By Lauryn Rosinski – Marketing and PR account coordinator
As you can probably imagine, most professionals do not start off their careers by serving as the CEO or executive director of a company. In fact, many professionals are unable to obtain even entry-level jobs without some field experience.
We all have to start somewhere – and for many of us, this means interning at for-profit and nonprofit businesses alike.
Several years ago, I was an intern for the community relations department at Summit County Children Services. I look back fondly on my internship experience at SCCS for two reasons. The first is that SCCS’s vision statement of family preservation and child safety inspired me to work and volunteer with organizations that benefit families and individuals in the Summit County.
And the second reason is that my immediate supervisors treated me with respect, encouraged me to take the lead on projects and, overall, molded me into the communications professional I am today.
Managers play an integral role in the overall success and well-being of an intern. And, since interns can be incredibly beneficial to organizations, it is important that these managers treat interns well.
Here are several ways that employers and supervisors can make positive impacts on their interns.
- Use an intern’s skills to benefit an organization.
Simply using interns to fetch coffee or run errands is mutually disadvantageous for both managers and interns. In the case of interns, they will get burnt out quickly. In the case of managers, they will waste the potential impact interns can have on their organization.
Interns bring unique sets of talents to an organization. Often, they are college students, who are learning current best practices of career areas in their courses. They also have an outside perspective of an organization, which means they can see where organizations are successful and how they can improve.
Interns that use their developed skills and outside perspectives help organizations grow or, at the very least, assist employees and employers in tackling daily obstacles in the workplace. Therefore, managers should encourage interns to contribute to an organization in a substantial way.
- Allow interns the opportunity to take the lead on certain projects.
When I was an intern, my supervisor gave me one large project to run for three months. I had to promote a school supplies donation drive, solicit donations, find volunteers and eventually help distribute the backpacks full of back-to-school equipment.
This experience helped me become a better-rounded professional in the nonprofit, public relations and even event-planning sectors. It also gave my supervisor the chance to plan larger events that involved many partnering organizations in the Summit County area.
Letting an intern take the reins on special projects will not only help them grow, but it will also lighten the workload for managers and employees. No, I am not saying that managers should make interns plan their organization’s biggest fundraising event of the year. However, giving them projects that challenge (not overwhelm) them will benefit them (and maybe even organizations) in the long run.
- Be open to answering questions and having discussions.
Internships are learning processes. Because of this, interns at any organization are bound to have questions about a LOT of things.
During my internship, I asked dozens of questions every single day, from, “Is the nonprofit sector the right fit for me?” to, “So, what do I do when the printer gets jammed?” However, my supervisors were always helping me and assuring me that no question was stupid. Knowing I could approach them helped me better execute tasks that I would not have been able to without their guidance.
When managers are patient with interns and initiate them in open conversations, interns will make fewer mistakes and be more successful workers, both during and after their internships.
- Tell interns what they are doing right – and tell them how they can improve.
Full-time employees are given performance evaluations and peer reviews so that they can perform better in the workplace. Since interns play critical roles in how an organization runs, they should also receive feedback from their superiors.
Since interns are just starting in their industry, it may be easy for managers to tell them how they can improve. Still, managers should not simply lay out a list of everything interns are doing wrong. If a manager were to do this to an employee, they would more than likely quit or put less effort into their work. Interns should be treated the same way.
Providing positive feedback will encourage an intern and help them recognize their strengths. Similarly, giving them constructive criticism will give them the chance to progress.
Positive internship experiences can inspire interns to do their best work. On the other hand, negative internship experiences can deter and discourage them. Overall, managers who recognize the value of interns, engage with them and remember what it was like when they were interns themselves, will help shape better professionals – and, therefore, create a better business world.