In a previous life, I worked in the public relations and marketing department of one of Cincinnati’s largest companies. With more than 12,000 employees, 30 of them in the marketing department, there was plenty of work to be done and not enough time to do it. So, I volunteered to coordinate our department’s internship program, and in the process learned an incredible amount about hiring and managing great interns.
It’s easy enough to say, “Let’s get an intern! He can create a master filing system! He’ll be a wizard with the coffee pot! He’ll teach us how to tweet!” But actually creating an internship that yields productive work, a great extra team member and a possible permanent hire takes forethought and planning. Here are a few hints to help you start one, or make the one you have better.
1. Cast a wide net
Virtually any size company, in any field, can provide an attractive internship opportunity. Then it’s a matter of fielding applicants. In Cincinnati, there are a few really big schools, and we always had lots of applicants from there. But we wanted a more diverse pool of interns, so we contacted every college in a 100 mile radius (dozens in all), and asked for contact information in the school’s career office. We then sent information about our program to all of them, and the applicants increased three-fold.
2. Really think about what kind of work an intern can help with
Your internship program will fail you and your intern if you don’t outline ahead of time what kind of work you’re comfortable having them do, and how much of that work you think you’ll have in the next several months. Is it enough to fill 40 hours a week, or is it more like four hours a month? Can you train an intern to coordinate part of a major event, or do you just want someone who can help build a database? Plan all of this ahead of time so you attract potential interns who are interested in the amount and type work you have and have the skills to do it.
And in today’s age of Twitter and Facebook, beware of creating a situation that ends up being posted. http://voices.washingtonpost.com/campus-overload/2010/06/funny_intern_stories_in_140_ch.html
3. Set expectations among your own team
Make sure your intern(s) have a single supervisor. Establish a single supervisor who sets up orientation, checks in with the intern frequently and serves as their boss. But presumably that supervisor also has a full plate, so consider establishing a mentor for each intern. It’s a great way to help rising talent in your own company develop their leadership and coaching skills, as well as provide your intern with additional guidance and support.
It’s also critical to make sure your own team knows what the intern is there to do (and not do). Seek feedback from the team on what kind of projects they’re working on that an intern could help with. Make sure you’re offsetting the “grunt work” with fun stuff too. It’s fine to ask an intern to help create an archive system of older projects, but also ask them to sit in on pitches from a new advertising agency.
Share with the group how you expect the intern’s time to be divided up, and who he or she will primarily work with.
4. Give your intern something to do on their first day
Oh, the dreaded first day. Sitting at a desk, fiddling with a computer, waiting for someone, anyone, to give you anything to do. Don’t do this to your intern. On my interns’ first day, I gave them an office tour, snapped a photo of them to hang on the office bulletin board and scheduled other members of the department to provide training in the email system, using designers and the print shop etc. I also asked each intern to write a faux news release about themselves that I posted next to their photo. It was a way to practice their writing, give them a task to complete and introduce them to the staff. Plus, some of them were pretty funny.
Want more tips? Watch for my next blog with four more mind-blowing ways to create a great internship program. Well, maybe not mind-blowing, but you’ll have to read it to find out.