I had two very different internship experiences this summer. One position was working in the public sector for a municipal government, the other was in the private sector for a very small media firm. Day One at City Hall, I was given an extensive handbook of Rules and Regs for Summer Interns. Day One at the media firm, I was greeted by one kind man who told me a little about their work philosophy and showed me to a desk, and then said come back tomorrow. I subsequently followed up with, “Well what time should I show up? And what do I do when I get here?”
Myriad positive and negative intern experiences have helped me develop my personal pithy handbook of intern do’s and don’ts (for example, asking “What’s your timeline on this?” is now second nature), but as a result of these polarizing experiences, I was compelled to come up with a similar list of handy helpfuls for my employers. The following bullets are the result of my (occasionally exaggerated for comic emphasis but otherwise sincere) brainstorm.
I present, RULES FOR HAVING INTERNS:
– Pay us. For arguments as to why, look EVERYWHERE. Just because it is standard practice and we are used to it, does not mean it is okay to hire us without any securities, without protection from discrimination or harassment, and without a fair playing field for those who don’t have the financial support from their parents to live for free during a summer or term.
– CLUE US IN ON DAY ONE. We are wide-eyed babies. If you have a specific dress code, please tell us. If employees and interns meet to give an update on their projects every Friday morning, please tell us before Friday morning. If the office is locked until 8:30 AM on Mondays, don’t tell us to show up a 7:45 AM every day. We learn quickly, but help us avoid being the last one in on the routine.
– If you are a politician with interns, you should probably meet your own interns. I have heard that the president does the kindness of taking one photo with his interns, ’nuff said.
– If there has ever existed a permanent and paid position for a certain type of work in your organization (i.e. data entry, office management, admin assistance), interns should by no means replace that permanent and paid position. Seriously, we know it is tempting, and we are totally on board for the administrative help you need, but we are not here forever.
– Give us a schedule, give us projects, give us FEEDBACK. Nothing is more disappointing than pursuing a project in the wrong direction for two weeks before you take a glance at it.
– Again, tell us up front. If we are going to be walking between meetings, if there is a great opportunity to Q&A with the CEO/partner/fundraiser/mayor after hours, if you’re going on vacation, if all office memos should always be in Calibri, if the printer always makes that noise… we need to know.
– Trust us. We know you work too much. Let us help. Seriously, we are eager.
Installment #2, INTERNS ARE PROBABLY NOT FOR YOU, IF:
…you will not have time to train them, give them some feedback and accountability, and actually let them learn from you.
…you can not trust anyone other than a full time employee to interface at the most basic level with a partner/client/higher-up, i.e. answering phones or welcoming guests at the office.
…you put your mind to it and really can not come up with a job title for the work that an intern is doing at your firm/organization. In my grammar school we had teachers for this called “floaters.” In theory it is a noble position, experiencing a little bit of everything and making everyone’s lives easier. In practice, it usually results in interns who finish a four month commitment without a single completed project to show for it. Good examples are Software Development Intern, Legislative Drafting Intern, Copy Editing Intern, Product Management Intern, etc. “Intern” itself is not a job title.