On paper, hiring an intern always seems like a grand idea. First you do a victory dance over passing off the mundane but necessary to-dos, such as updating databases and optimizing documents for digital sharing. The next round of “jumping for joy” occurs after your brilliant suggestion to cull a list of blog topics, unsubscribe from irrelevant eNewsletters, get better acquainted with your Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn peers, and clean up your Quickbooks categories is met with an eager, “Sure!” And the final victory lap, of course, celebrates the simple fact that you have a smart, deft enthusiastic, will-work-for-credit student to lean on. (And, to cover Friday afternoon calls for those spontaneous early exits.)
Then reality hits…
Questions, questions, questions. (Or worse, none at all and a job not-so-well done.) Requisite tutorials on office equipment and digital tools. Multiple rounds of red-pen edits. Requests to leave early, or to come in late. A primer on office etiquette (and politics). Misinterpretations of office attire. Technical snags (PC vs. Mac experience). The obligatory “free lunch”…
Suddenly, you’re not so impressed with yourself. Or your intern.
Deep breath. ALL of these common internship pitfalls can be avoided with advance planning and a brief meeting each morning (or afternoon) that your intern works to confirm that desired goals are being met by each of you.
From the very first conversation, set clear expectations about the scope of work, as well as what you’re comfortable passing off and what you’re not. Between the first conversation and her first day, ask for a list of existing expertise and desired skills, internship and general career goals, preferred to-dos and methods (numbers-focused work vs. writing; phone vs. face-to-face communication, etc.), dream project, and most-disliked or challenging tasks. You should also be up to date on school/college requirements regarding hours and reporting. You don’t want to find out on the last day of her internship that she needs a summer’s worth of documentation.
The most important thing to remember, is that you are playing the role of cheerleader and coach. And, you’re molding a young person’s perception about your industry. The wrong words or an unnecessarily harsh critique of her work has the potential to be deflating. After all, you’re the expert, not your intern. Your sole purpose is to send this young woman out into the world as a confident, prospective new hire for you or one of your industry peers. Teach her well, and you’ll wind up on her list of “women who helped shape who you are today.”
If you treat her unprofessionally, acting condescending or offering too little instruction and inspiration, what you earn is a poor reflection of you and your business. We all know that bad PR travels faster than good; you don’t want any negative feedback going to your clients or competitors. Or to the school, colleague or friend that recommended you in the first place.
Still not convinced an intern is for you? Here’s a helpful link that sums things up nicely. Along with these tips, Inc. magazine writer Melanie Brooks has additional advice for getting the most out of your summer intern/s.
The bottom line, as you’ll read, is that without a sincere effort to treat your intern like a part of your company’s core team, and to provide challenging opportunities that foster success, problem-solving and even a few mistakes, she will not glean the real-world experience necessary to think on her feet. And, she won’t learn how to take risks, get a handle on her limits, deal with tactical (and generational) differences, and other valuable lessons that will help her grow into a leader.
All of which adds up to the possibility that your own leadership skills will come into question. And that, dear business owner, is not good PR.