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Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your Interns

August 10, 2016
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Fall is right around the corner, and if your business is anything like mine, not far behind it follows a new, fresh class of interns for the school semester who are excited and eager to prove themselves. This carries with it a lot more importance than people often care to consider. The internship experience is a very formative one.  Students who pursue internships, specifically unpaid ones that are for course credit, often do so to gather information about the industry and business as a whole, which helps them to gauge what career path will be best suited to their abilities and aptitudes in the future.

In that effort, a negative internship experience can be a huge factor in determining the careers that aspiring young professionals choose not to pursue. Conversely, a highly positive internship can invigorate someone’s interest, passion, and curiosity in a way the classroom simply can’t (and in my opinion, never will).

With Fall right around the corner, I feel that it’s only appropriate that this post center around three tips that I have observed to be the most useful in ensuring that your interns have a positive experience, while still having them produce meaningful work that adds to business performance. These tips are designed to make sure that your interns get the most out of their internship – and that you as an employer thereby get the most out of your interns.

Have Them Set Goals For Themselves

I know what you’re probably thinking – this is incredibly general. While that may be true, I have seen the benefits of this firsthand in my own experience. This is an exercise that my first mentor here at PDM had me do when I was first starting out my internship. At the end of my first day of my internship, he pulled me aside and gave me essentially a “homework” assignment; brainstorm the five professional goals I wanted to accomplish by the end of my internship.

I couldn’t have been more excited about it. Why? Because although I came into that job knowing full-well that I would have to do a lot of little tasks that I might not necessarily want to do (but that I knew would help me in the long run), I was getting to find ways to do what I did want to do.  The fact that my mentor took an interest in my goals struck me as unique and made me buy into the business that much more.

This exercise communicates to your intern (or group of interns for that matter) that you as an employer genuinely care about their goals and their personal aspirations. Do you think an intern is going to do better or worse work for someone like that? Spoiler alert: it’s better work. Whether or not you’re a full-time employee, part-time employee or an intern, the fact remains that people both respond and work best for people that they respect, and who they feel have a vested interest in their future success.

Create A Schedule Or Curriculum Around Those Goals

Once you’ve had your interns take some time to self-reflect and decide on the personal goals they have for themselves, help them start to put it into action. An excellent way to do this is to build out a calendar or schedule for them that shows what trainings, meetings, or other things need to happen for them to hit their goals, as well as when those things need to happen.

Be sure to scatter trainings and meetings throughout the week, balancing work they need to do with the work they want to do on each day of the week they’re in the office. This is so that they stay engaged every day that they’re at work, and also so that you as their employer can make sure they get done what they need to get done.

Most importantly, it communicates to your intern that you’re not only interested in the over-arching goals they have, but that you’re interested in helping them take the steps to get there. Like I said before, I can’t stress enough the quality of work that will be turned back to you from your interns if you take the time to demonstrate to them that you care about their careers beyond an intern level.

If you were to work somewhere as an intern that you clocked in every single day, sat down, did your basic work, went and got coffee for the office, took notes in every meeting, never produced any important work, and never even spoke to your boss about anything important, what kind of work would you be inclined to produce? The best you can muster? Maybe for some people, but I would venture to say that for every 1 person who would still turn out high-quality work in that environment, 2 who just flat out won’t. Why should your interns only have to care about what you’re asking them to do without any reciprocation?

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Have Them Contribute To Client Work

This last tip may be a bit more unique to an agency, but in principle, it applies to a multitude of business models. Once an intern’s skills are up to a certain standard (that you as an employer should decide on), you should have them either help you work on a client-facing deliverable. The premise here is to have your intern contributing to continually more and more important work.

Why? One word: engagement. Especially in today’s day and age, where the young adults who are applying for internships have a seemingly increasingly shorter attention span with each passing day, keeping them engaged is the key to the production of high-quality work. Combat the boredom and fatigue that can be present in any internship by continually upping the “ante” so to speak, and challenge your interns to contribute to work for a client.

When interns are challenged, they produce the most meaningful and best work, which as an employer, is the end goal. It means that their skills are increasing and that their interest level in the field is increasing too.

Wrapping Up

The internship is one of the most exciting experiences in the business world. Depending on how that experience goes, young professionals have been known to change their major, and sometimes career paths. It’s something that surely needs to be taken seriously by the intern, but the assertion I want to make here is that there should be an equal amount of pressure on the employer to provide a meaningful and positive experience for those interns.

By following these tips, you as an employer can make sure you’ve done everything in your power to create that positive experience for your interns, and that you’ve represented in the best possible way what your business and industry stand for. In focusing on this, you’ll see the best possible work that your interns can provide, because they feel like they and their goals are a priority – not an inconvenience.

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