12 Points for Intern Management Success
If the reality of millennials in the workplace is still not something you are comfortable with, you will likely really get your mind blown by Generation Z, the cohort following Generation Y, naturally—or your next class of interns. This generation is most commonly defined with birth years starting in the mid-1990’s and sometimes early 2000’s. (Don’t focus on the math of this. You will likely cry.)
These neo-digital natives, much like their previous cohort, primarily community by text or voice, while our next gen use video clips, movies or music to communicate—which if you are keeping up with me here means way more mobile and way less desktop/laptop. According to Forbes, in 2015 Generation Z made up 25 percent of the U.S. population, making them a larger cohort than the baby boomers or millennials.
Make no mistake about it: They are taking over.
Despite the technological proficiency they possess, members of Gen Z actually prefer person-to-person contact as opposed to online interaction. As a result of the social media and technology they are accustomed to, Gen Z is well-prepared for a global business environment. Another important note to point out: Gen Z no longer wants just a job. They seek more than that. They want a feeling of fulfillment and excitement in their job that helps move the world forward. They’re eager to be involved in their community and their futures. Before college graduation, they’ll already be out in their world, searching how to take advantage of relevant professional opportunities that will give them experience for the future. They’re hungry for intern/extern experiences—and you’ll likely be the one to give it to them.
How do you go about doing this? Luckily, you’ve got me to help you.
- Create an actual program. Bring them into the fold of your organization. They will rise to your expectations if you include them in your day-to-day. Get involved in the culture—this is your work family for at least a semester, so you should try to bond with your coworkers. We are very loyal to our associates, in fact—to a fault a lot of times. We want you to be happy and successful. Hell, we want everyone to win!
- Define the process and assign a point person. The process for an intern up until this point in their lives is this: Receive syllabus, do work on syllabus, show up to class, endure professor, take notes, test, receive grade, lather, rinse, repeat. If this is not your process in the workplace—which I suspect it isn’t—you have some explaining and training to do. Hold an orientation, teach the software and programs they’ll be using, demonstrate work through examples and templates if available. It’s not a bad idea to orient the intern to the office culture and to your client roster, so they can research the staff and the clients. One of the most valuable items an intern could take away from this process is the networking within your staff they could do while working. Don’t deprive them of that by locking them in a room away from the culture. Envelop them in the culture and watch the personal investment be made. It will make for a much richer experience for them, and they in turn will create much better work for you and your clients.
- Make time for interns. What most people forget about when they enter into a business relationship with an intern is that they require a significant time investment. It takes about half of a manager’s time on the job to teach, triage, edit, manage, direct, counsel and mentor—no small task. Take the time to get to know your interns. They are often working on confidential or sensitive information for you and your clients, so shouldn’t you know them a little at least? Greet them upon arrival, make time for them during the day with check-ins, ask how they are, say “thank you” and “good bye” when they leave. Perhaps even smile at them. They are mostly Gen Y or Gen Z—not aliens, after all.
- Intake goals and exit evaluations. Benchmark, just like you would at a client intake. Create a quick inventory of skills that your associates possess, or audit their experiences to know what you have gotten yourself into and to help measure their growth under your wing. If you don’t have concrete goals and objectives, how do you know if your strategies and tactics were effective? You don’t. At intake we have our associates create a document in our project management system that we call 5x5.
The associate lists five internship goals, five strengths they possess, five weaknesses they perceive about themselves, five ideal contributions they can/will make to the 834 team, and a five-sentence bio. This helps us get to know them and help them meet their goals, boost their strengths, overcome the weaknesses they see in themselves and affirm their intended contributions. We use the bio on their blog contributions and sometimes our website. We can then evaluate at the end to know if their experience was successful.
- Advocate for them. Yep, they think they know everything—but hey, you did too. Real life is a place they’ve only heard about. For sure, they’ll do things that irritate you. They’ll also surprise you, make you hone your own craft, help you improve your process and strategic mindset, and make you question things you haven’t thought about since you started this trade. Ask them to identify stuff they are comfortable doing, and let them have a few confidence-builders to come out of their shell. Then ask for stuff they are super-uncomfortable doing, and toss them into the snake pit to grow their skill set.
- Give them more than they can handle. They’ll likely be too shy to ask for responsibility. The most blown-away in an intern interview I’ve ever been was when the interview committee asked the candidate, “What would you like to do here?” Her reply: “Anything you need me to do.” This person became an intern and friend for life. She went above and beyond—and after she finished one bite of client work, she came back for more and more. This is how trust is built. This is also how you impress the daylights out of your intern by allowing them to shine.
- Mentor them. Realign their expectation of work product. Keep the client in mind—this isn’t school. In fact, we think school is broken in having you do things for a grade—it’s not about your professor; it’s about the client. What he or she needs from you and what worked on your professor to get an “A” are less and less frequently the same thing. They will not understand the context of NOT working for a grade. You have to be their client Sherpa and guide them to the proper work ethic.
- Be patient. Be honest with them about their skill set and their lack of skill set. Be honest with yourself and your ability to actually teach someone something. Remember: You won’t actually recall learning if you have been the doer for quite some time. Examine your process, and pass along your successes and failures. If you are both way off, this is going to be a recipe for disaster. I become a better coach with each intern through our office. You practice, they practice.
- Give them a title and real responsibilities. Of course they can still do the dishes for you, but in addition to this “rite of passage” let them have a title—we call ours Associate—and real responsibilities, just like every other employee. Of course you check their work, make corrections and offer feedback; that is part of this crazy process of managing interns. If you can blur the lines just a little bit, they can have a real experience, produce real work, and invest fully into your company and its mission. We’ve known employers to make up business cards for associates for them to use during their internship. If that’s not in your budget, let them create their own title, edit their job description, and use an e-mail signature that is special to them. The little things matter. If you practice inclusion, they will feel included. And don’t we all just want to feel included?
- Celebrate the successes and the failures. It’s not always going to be rosy. Remember: The intern is still a student, at heart and in mind. There are nuances they don’t yet understand or inherently know about office culture, et cetera. In fact, this is precisely what you are there for—to teach them! Celebrate successes when they occur and, yes, celebrate the failures, too. Right after you get done cussing a blue streak in your office with your door shut, come out—much, much calmer—and dissect the situation with them. What did they learn? What did you learn? How can you fix the problem or eliminate it from happening again? You’ll be shocked at how much this process will teach you, the employer, and how thankful the intern will be to have had the insight that your years of experience bring to the situation. When an intern makes an error— when they find out it is an error—believe me, no one is harder on them at that point then they are. Being an intern is a fragile state: so much potential, so much danger. Save the belittlement and rage for another time; instead, choose to teach a skill, not punish a failure.
- Remember, you were this age once. Close your eyes and remember your 20s. Now, wake the hell up! You are not in college anymore and there is work to do, kids to take care of, dogs to walk, carpools to establish, dinner to make, a house to clean, mortgage to pay, and—oh yeah—more work to do. Recall how long it took you to get to this point in your career, and remember they are just beginning the “American dream” you’re fully saturated in. The intern will not be as serious about certain things as you are, as they have not yet been beaten down into submission by life and are blissfully unaware of all of the darkness of an adult lifestyle. Let them enjoy the ignorance of youth, while coaching them into the abyss that is “grown-up life.” Learn from them, too, through this experience. Be patient and be kind, but above all, be humble and helpful.
- Stay in touch. Keep your former interns in the loop of job opportunities in the area, networking events, cocktail parties and the like. Perhaps even be friends! Stay friendly, though, if you cannot be friends. It doesn’t hurt. After all, you might one day find yourself in a role reversal—you know, where you are not the boss. Wouldn’t you rather start out friendly, with the fond memory of the six things you did above for them to grow their career? We host interns at 834 to grow the profession of public relations. Keeping in touch, a la networking, is a great place to foster our profession, long after the intern has left the building.
Written by Adrienne Wallace, 834 Design & Marketing director and chief digital strategist/head geekette. Adrienne earned her bachelor's and master's degrees from Grand Valley State University, where she’s a professor in Advertising & Public Relations. She’s a current public affairs Ph.D. candidate at Western Michigan University. Adrienne is a social-change leader, Westsider, wife to tech/PR geek Derek DeVries, and mother to rescue pups Walter, Porter and Bosley.