Guess post by Gemma Hunt Carswell – In his most recent movie release, Robert De Niro plays a 70 year old widower who goes to work as an office intern in a high powered fashion business. This film might be a comedy but with statistics showing that interns are used by almost 97% of large US businesses, an internship can be a serious option for those looking to work their way up the career ladder.
Internships are often taken by younger people who are looking for work experience, learning opportunities and potential job prospects within a particular field. Author Ross Perlin estimates that of the 1.5 million internships filled in the US, roughly half of them are unpaid and this, plus their tender years, can often mean that employers don’t always take them seriously. But failing to treat an intern with the respect and consideration that they deserve can mean that you are not only doing them a disservice, but your company too. Interns can be an asset to any office environment, so here are some tips on how employers can get most from them.
Coming into a fast paced office environment full of older, professional people can be daunting for an intern. Nothing screams ‘undervalued’ like sitting them at a desk and expecting them to get on with it before you’ve even bothered to welcome them into the team. Taking time out to introduce an intern to the staff, explain the businesses core aims and where they’ll fit into that will make their job much clearer and will help them to settle in quickly. If as a manager you don’t have the time to carry this out then be sure to delegate the induction to another senior member of staff.
Sometimes interns will complete a relevant qualification alongside their placement but this isn’t always the case and they will learn solely by being in the office. Remember to schedule relevant training on their behalf and encourage staff to show them the ropes. Despite being inexperienced and lower paid, they are there to learn so don’t shy away from involving them in the fundamental details of the business. Talk to them about what parts of the business they are most interested in and give them the support and encouragement to explore these areas. It’s easy to see interns as hired help but don’t forget that above all else, they are there to learn and develop. If they are working on a low wage then you are also effectively getting very cheap labor so training them so that they can be utilized in all areas of the office will also benefit you and mean you are getting excellent value for your money.
But be patient
Encourage staff to remember that for many interns, this is there first experience of office work and even the most basic of clerical tasks may need explaining to them once or twice. When you have worked in an office environment for several years, simple things like transferring a call or sending a fax become second nature but remember that even you had to be shown how to do this once. It is imperative that staff are patient, friendly and helpful towards an intern otherwise they may feel unable to ask for clarification when it is needed and their work could suffer. Getting impatient or making a big deal out of an innocent mistake could lead to the intern feeling isolated, lonely and really knock their confidence. Ultimately this is no good for anyone.
Treat them as equals
While an intern might be younger and inexperienced, it is important to recognize them as a colleague and not treat them as someone who is beneath you. Get to know them as a person and consider that they might be able to bring a fresh, new perspective and useful ideas to the team. Don’t just disregard them as ‘the intern’ and give them continuous menial tasks – this adds no value to their experience and makes them feel unappreciated. One report looks into a list of things that can make an internship unpleasant and puts being made a scapegoat right up there. An intern can be an easy target when things go wrong but jumping to conclusions and placing the blame on them is the very height of disrespect. On a practical level you should ensure that they have the same uniform, office cover and other employee benefits as the rest of the team – even if they are being paid considerably less. Treat your intern as an equal and you will find that they will be more inclined to work hard for you.
Give them a permanent job
Bringing an intern into your team has a lot of benefits but one of the most useful things it can do is allow you to ‘test drive’ a potential employee before hiring them permanently. If your intern can prove themselves in your office during this trial period then it seems a shame for them to take all of the knowledge and guidance you have taught them and use it elsewhere. So pay particular attention to their progress and if they meet your standards then keep them in mind for future job openings.