positions for college students—especially in an economy that has forced businesses in nearly all sectors to reduce or cut their internship programs.  Today’s college students are much more savvy than many of us were—they have a much clearer idea of where they want to go and how to get there.  They view an internship as a necessary first step into the real world.  It’s likely that they simply won’t settle for merely making coffee for an entire summer or semester, and they’ll challenge you as much as you challenge them.  Are you ready for the commitment?

If your company still hires interns, below are a few tips to make the experience as productive (for you) and educational (for them) as possible:

Know how to work with interns. The first step to building a positive relationship with an intern is choosing the right person.  Interviewthe student just as you would any other applicant. And get ready—these students are willing to work and want to learn all they can about your business.Use their enthusiasm and interest to your advantage.  Stay in touch with them regularly. They will most likely be coming to you for the work, so have work for them to do.  Make them feel comfortable coming to you with questions but encourage them to find their own way in your business.

Give them a project. Your intern can handle more thought-provoking work than making endless copies or running errands, although those small tasks are all part of the internship experience.  Give them some actual projects, as well.  My college internship was at an arts organization that staged one of the largest music festivals in the country.  A big part of my day was maintaining their archive library.  I also wrote press releases, interviewed staff for newsletter articles, assembled media kits for press conferences, and worked with the press when they arrived at the festival.  I felt like I was actively involved in the festival goings-on, and I was using those communication skills I was building up in college to boot.

Ask for their input. Include them in staff meetings or other decision-making sessions.  Remember—your intern is viewing your company and procedures with fresh eyes and can be a little more objective than you can.  Most of us are too close to many of our projects and need that unbiased feedback.  Above all, listen to their ideas.  Nearly every segment of business is looking for new ways to attract young customers—why not pick the brain of your target demographic while they’re working for you?  You’ll likely be amazed at their ideas and insight.

Expose them to other departments. If your department has landed a great intern who wants to learn as much as possible, why not give them the total experience of working for your company? Don’t keep them in your department all the time.  Give them the chance to speak with other folks in your office—IT, human resources, marketing, sales, even upper management if possible.  This will give your intern a better understanding of your company as a whole, as well as give them a stronger idea of how business works overall.  I was a communications intern, but I also worked with the programming director, sponsorship director, and the community relations director who managed the volunteers.  It gave me new appreciation for how much manpower and organization it takes to put their events together.

Show your appreciation. Several large-and mid-sized companies have started employee recognition programs for various accomplishments—attendance, days without injuries, meeting sales goals, etc.  Who doesn’t like that pat on the back now and then?  Your intern is no different.  Tell them when you loved one of their ideas, or if your boss was impressed with their problem-solving skills.  Interns do handle a lot of those projects that have fallen to the wayside or were too time-consuming for any one person to tackle.  By the end of their time at your company, you might have an impeccably organized software library or a completely updated database.  That’s easily worth a farewell lunch or small cake as a “thank you”.  Even unpaid interns like to feel that they’re making a difference to a business—show them that they have.

What about you?  Any other tips for working with interns?


Popular search terms for this article:

how to choose an intern

Sara Hodon is a freelance writer, nonprofit program manager, and English instructor based in Northeast Pennsylvania.


No Comments yet, be the first!

Add a Comment