How to Use Interns Effectively
Summer is just around the corner, which means if your office isn’t currently flooded with overly ambitious youngsters, they’ll be there soon. Finally! You’ve been waiting all year to offload some of those more exciting marketing tasks — filing, and balancing trays of caramel macchiatos — on interns! Get excited! Help is on the way!
And for free!
Yeah. Not really. Unfortunately, many companies in the industry still see interns as free labor, and that couldn’t be further from the truth. The reality is, when your company agrees to host an intern, you’re making a commitment to actively mentor that student. Your agency becomes an incubator for their talent and an extension of the classroom.
Here’s how to manage your internship program so it’s mutually beneficial, and rewarding.
- Lawyer Up: Treating interns like slaves isn’t just unethical; it’s against the law. The Department of Labor is really cracking down on unpaid internships, so it wouldn’t hurt to discuss your program with your attorney to ensure it’s in compliance with the law. Make sure your interns are earning college credit in exchange for their time. Be sure to keep their hours reasonable, keep their tasks educational, and keep giving them feedback on their performance. More information about the legal requirements for internships can be found here. Don’t forget to prepare standard paperwork like nondisclosure agreements.
- It’s All About Them: In the not so exact words of John F. Kennedy, don’t ask what your intern can do for your agency, ask what your agency can do for your intern. At the beginning of the internship period, sit down with the intern and discuss his or her goals. What are they trying to accomplish? What skills do they want to develop or grow? How do they like to be managed? How will they be evaluated at the end of the internship? Clarify these expectations early on.
- Have a Point Person: Taking direction from multiple employees is going to get confusing, especially when it comes to prioritizing projects. It’s best to have an internship coordinator to act as the main contact at the agency, who the intern can report to. An internship coordinator can really help with streamlining projects, and supervise the completion. This is also a great opportunity to maybe give a junior staffer some management experience.
- Give Them a Project: It’s easy to delegate random and ad-hoc tasks to interns, but consider actually giving your intern a project to work on throughout the summer. Maybe they can work on building a new media list or do some research on a potential client. What about a draft marketing plan? A press kit? Not only will something constant help avoid downtime, at the end of the term they’ll have something tangible for a portfolio.
- Involve Them: Being an intern isn’t just about learning how to develop work product, it’s also about learning how to function in an office environment. Help your interns understand what’s expected professionally by involving them in meetings, new business pitches and team building activities. Also, ask for their opinions. It will help them gain confidence speaking in meetings and articulating their ideas. And you never know what you can learn from them.
- Pay Them: If you can swing it, consider paying your interns hourly, or at the very least, try to give them a stipend. It shows them that you value their work, and it encourages them to take the internship more seriously. If you can’t pay them, do what you can to show them they’re appreciated and not being taken for granted.
Before you know it, your interns will be returning to school and the summer will be a memory. But if you treat your interns well, you can always take credit for helping someone shape his or her future. And that’s a feeling no one forgets.
Amanda Kane is the President of Game Face PR, a public relations and marketing company in Albuquerque, New Mexico, that works with professional athletes and their agents to develop winning personal branding strategies. Kane’s work in PR has been honored with several Cumbre Awards, and in 2009, New Mexico Business Weekly recognized her on their annual 40 Under 40 list. Foor is President-Elect of the New Mexico chapter of the Public Relations Society of America. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and Mass Communication from the University of New Mexico. To interact with Kane, follow her on Twitter @TheMandiKane