Utilizing Interns

How to Best Utilize Your Interns

As a college student, I knew that the goal was to score a full-time position at the agency of your dreams, but to succeed, the small steps come first. Enter: The Life of an Intern. To work your way to the top, you have to start at the bottom (even as a college graduate). But guess what? The bottom isn’t so bad if you work for a company that treats you like an asset instead of an errand boy.

I love working for DEVENEY as an Associate (they don’t even call us interns) because they give me actual work. I feel that my presence is necessary, and that my time is being put to good use.

Below are the top 10 ways to best utilize your company’s interns from the perspective of, well, an intern.

Treat Them with Respect

There’s a saying here in New Orleans: “Be Nice or Leave.” Those are words to live by. The best places to work, including DEVENEY, have at least one thing in common: their employees get along and work well as a team. Keep in mind that people in the workforce will not always be nice—c'est la vie—but if you want your interns to work hard and turn out the best possible work, be nice to them. It feels good to be included, and when you feel good, you do your job well.

Be Clear, Concise and Timely

It is difficult to get to work when you don’t know what you’re working toward or how you’re going to get there. Be patient with your interns – some may still be in school and learning the ropes of the real world. Encourage them to think for themselves, but don’t shoot them down for asking a question about an assignment. After a briefing, send them an email to outline what you discussed. This way, they have in writing what you are expecting from them, how they should attack it efficiently, and when it’s due.

Teach Them What You Wish You’d Known

Interns are constantly learning, and it benefits both you and them to spread your knowledge about the profession, or what you wish you had known when you were their age. DEVENEY assigns “buddies” to all employees as part of a peer mentorship initiative, but they are especially useful for entry-level positions where every day can feel more overwhelming than the next. Make your interns listen, whether they like it or not. It never hurts to impart a little “back in my day…” wisdom.

Ask Them for Advice!

DEVENEY encourages “reverse-mentoring,” or the process by which seasoned employees attempt to learn a little about the ever-changing trends and practices of the younger generation from—you guessed it—the youngins themselves. Take advantage of their knowledge and experience.

Many brands are directly marketing to their age group, but their preferences and interests are constantly changing. Use this fluidity for the benefit of your internal and client relations. Maybe the company Instagram needs a touch-up, ask an intern, chances are they checked theirs less than five minutes ago.

Encourage Team Bonding

Invite your interns to casual lunches, after-work celebrations, or even out for drinks. An internship is an opportunity to get to know professionals in the workforce on more than just a “Hi, my name is…” basis, and it’s an opportunity for employers to get the word out about how great their company is to people who will soon be applying for full-time positions. Every day at the office can be like a networking event (but with less nametags and schmoozing), and a chance for your interns to build their resumes while also building your company’s reputation as a great place to work.

Give Them Real Projects, Not Just Busywork

It’s a waste of everyone’s time to hand out useless work. There is no need to spend your valuable (and billable) time making up assignments for interns who will be able to tell they are made up. Give them a project, or ask them to handle smaller tasks that will make your life easier.

DEVENEY requires all interns to handle the recruitment materials for the next class, providing us with our own concrete project complete with deadlines, deliverables, a timeline, as well as roles and responsibilities. If we don’t work together to get it done, it won’t get done, and that’s a lesson that needs to be learned quickly in any position.

Make Them Answer Their Own Questions (Sometimes)

If your interns learn how to think for themselves, they will turn out better work at a quicker pace. Although you should not receive questions with judgment or a poor temper, encourage interns to use their brains (oh, and Google) before they resort to sending you three emails regarding that question you’ve answered about 1,000 times. Always proof their work for mistakes, but I guarantee they will make less mistakes if they are taught to work for information rather than having it handed to them on a silver platter. Share with them a few examples of good work on the front end so they already have an idea of what you’re looking for. There is no need to reinvent the wheel with each assignment.

Listen to Their Ideas and Opinions

If interns feel like throwaway members of a team, they will not try. When interns aren’t trying, you are paying them to sit around. Plants make better decorative ornaments than people, I promise. Allow your interns to sit in on meetings (when acceptable) and take their ideas and opinions into consideration when deciding on next steps. Sometimes all it takes is one fresh pair of eyes to put a new and valuable spin on a certain element of a project. They will learn from their bad ideas, and you will learn from their good ones.

Require Them to Research! Research! Research!

Full-time employees and team leads do not always have time to devote to compiling information about a competitor or potential client. However, there is nothing like a well-organized overview of a topic to ignite work on a new project and allow employees to hit the ground running. Save yourself the time, and allow your interns to build their knowledge and their portfolios. Some of your best researchers may in fact be your interns. I lost count of the amount of research papers I wrote in college, and I would like to put those skills to use for the benefit of my coworkers. This tip also connects to #7 – the more they are required to research, the more self-sufficient they will become, meaning less emails in your inbox.

Give Them Positive AND Negative Feedback

Finally, let your interns know what they’re doing right and what they’re doing wrong. Some companies are inclined to shower their interns with indifference either due to lack of time (it’s broke, but I don’t have time to fix it) or obliviousness (Interns? We have interns?). It is beneficial to everyone involved to provide all types of feedback, and in a timely and organized manner. Do a first week check-in, a midterm review and a final review. Let your interns know what they did well, and what they could do better next time. Also, don’t be afraid to ask your interns what you can do to help them succeed – treat it like a collaborative performance review. When small things get done right, big things turn out even better.