If a college student is planning on getting some sort of business degree, internships are often the key to success after graduation. Internships help students gain real life experience outside of the classroom, without real life consequences if they mess something up (or don’t quite exactly know what they’re doing.)
I am entering my senior year of college and have had an internship each summer between the end and start of a new school year. My first summer, I was working at home in Ohio for my local government center. The next summer, I landed a paid summer internship in my college town with some friends as a Social Media Intern at a “conservative political watchdog” company. Both times I was super excited to get some marketing experience, and both times I quickly found there was not much for me to do. Very few tasks were delegated to me. It was as if they expected me to waltz in and know exactly what needed to be worked on. My first summer I spent most of my hours during the day talking with the other intern about our astonishingly opposite views on religion.
This summer, going into my senior year, I’m working as an intern here at Elevate United. Although a young company, the intern program here is far better than anything I have ever experienced. After doing some comparing of work experiences, I have narrowed down my top five tips for employers for how to treat an intern:
HAVE SPECIFIC WORK FOR THEM TO DO.
Please, please, please do not just hire an intern because you think you might have some extra work that needs to be done. When interviewing and hiring, have a specific list of possible tasks they will be required to do. They’re devoting their time to be there and want to be as useful as possible.
2. DON’T BE AFRAID TO LET THEM WORK.
Let them post on social media. Let them write a blog post. Let them have the login to your analytics database. Let them talk to the customers. Unless you hired a complete idiot, they will be able to handle basic tasks without hurting your company's reputation. They want to feel trusted and confident in the work they are doing. Which brings me to…
3. DON’T CALL THEM BY “INTERN.”
...Especially on their email! At a previous internship, the email they gave me was “internleanna@....com”. Every time I went to send an email, I automatically felt devalued and as if I had zero credibility. Customers, or anyone else, who receive an email with “intern” in the name will not feel as if their concerns are being addressed properly. Let your interns have a real email and be a real employee.
4. INVITE THEM TO TEAM MEETINGS.
Your intern is only going to feel as involved and needed as you let them. If they are not invited to weekly meetings, they are not going to be able to understand the full picture or focus of a business. Make them aware of weekly tasks, goals, and successes. Update them on what is happening and how the business is growing, or, in some cases, not growing. This will help them understand the focus of their job and they may even surprise you with awesome new ideas.
Additionally, have someone conduct weekly check-ins or meetings with interns. Give them company updates and ask them what they would be interested in helping with. Advocate for them and give them an opportunity to prove themselves.
5. MAKE SURE YOUR STAFF IS ALL ON THE SAME PAGE.
An intern can often play many different roles within a business. They can be working on social media, filing reports, contacting customers, creating marketing plans, writing content, and more. Often these tasks spill over into different departments within a business, and often the freedom across departments is not spread evenly. Make sure your head of communications is on board with an intern writing content before assigning it to them. Let your leader in marketing know that an intern will be practicing their social media skills with a couple posts. Get the “okay” from everyone before delegating tasks that might later get rejected.
6. PAY THEM!
Most internships for credit are unpaid. While this is normal, this is extremely inconvenient to the student. College is not cheap--that’s not news to anyone. Often, having an internship for credit while being a full-time student means that there is no room for outside work (other than the typical valet or babysitting job on weekend nights). With student loans and a future ahead of them, it is very impractical for a student to not be making any money while in college. If your company is large, well established, and has a gross profit in the green, interns should be paid at least minimum wage. Receiving a paycheck will motivate student workers to have a positive outlook on their daily tasks and complete them with more intentionality.