Pay it Forward
As I write this article, I’m sitting next to my own intern. My wide-eyed college student. My protégé.
And while I can still clearly remember the many summers of interning at production studios or the load of stories I wrote — all for free — the pangs of guilt continue to hit me.
But those of us who have paid our dues, honed our skills, and worked our way up to a leadership position must remember that we have so much more to offer these younger versions of ourselves than just minimal pay.
Here are five ways to do well by your newbie.
Assign Tasks That Can Be Included in a Portfolio
Sure, you have a pile of papers that need to be scanned, a stack of business cards that need to be entered into your address book, and a serious email problem. These annoying tasks are the ones you desperately need to hand off — and you should. But don’t forget to mix in some of the juicy stuff that can actually bulk up her resume.
Assignments that include measurable goals, like creating an email campaign to boost sales, can serve her during her next interview. It’s a real number she can write on her resume among all the abstract descriptions of what she “assisted” you with. Or consider allocating a project to her that calls for a finished project, like a collection of social media posts, which can later serve as a visual in her portfolio.
Make Feedback Your Currency
Every once in a while we find those really amazing interns who turn work around faster than we probably can. This type doesn’t usually ask questions and is quite resourceful, meaning you might not even think about offering feedback. These are the people who could really benefit from your notes. Why? Because they’re going to take them and run with them.
Of course, the thought of having to offer feedback on every task may feel stressful. So be sure to schedule a bimonthly or monthly check-in where you go over a few major projects. Clue her in on how her work contributed to the bigger picture. Give her a behind-the-scenes look. Applaud her for where she succeeded and point out where she could do better.
Be a Good Example and Set the Tone
Someone watching your every move can be intimidating, but it can also be motivating. Maybe you’re letting someone in the office take advantage of you. Would you want that for your apprentice? No. So make some decisions, and show her how she should value herself by learning to value yourself.
Be careful not to cross the boundary, either. She needs a leader and not necessarily a friend. Dropping your personal baggage on her or looking to her for validation that you’re a good boss is really confusing to somebody just learning about office culture.
Set a Clear End Date
Interns tend to be young and at least somewhat timid, so it’s easy to accidentally take advantage. One of the most common ways I see this happen is when the employer or organization doesn’t give an intern a clear end date.
A three- to six-month commitment is pretty standard. Some interns may want to stay longer because they have the time and don’t have a full-time job lined up yet. But some don’t know any better and are looking to you to make the first move.
If after six months she hasn’t stated that she has plans to leave, it’s time to have the talk. Don’t lead her on by telling her there may be a full-time job for her soon if there isn’t one. If she seems comfortable and afraid to leave, encourage her to test other waters and broaden her experience. You may have to be the one to push her out of the nest — even if the thought of her leaving kills you.
Make an Introduction and Show Her the Playing Field
When at all possible, introduce your trainee to people who could possibly help her along the way (over email or in person, where applicable). Even just filling her in on who is who in your industry will give her a better understanding of how things work and help her develop an insider’s perspective, which will ultimately give her an edge.
And these people don’t necessarily have to be higher ups. Encourage her to make connections with other interns and assistants. One day they’ll all be climbing the ranks, and the bonds they made in the beginning — when work was tough and gritty — are the kinds that stick.