I just finished my third week working in the real world and I’ve already learned so much. My daily tasks are just about what I expected them to be, except for one thing: it didn’t occur to me until now that I would be delegating tasks to interns. That’s weird for me. I was in their position less than a month ago – and now I’m telling them what to do?
This post serves several purposes. First, it’s a way for me to hold myself accountable. Second, there are so many posts out there about how to be a great PR intern, but very few – if any – posts written about how to be a great intern boss. And you know what? There should be. Because in an industry where 99% of the PR interns are unpaid, I’ll say it, we owe it to them. We owe them a great learning experience. We owe them respect. We owe them advice, direction, and an honest glimpse into this industry. At the same time, an internship is what the intern makes of it. They can’t learn if they don’t try. They can’t be respected if they aren’t professional. They can’t get advice, direction, and insight if they don’t seek it out.
This internship thing is a give and take situation, you see. I present to you ways you can be a great intern boss, as well as ways you can be a great intern.
1. Give interns specific instructions
Tell them what the project is, what you expect them to accomplish, and when you the project to be done. Be specific – down to what font the spreadsheet should be in or what folder the intern can find it on the shared drive. Your interns can’t read your mind. The things that seem obvious to you aren’t obvious to someone who has never worked in an office environment.
*Intern action piece* – Ask for specific instructions. Ask questions. Before you run off to complete an assignment, repeat the assignment back to your boss. Your boss can’t read your mind. They are busy, and they took time to explain something to you. Listen, and if you need something clarified, speak up. Don’t be shy. No one in their right mind would be annoyed with an intern who asked for clarification. But it might be annoying if they were counting on you for a project and you don’t do it correctly because you didn’t listen/ask necessary questions.
2. Don’t give your intern an assignment you wouldn’t do yourself
It’s called a job. We all have to do grunt work. We love us some copying, faxing, presentation-binding, phone-answering and package shipping. Interns should expect that they too will have to share in the company glory of daily grunt work. However, interns are not your personal assistants. No, they can’t drive home to let your dog out. And no, they are not going to hop online to research some car insurance rates. They are there to earn college credit and build their resumes – not to save you 15% or more on car insurance – even if it only takes 15 minutes.
*Intern action piece* Eat a slice of humble pie. You will have to do grunt work. At the same time, if some narcissistic jerk is trying to make you his/her servant, stand up for yourself. Lean on the college credit crutch. For example, speak with your intern coordinator and say you need more writing assignments for your portfolio, or else you won’t get credit. Say your professor told you so. The time you put into an internship is an investment in yourself. If it’s shady – get out. There’s another semester, another internship, another opportunity. Control your destiny.
3. Give feedback
It’s as simple as that. Tell your intern how they did on the assignment. Some companies hold review sessions at the end of internships. Why not hold a mid-point review as well? It may be hard to coordinate that for part-time interns, but to me it seems like a mid-point review would be especially helpful because it gives them time to improve upon the things discussed in a review.
*Intern action piece* Ask for feedback. When you email your boss an assignment, add a line such as – “Let me know if you need any more help with this. How can I improve this for next time?” It shows that you care about your performance. If you show you are motivated, people are more likely to invest time in your development.
4. Be nice
Once upon a time there was a PR intern. As a gift for a great first quarter, the company head honcho took the office out to lunch – everyone except the intern, that is. They left the intern alone at the office with her Lean Cuisine and a research assignment. Not that I have any idea who this intern is, but she says that the experience was the corporate equivalent to being the only kid in class not to receive a Valentine’s Day card or the only kid on the soccer team not invited to a really cool Chuckie Cheese birthday party.
You’d be surprised. When you’re 2o, when it’s your first internship, when you’re broke, when you have no idea where your life or career is going – it means a lot to have you boss give you a thank you card on your last day. Seriously, be nice. I know times are tough, but would it really kill your company’s bottom line that much to throw the unpaid intern a sandwich? I know you’re busy, but would it really screw with your schedule that much to take five minutes to say hi to the intern on his/her first day?
Remember where you came from.
*Intern action piece* Nothing. Welcome to the world, kid: some people are jerks. Kill them with kindness. Always be professional. You don’t have to stay if it’s that bad. You can get another internship. You can get the college credit, somehow. Just because you are an intern doesn’t mean you have to be pushed around.
I hope this list gives insight to both audiences, the interns and the professionals. The point I want to drive home for the professionals is to just put yourself in the intern’s shoes when you are communicating with them. The point I want to drive home for the interns is that you need to be proactive.
We all know how important internships are for students, but I will venture to say that they important for companies as well. Name me one other way a company can give a potential employee a (free) test drive before the company hires that person? Through internships, companies can hunt for and develop future talent. Even if they don’t work for you in the future, maybe they will work for your competitor. If you mentored that intern, then your competitor will get better. When your competitor gets better, it challenges you to get better. Mentorship makes our industry better.