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Nancy A. Shenker Headshot

The Truth About Summer Interns

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Yup -- it's that time of year again.

I've been writing about "the summer intern thing" practically since I started my business. Today, I was quoted in an article about how to find a rewarding internship. (In addition to being a marketing sage, I apparently have become an expert on internships and office hook-ups (which sometimes go hand-in-hand), as a result of the book I co-wrote a few years back.)

One of my favorite intern stories (which garnered some press attention) involved the scrawled words, "My butt itches" It was the topic of an interview about summer interns back in 2006. Since then, I've had some awesome interns and others of the graffiti artist ilk.

I had one who asked if he could nap during the day on my office sofa. I had one who left one afternoon and just never came back. And then there was the one who motivated me to write the book (which just goes to show that even bad experiences can have a great outcome!) My daughters both worked as interns and had their own horror stories. There are two sides to every intern tale.

Despite the time and energy that goes into hiring, training, and managing interns, I believe in my heart of hearts (and my butt of butts -- I couldn't resist!) that if you can take the time and patience to invest in an intern, it pays off in the long run. Students need to learn what work is really all about before they get out into the "real world" and managers need to learn how to motivate and train the next generation of talent.

Of course, internships always involve some truly awful tasks. In my day, I had to use a manual typewriter and make corrections with white-out. I copied 1000's of pieces of paper and fetched coffee. But I also learned a lot -- skills I still apply today.

Here are my 2016 tips for hiring and working with interns:

  • Make sure you prepare for their arrival. I buy a notebook (the paper kind) so he/she can take notes. Make sure he/she has a comfortable place to sit and a plan for the first day. Have a list of projects for the summer and make your expectations clear.
  • Pay them! Slavery is illegal. Do you want to teach talented college students that folding sweaters at the Gap or tending bar is a more lucrative way to make a living?
  • Do at least one fun thing with them over the summer. Don't assume you know what fun is for interns. Give them a choice of activities. I usually take my team to the Fancy Food Show. Who doesn't like that?
  • Give them feedback during the summer -- hold "mini performance reviews" and praise them for work well done.
  • Don't refer to your intern as "my intern" or even "the intern" when introducing them to others. They have names. Instead say, "This is Jane. She's with us from Cornell for the summer." (Of course, you should change it up if your intern's name isn't Jane.)
  • Ask your intern what you can do better as a manager. And be prepared to listen.
  • NEVER blame a screw-up on "the intern." You hired are managing him. It's on you if he makes a mistake. Interns will screw up sometimes. It's how they learn.
  • Speaking of mistakes, I've made my own over the past 10+ years as an entrepreneur, and some of them were epic. But I'm still in touch with many of my wonderful interns, who have gone on to do great, non-profit management, and business. One of them is a psychotherapist, in fact. So, if your own interns are stressing you out this summer, I'll happily give you her contact information!
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