What made your internships awesome?
August 1, 2015 5:11 AM   Subscribe

I work at a high level in a communications agency in London, UK. We currently have a pretty regular roster of mainly young people doing internships. Personally, I think the current program is a bit useless (without going into details) and would like to make some tangible suggestions to improve it. People work with us anywhere from two weeks to three months, and primarily on our digital, consumer PR and B2B PR teams. What made your internship(s) valuable? Were there any qualities/approaches that stood out?

*NB I myself have never done an internship so would appreciate any points of view
posted by teststrip to Work & Money (18 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
My internships were awesome when the company or campaign allowed me to do meaningful work and treated me like an adult, instead of as a group mascot who fetched coffee or clipped things out of newspapers.
posted by all about eevee at 5:26 AM on August 1, 2015 [9 favorites]

Yes, REAL WORK. My last company had an intern one summer who was awesome. She built excel tools that had been on our wish list for a long time. People really appreciated that work and remembered her positively for that.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 5:50 AM on August 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Real work that I could put in a portfolio or cite somehow as "I did this." A press release I was solely responsible for, etc.
posted by nkknkk at 5:51 AM on August 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Getting paid and getting real work
posted by greta simone at 5:58 AM on August 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

I've never had good work experience (as we used to call it here in the UK) but I will tell you what could have made it better: to have left the experience having a full understanding of how the business works (how the departments connect to each other), how the business exists amongst other businesses (suppliers, distributors - the external chain that exists to make the business function) and exactly what the role of an X is in your company. What is my first priority as an X when I get in each morning?

It would be nice to have the chance to shadow other people and be given the opportunity to 'choose' the sort of role I would prefer (after a few days/weeks) and to spend more of my time doing that.

Perhaps giving them the chance to have some sort of input would be a great idea so they can put that on their CV/Resume as an example. That comes in very handy when you don't have real world job experience and you want to get a foot in the door.
posted by ihaveyourfoot at 5:59 AM on August 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Getting a byline (or equivalent).
posted by frantumaglia at 6:59 AM on August 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My company has a very well-regarded internship program, and I've had interns through the program for the past three years. Here's what (I believe) works for us:

1. Treat the interns like employees. This means they get paid a living wage (entry-level, but basically the same as what our New Graduate program pays in the first year) and are given real work.
2. Mentorship programs. I am my intern's boss, but she has a mentor who she can go to and discuss anything, including how I'm treating her as a boss and whether she's getting work that will help her in her future career.
3. Paying attention to the intern's goals. Last year, I had two interns; one who was interested in my field, and another who joined in order to round out the program (we didn't have as many interns show up for other positions as we budgeted for in the program, so they brought her on board) who was more interested in finance. So I made this an opportunity to align the work she did for me with the finance department as often as possible, and set her up with a mentor in finance, as well.
4. A clear path to employment. One of the questions we, as bosses, get every year is whether we'd hire our interns as New Graduates the year they graduate, and we're encouraged to find the budget to do so. This means the internship is (partly) a grooming program for new employees who will join us in about a year, meaning we want to train them to be ready to hit the ground running once they join the firm.
5. Resume and skill-building project work. I try to find some things that will help my interns gain employment (if we don't or can't hire them post-graduation) by rounding out the day-to-day work with things that could come in handy. This year, I had my intern take HTML and CSS courses, and I taught an introduction to video editing software that a lot of the other interns absolutely loved.

So that's it! Pay your interns, get them ready for work, and give them real work to do.
posted by xingcat at 7:04 AM on August 1, 2015 [4 favorites]

Give them feedback, both positive and negative. Bear in mind this is truly a learning experience for them, and one of the greatest kindnesses you can do in addition to all the above is to let them know when they're doing something well. Conversely, when they're really mucking things up give them a chance to problem-solve and then go over the work with them.

Help them to create some sort of portfolio of their work. They may be so busy frantically trying to do things that they forget to record their work.
posted by kinetic at 7:24 AM on August 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

We have lots of interns come through our office, too. We always try to schedule a "fun day" (whether it's fun or not, I don't know), where all the interns as a group tour everyone's offices, learn what everyone does, ask questions, listen to short presentations, etc. We feel like this is important to their learning about the wider industry, meeting contacts, all that good stuff. We also encourage regular intern lunches, so that they all can learn from each other, theoretically. Or possibly just go out for some daytime drinking and talking smack about the company. Regardless, we still think it prepares them for the working world.
posted by backwards compatible at 8:37 AM on August 1, 2015

Pay them. Pay them pay them pay them. Unpaid internships are exploitive, classist, and all around terrible.

(Unless they're getting course credit, but even then, a stipend would be a nice touch).
posted by Itaxpica at 8:37 AM on August 1, 2015 [6 favorites]

I work for an airline and our interns get full flight benefits for the 3 months that they work here, maybe extending a few months past, too. If your company has a benefit that all your employees love (gym membership? subsidized cafeteria? etc) then let the interns have that too.
posted by CathyG at 9:28 AM on August 1, 2015

I was paid (and got class credit). This enabled me to work the hours I needed to work without worrying about student loans or my on-campus jobs.

The department in which I was housed made an effort to integrate me into the broader organization by setting up formal meetings with the head of the organization as well as department heads in every department. This helped me to understand how the departments worked together (or didn't!) and it helped the departments understand who I was when they saw me in the hallway.

They tailored the internship, within the confines possible, to my interests. They normally would not have been able to do so, so I doubly appreciated that they bent their normal workflow. It benefited them as much as me in the end.

The projects I took part in were meaningful and something public which I could point to after I left--but they also took the time to explain how the projects connected to the broader work of the department and how the projects would benefit them.

I took part in the social events of the department. I was invited (and encouraged to go) to the department lunches and the potlucks and the socials.
posted by librarylis at 10:29 AM on August 1, 2015

Best answer: We don't have interns, exactly, but we do have people in student status before their formal qualification to do the job. We try to run that like an internship program so they have a head start once they've passed their qualification boards. Feedback from them and their future managers has included:

Have a concrete list of basic skills, some common, some more infrequently-used that you would expect every new hire employee to have familiarity with. Give it to them as a checklist to get signed off by a supervisor at some point. In one sense, this "gamifies" the process - everyone wants to get their card completely signed off. It also standardizes what the person's first supervisor after qualification can expect them to know how to do already (to some extent - it doesn't mean they're good at it.) Encourage supervisors to not just sign off did it/didn't do it, but to have meaningful discussions about the work - what would you have done differently? What if factor A had instead been B, how do you think that would change things? The checklist model also somewhat prevents supervisors from "locking them in the basement" exclusively doing the one menial shitty thing that nobody else wants to do. (Number one complaint) They have to get a chance to do everything. Hold your supervisors responsible for making that happen, even if it means they have to lend out their intern to someone else.

As much as practical, let them follow a project to completion. Instead of tying them to an area putting a million door handles on Toyotas, let them follow one Toyota from start to finish, trying out the necessary tasks along the way.

Get completed work from them. That is, not just a rough draft and then give it to a "real" employee to smooth out. They do the corrections until it's done, so they can see what the real product looks like.

Job shadowing: let them follow someone with a broader perspective for a day. We have them hang out with division and department heads going about their normal day-to-day business and meetings. Many of the div/dept heads are really good about involving the new person in the background of the hard decisions and judgment calls they have to make. What would you decide? Ok, but also here's a complication. (Obviously, we have to kick them out for sensitive personnel stuff, but we really limit that as much as possible.) It really gives them a sense that a) it's not as easy or black and white as it looks, b) nobody's evil, they're all just people trying their best to do the right thing, and c) how the lower level jobs fit into the organizational vision and end product. We get raves in the feedback about this.

Some of these things are difficult, and can make the intern seem like more of an extra burden than a help sometimes. That's what it's supposed to be though. They're not a regular employee or free labor, they're a student. It's part of the deal that you have to spend some effort on them, and it pays off in the long run.
posted by ctmf at 2:38 PM on August 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

Real work. Getting paid. Resume review. Recommendations of jobs that might look interesting to the interns after the internships. Going over how to do a job interview. Ideally, looking out for your interns in the hopes that their next position is not another internship, but a real life paying job with benefits. Regular meetings are also good.
posted by Toddles at 10:26 PM on August 1, 2015

Nthing getting paid and real work. When I was in college, I interned at Advertising Age and it was awesome for exactly those reasons. My first day on the job, I was assigned a story to write for the following week's issue. First thing in the morning on Day 2, I was out interviewing the president of an advertising agency for said story. (Why yes, I was terrified - but he was very nice and even sent me a thank-you note after the story ran.) Granted, I got to cover some of the more fun events, but I was pretty much doing the same work as the regular reporters. (That included staying late on deadline day until my article was cleared to go by the copy editors.) It's still one of the best work experiences I've ever had.
posted by SisterHavana at 2:00 AM on August 2, 2015

Best answer: Feedback. Not just day-to-day, but some sort of formal performance review as well. I found that my friends in formal, structured, well-paid programs (finance, consulting, tech) usually got this and people in anything else (nonprofits, arts, etc) rarely did. It's scary from the intern's end, but makes one's first review at a Real Job seems much less scary afterwards in addition to providing legitimately useful information.

Consider that if you don't feel like you have enough information on an intern for a performance review, you likely have 1) inadequate supervision (I'd say one person should manage no more than two interns and should expect to give them the same amount of supervision and training as an entry level employee), and/or 2) inadequate work (are they being challenged?).

I completed four stellar internships in the past three years, a mix of paid and unpaid, and I would say that supervision and mentorship is absolutely how the best ones stood out. It's also kind of a prerequisite for Legitimate Work (because you're not going to give someone inexperienced something important to do without checks and supervision, right?).
posted by R a c h e l at 7:13 AM on August 3, 2015

I would also say that the tenure of many of your interns sounds a bit short for really getting integrated in the firm. I always did three months minimum (full time, during the summer, funded at least enough to pay the rent) and I'm still at my longest where I've been since last October (part time, during school; paid is less important to if I think of it as another class though this one is, including some benefits).
posted by R a c h e l at 7:19 AM on August 3, 2015

Best answer: Late to this one, but came to say offer some kind of training. They should come out of it with skills they didn't have going in; which they should have some say in developing.

It doesn't need to be really slick and formal, and it should be wider than the scope of their job, with them having a lot of choice in it.

It could just be a booklet or an intranet site with a list of people who are good at things and can offer some quick pointers.

For example; I used to run training sessions when I knew I'd have an hour spare for interns in another department. They had a lot of say in what we covered, but it included Excel tips and a quick overview on my role etc. I guess it was halfway between mentorship and training in a way.
posted by chrispy108 at 2:29 PM on August 7, 2015

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