As a follow-up to my post a few weeks ago defending the practice of unpaid internships, I thought I’d speak about how changing the mindset of how viewing interns can make all the difference for you and them.
What do I mean? Seeing them as team members. Not just interns.
If you’re not willing to view them as close to team members as possible, both parties won’t get as much out of the experience as they should.
That’s right. View them as someone who just came on board officially right out of school. What can you give them? Business cards? Do it. A desk alongside other employees who have been there for years rather than a little cubby hole? Do it. That may seem a little scary. But I’m not talking about having them present to your biggest client on their first day. That’s stupid. I’m talking about giving them better quality assignments that treat them with the respect they deserve.
A team member
At some companies, the people at the top don’t know the interns — especially not what they do on a daily basis. Let me tell you a little something about the interns I’ve had. They don’t fetch coffee. They don’t run errands. They barely do “grunt” work.
What do they do? For one thing, they don’t coast on natural talent. They’ve got talent but they also have passion, which can’t be underrated. They stay until the work is done superbly. They are their own toughest critic. They aim to constantly learn about our business. This is not the mark of an intern. This is a team member.
Having someone to do your dirty work is your prerogative but I don’t think you’ll really get much out of it and the intern certainly won’t. On the other hand, if you take it upon yourself to give back to this person’s experience, mentor them, help them reach 1-3 goals in the time that they’re with you and treat them with the respect of a full team member, both parties can benefit tremendously.
I can hear excuses from people who say they don’t have enough time to be such a mentor. That’s too bad because it’s a missed opportunity for your business’ profile as much as the intern. Because if they truly have a wonderful experience, who do you think they’re going to talk to? Other good potential candidates for you. Friends. Relatives. Neighbors. Anyone and everyone…including the kind of people who could become great clients for you.
Hmm. Good word-of-mouth about how great your culture is or how great you are as a mentor or how great the experience overall is? There could be worse things said about you, don’t you think?
Finding a team member
Some tips for finding the very best intern — er, team member — and making the experience better for you and them:
1) Get over yourself.
They shouldn’t just be happy to be in the door of your place. They have choices. Don’t take advantage of a young person’s time. Either give them constant opportunities to be useful and contribute to your business or forget it. Yes, you should be incredibly selective. Yes, they should feel lucky to work for you — if you hold up your end of the bargain and don’t treat them like 2nd class citizens.
2) Start relationships with local colleges.
I’ve done that and it’s been a beautiful thing. Offer to speak on your specialty for no charge if you need a way in. Actually, I do just that all the time simply because I enjoy it so much. Schools thirst for experienced people from the real world to come into their environment and speak to students.
3) If it’s non-paid, still offer something of value.
Like gas money, for instance.
4) Set clear goals about your expectations but make sure you meet theirs too.
Again, you need to make it your mission to make their experience a worthwhile one too. This is where so many people miss the boat. When I sit down with an intern on the very first day, I map out goals based on what they strive to reach during the internship.
For example, one common goal is for an intern in our field is to have at least one portfolio piece that is also worth submitting to an award show (with that intern’s name on the submission, of course!). We achieved that goal. Others want to learn graphic design programs that they aren’t being taught in school – a sad statement in itself considering the money they’re paying. We achieved that goal.
What we often say to an intern is that what you put into the experience is what you get out of it. And considering how ambitious our last one was, I believe she got a whole lot of it, maybe even more than what she ever imagined.
The same phrase holds true for you on this subject, though: What you put into the experience is what you’ll get out of it. If you put in more rather than less, I’ll bet you’ll have more than your typical “intern” but a real contributor to your team.