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What should you know before starting an internship program?

Do's and Don't of Interns

We have worked hard to develop our internship program at eyespeak. We launched our program in June 2010 with three interns and spent the next 3 months trying very hard to iron out all the kinks. (Of which there were MANY). Our first three interns, Anna, Jordan, and Michael, were very gracious as we tried to create a program that was more than just getting coffee and making copies.

What You Should Know about Interns

You need to know these thing to have a successful internship program:

  1. Interns are not helpless, they only lack experience. It was clear during our interview process that we wanted interns that could think for themselves, brought a little bit of "spunk" to their work, and were a good cultural fit. We decided that we would treat interns as beginner employees instead of helpless college kids. We judged our interns based on this criteria before starting any of them. We cut a lot of really cool people, but if we didn't think they could eventually be good employees they didn't make the cut.
  2. Interns should be monitored, but not micromanaged. These are beginners. We decided that we would allow them some room to operate within a set of boundaries. Early on in their internships the boundaries were pretty tight. We weren't standing over their shoulders, but they weren't allowed to publish anything without review or take it upon themselves to contact a client when an issue arose. As they developed the boundaries were relaxed.

    It was important for us not to micromanage the interns. We gave them a wide range of options within the boundaries so as not to stifle their creativity. The managemet came at the end of the creative process when we reviewed their work before publication.

  3. Interns are scared. Pretty much all internships are different from ours. We recognized this and planned for a little fear. This was probably the first experience many of these kids would have with a little bit of freedom in a workplace environment. Fear can cause inaction if not monitored. I made it very clear to interns that if they had questions the whole eyespeak team was there to help. This isn't a homework assignment and if you get help it's not cheating.
  4. Interns don't know anything. I don't care what school they go to or how smart they are, interns don't know anything. They know theory, they know fundamentals, but they don't know how it works in practice. The closest thing they have to practice is a group assignment. (See #1). If you have selected your interns correctly then a little coaching and teaching is all they will need to get moving in the right direction. Remember that you have been doing this for YEARS! They have been doing it for DAYS.
  5. Interns know everything. This might seem like a contradiction, but it is not. Interns are way more savvy than you or I were in our college years. They bring a perspective on the world that is valuable. They know EVERYTHING…or they think they do. This is a generation that has been told they can achieve anything they put their minds to. Use this to your advantage. Challenge them with assignments, even if you know they won't get it right. Use this as a teaching moment. Ask them to explain their thought process and then show them yours. Don't underestimate their knowledge, they are more intuitive that you might imagine.

What do you think? What do you think someone should know before starting an internship program?

(Header Image by: Nick.Allen)


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