After attending the MobileX Columbus one day conference, it sounds as though the hottest new accessory in business is: The Intern. This might be particularly so because start up businesses are always strapped for capital and public relations, communications, marketing, and event promotions (among others) are typically unpaid and students are well aware of this fact. Also, students in these areas — like students in many others — know that having this pre-professional opportunity is the best way to eventually land a paying internship and job later on down the line. Being an intern at a start up business or non-profit organization can be particularly rewarding because there are typically opportunities to be an integral part of the organization.
Upon listening to the discussions about the activities an intern can or cannot do, as well as should or should not do, I thought it might be prudent to provide some additional information to help future internship supervisors be prepared to assist their interns to maximize this exciting learning opportunity. What I offer below comes form my experience in this “free labor force” as an undergraduate, as well as my current role working with students and advising internships from the university side of things.
1. College Credit: This is one of the most important factors for you to stay legal and for the intern to capitalize on their time working with you. Ensure they have completed all the necessary paperwork to earn college credits. There are particular circumstances for each university, but be prepared to have a conversation with your prospective interns during the interview process about where they are with the successful completion of this paperwork.
2. Educational Learning Plan: What was most alarming to me while listening in on these discussions was the minimal attention dedicated to identifying the educational learning needs of the intern. Although individuals in this position are “free labor” they are there to learn from professionals in the field. Be prepared to have a number of conversations about your professional needs and their specific leaning goals to develop an action plan that keeps everyone satisfied with the arrangement.
3. Prioritize Projects: Often individuals new to the work force may have a difficult time knowing what is most important and what is not. Consider developing two “Work Tracks” for your intern. Work Track 1 consists of projects that are pressing and should be addressed right away, while Work Track 2 is a long term project that the intern can work on when there is down time or the urgent matters have been managed. This helps your intern feel as though they always have something they can be working on, and if you are managing other matters, you can feel more confident that your intern is still getting the most out of their time with you.
4. Professional Development: What I have found working with traditional undergraduate students is that many have never had a professional position prior to their first internship. You may consider assuming the responsiblity of teaching them some professional development skills. For example, take your intern with you to professional development workshops, networking events, conferences, and other types of events. Also, this is a great way to introduce them to others in the field. Consider helping them learn how to network and modeling some of the prudent activities part of being a successful colleague. Remember, they are there to learn and professional development is equally important to leaning an industry.
5. Provide Feedback: An important thing to remember is that interns are typically college students (regardless of whether they are traditional or nontraditional) and they live in an environment of constant and consistent feedback. This means they are poised and ready to hear what they are doing well coupled with the aspects of their performance upon which they need to improve. This can be provided through a series of “check point conversations,” that take place along the way. Don’t save it for the end — by doing so, you don’t provide your intern an opportunity to improve — which is an important part of the learning process.
6. Offer to be a Recommender: Most likely your intern’s work with you is on the way to something else — another internship, a position with you, graduate school, or a full time job and career. Whatever the case, as your time together comes to a close, be sure to Offer to be a Recommender. This means you may have to write a letter of recommendation, complete recommendation forms, or serve as a reference. This too is an important part of the professional development piece for interns. By modeling this behavior you help your intern to know what it means to “pay it forward.”
I highly encourage everyone interested in working with an intern to consider the opportunity to mentor and teach an intern in a professional setting. It is a great way to help others learn about an industry, professionalism and “the real world.” What are your intern experiences? Feel free to add any advice, success or horror stories in the comments section.