Show Her The Way: Summer Interns Need Solid Leadership to Succeed
You’re in charge of the intern this summer.
Yes, as a leader in your organization, it can prompt impatience and eye-rolling. But it can also prompt the understanding that the extra time it takes for you to show someone how to finish needed projects, you can also mentor someone professionally for a lifetime.
The internship you supervise can be an enormous asset to your organization. If you handle it strategically.
This week marks the inaugural National Intern Day (July 27) created by WayUp, Inc. Companies including L’Oreal, American Express, Under Armour, Dell Technologies, Unilever, Citibank and Enterprise Rent-A-Car are celebrating their interns.
“Despite the stereotypes, internships are not about fetching coffee and making copies. Interns are vital contributors to the organizations that they work for, so we wanted to create a single day that puts them in the spotlight,” says Liz Wessel, CEO and Co-Founder of WayUp, a platform founded in 2014 that has more than 3.5 million profiles of students and recent grads representing 6,300 U.S. college campuses.
“Summer internships are the perfect opportunity to network with both professionals in your desired field and your fellow interns. Having company employees know you by both name and face will do wonders for your time in the summer internship and even after,” writes Alyssa Walker in ULoop.
Yes, the intern system has been criticized as a tool for privileged students and 20 somethings who can afford not to be paid for their work to network. And less than half, or 42 percent of interns are unpaid, according to Edwin Koc, research director at the National Association of Colleges and Employers, writes Mitchell Hartman in Marketplace.
That is thankfully a decrease from 2011 when 49 percent of interns were unpaid, with data collected “when the organization started surveying employers about whether they pay interns,” Hartman writes.
“There was the assumption that in a period of economic distress employers would use cheaper labor, and increase their hiring of unpaid interns. The logic of the assumption is pretty good, but there’s no evidence to really support that,’” according to Hartman.
Established internships in any field can be priceless additions to an early career resume as well as for enhancing skillsets. Even learning the skill of how to communicate in large and small meetings is valuable.
Nikki Schlecker, Head of People at WayUp, views internships for the interns “as a time to get your feet wet in the professional world. At best, you find something you love doing and want to pursue after graduation. And if your internship isn’t quite what you expected, it can be a great way to figure out something you don’t like doing so that you can cross it off your list.”
Internships can be a beneficial two-way street.
If you intend as a leader managing the summer intern to get the most out of the experience, and also for you to gain needed help and insight on initiatives, you need to be aware of the possible pitfalls and assist in getting an internship back on track.
In order for an intern to make the most out of the experience, Schlecker offers five tips for maximum benefit. As a manager, you can pass these tips along to the intern.
First, she advises the intern to assess the situation. “As soon as you realize that your internship is not going in the direction you expected, take a step back and think about what’s happening. Why did you expect it to be different? Were you promised something other than what you are being given?” Schlecker writes.
As the manager in charge of the intern’s experience, make sure you listen. You do not want to encourage someone to become a ritual complainer, but do leave time at the end of every week for a candid discussion of how the internship is going. Perhaps schedule a 15-minute coffee break each week, and ask the intern to come into the meeting with “updates.” Do not frame it as a whining session, and respond to negative input calmly with positive suggestions.
Unfamiliarity with process, workplace systems and culture may be a source of frustration for any temporary employee. Make sure you follow up and refer the intern to the proper person to handle a legitimate concern. Not knowing where to park, for instance, can likely be handled by someone in human resources or employee assistance. Not knowing how to respond to a client in an emergency may come directly to you.
Allison Farber Cheston, career expert and job search coach, told NBC News: “Employers have no patience for young employees who focus most on what the organization can do for them. I spend a lot of time with milennials explaining the importance of humility and hard work.”
Schlecker advises as a second key point for the intern, and that is for to talk to her manager.
“Transparency is key in this situation. If you feel that you’re not learning the skills that you had hoped, your manager might be able to help. Respectfully talk to him or her about what you were expecting to take away from the internship. By being upfront about what you are interested in, and what you are looking to get out of the experience, your manager might be able to find new responsibilities that are in line with what you’re looking for,” Schlecker writes.
Every manager loves initiative on the part of an employee—full or part-time. But an intern suggesting a total website redesign or the addition of all new products may not know all that goes into the process. Ask for written suggestions backed up by research. Don’t let this extra project you may or may not need consume all the intern’s time. But do make clear that self-starters are rewarded.
A third tip from Schlecker for interns is to learn from peers.
“If there are other interns at your company, you should reach out to them in order to find out more about their internships. If they seem to be having a more positive experience, figure out why,” she writes.
As someone managing an intern’s experience, be sure you stress that collaboration, not competition is key. Not everyone comes in the summer experiences with the same skillset.
An “I want what she’s having” approach can be seen as negative and annoying, an expression of entitlement. Communicate to the intern that there is no favoritism or discrimination—and be sure there is not–but that every intern is treated individually.
“Network with full-time employees,” Schlecker writes as her fourth key point for success.
“Ask team members from different teams for a quick meeting, chat or to go for a walk so you can hear more about their role. Even if your experience at the internship is not the greatest, making connections sets you up with a new network of people that can help you in your future job search, at the company or elsewhere,” she writes.
This is where networking can get messy, and as a manger you need to be wary. Do not encourage after-work happy hours with managers, employees and interns, particularly if alcohol is involved and the interns may be under the legal drinking age.
Encourage lunches and coffee breaks and if possible, have a one-time, all-office networking meeting or lunch in the office for everyone to discuss a topic or company-wide policy or project and get to know each other professionally.
Finally, Schlecker suggests, use the internship as a learning experience.
“Internships are about learning what you don’t like as much as they are about learning what you do like. Since an internship is a test-trial at a certain company, or in a certain industry, it’s more than ok if you leave your internship thinking, ‘I could never do that full-time.’”
As someone who oversees the summer interns, know this is also your time to get a fresh point of view on the company, its culture and processes. Also know that you can ask questions about a demographic different than your own and learn.
And while there is a new trend for returnships for mothers going back to work and also for seniors who do not want to retire completely, the historic foundation of internships goes back thousands of years.
“The current system of training and acclimating young people to the work world has its antecedents in the Middle Ages, explained Andrew Wender Cohen, a labor historian at Syracuse University,” Hartman writes in Marketplace.
“Starting around the age of 10, he said, children in cities and towns could be apprenticed to Guild masters — a weaver, parchment-maker, baker, or blacksmith, for example,” Hartman writes.
“‘Everything is more competitive these days, so getting hands-on work experience or hands-on research experience, and making contacts at companies that students might want to work at post-graduation can be a smart move, said Dr. Kat Cohen, CEO and founder of IvyWise, an admissions counseling services company,’” according to NBC News.
As a team manager or leader in your organization, know that how you handle the intern’s experience speaks volumes about your style of mentorship and the culture of your organization. You want the word to spread that not only are you a great boss and colleague, but that your company is an intern’s dream.
And know that you are fueling the pipeline for hires in the coming years with potential employees who already have been part of your workplace culture.