It happened again this week. A group of us were sitting in a meeting, planning a marketing project and the topic of social media came up. Someone suggested we get a college intern because “the young people understand all that.” Never mind that I was the second oldest person at the table and have been working with social media for years, or that the third oldest person there was a web designer. The speaker saw a problem, knew we didn’t have the budget to address it professionally and figured an intern was the solution.
God help me, I suggested it myself just a couple of weeks ago. For the same reasons. It’s tempting think a smart energetic young person will swoop in and solve your problems for minimum wage, a stipend or (best of all) just the valuable experience.
But sometimes the experience – for both parties – can feel more like this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?NR=1&v=umdoHUn17KM&feature=endscreen
Most of the time, it is somewhere in between.
I have been working with interns for a few years now. I have been an intern. I loved my experiences on both sides of the internship game. But it is challenging. Lately I have been checking in with (and blowing off steam to) my daughter who is just wrapping up a long internship. I gained some insight which I have found extremely helpful, especially as I begin to create the first ever job description for our intern program. Watch this space (or one nearby) for our combined (and maybe conflicting) internship insights.
Let’s start with the Five Things You Should Know Before Getting An Intern:
1. They are going to increase, not lessen, your work load.
It takes time, as it does with any new employee, to train an intern to train to the task, orient them to the company and generally oversee their work. But an intern is not just new to your workplace, chances are good they are new to the professional workplace. They may need what feels like remedial training. If you want them to work on a project, you may have to carefully design the project. If you want them to be an office drone, you need to be prepared to answer a million questions about where things are, how they work and who that guy is. Be prepared.
2.Interns may be working for you temporarily; that does not make them temp workers.
There is a good chance interns came to you for an internship because they have an interest, if not a passion, for the work you do. Honor that. An internship should be more than a scut job to be endured. Sure, you will probably give them jobs to do that no one else wants to do. But also give them a project they can take control of. Bring them to meetings. Introduce them to colleagues. Let them see what other departments are doing. Teach them something. Share your passion.
3. They probably don’t have the awesome skills you are looking for.
And if they do, they will probably have learned them in the classroom, not in the field. However interns tend to have amazing amounts of enthusiasm, energy and curiosity. Best of all they haven’t been around long enough to see how futile the task you have given them is. Your job is to figure out how to harness what they have and teach them what they don’t.
4. Communicate often and clearly. And often. Did I mention often?
Make sure you and your intern are clear on expectations, the parameters of the job. Give them some room, but don’t forget about them. It might be good for both of you to have them check in with you at the beginning of the day and at the end, if only to help you remember to consider them in your plans for the day. Set a regular, say weekly, meeting time and keep it. Make sure they know who they report to whenever they switch tasks. Don’t count on them to ask questions. Check in to make sure things are going well.
5. Treat them like adults.
They may not dress or talk or act like the adults you hang out with, but they are, technically adults. If you do your job right, they will be even more adult by the time the internship is over. Treat them with respect. Listen to what they have to say. Honor their experiences and world view. I have had so many conversations with my peers that devolve into some version of “How can we reach out to the young people?” Sometimes there is a young person sitting right next to them when they say it. Chances are your company or organization has asked the same thing. Your intern is your guide to this mysterious world of ::cue scary music:: young people. Listen to them and learn.