Why “Intern” is Such a Dirty Word and How to Fix it

Posted on November 1, 2013

Something about the word “intern” strikes an uneasy feeling in my gut. It most likely stems from the fact that people make fun of them every chance they get, instantaneously blaming them for every social media blunder that’s ever occurred.

chrysler social media fail


Google finds over 2.8 million webpages when you search “my intern sucks.” Also, here’s an abandoned but hilarious blog about interns who are slightly south of motivated than the average office employee.

But why is interning so taboo? What is it about these ill-fated, faux roles that cause such unease for managers? If all the billionaire Silicon Valley geeks are preaching how cool it is to fail and make mistakes, and interns are notorious for their ability to make mistakes, then shouldn’t they practically be brought on as CEOs-in-training? They only wish.

The problem with internships may lie within the concept itself. Is it time to fix the internship? No, not necessarily. Many companies get it right. Internship programs go wrong when the organization hiring the intern and the intern herself have completely polar expectations of outcomes. Internships are often shortsighted; the intern may be looking for a mentor, wanting to make an immediate impact, and perhaps become an employee (with that organization or somewhere else). Meanwhile, in most situations, the hiring organization simply wants medial tasks completed at a low cost.

Internship programs typically aren’t designed to groom grads into employees; they’re built to fill holes and have short term tasks checked off to help grads transition into the working world. Oh yea, it also “looks good” on paper for the organization. At the same time, grads often have a chip on their shoulder, thinking they’re capable of a lot more than they actually are. That said, there’s a huge disconnect that has to be fixed.

3 Ways to a More Effective Internship Experience:

Give Interns Meaningful Work

Don’t you dare tell me that maintaining records, fetching coffee, and filing paper is a quality learning experience. If your staff is so busy that they can’t make a fucking copy and throw a K-Cup into the company coffee maker, you’ve got bigger issues to tackle. Young people can have more ambition than your top employees, and you need to figure out how to funnel that youthful, glorious energy now. Long-term projects that actually provide value to both the company and the intern will seldom¬†go wrong if the intern is driven and feels like he or she has a purpose. Interns are people too, and they deserve to be kept in the loop just like the rest of the team.public relations intern write press release

On relevancy, be smart when writing your internship job descriptions and ensure your hire is a perfect match, as you would with a Full Time hire. If you researched the candidate beforehand, you should be confident in the intern’s ability to complete projects. Don’t hire a finance major to take over the corporate Facebook Page unless they also write for the school newspaper, dummy.

Pay Interns Well

If you’re giving your interns meaningful, relevant projects to complete, you should be giving them meaningful, relevant paychecks as well. “You get what you pay for” applies to interns too. I say this for a few reasons. For one, there are like moral and ethical reasons blah blah blah… and they’ll be like more motivated and responsible if there’s some kind of collateral blah blah blah. But then, oh yea, there’s that whole legal thing with Fair Labor Standards where you’re supposed to pay people for the work you hire them to do etc., etc.

Treat interns like employees and they’ll act like them. Simple.

Exchange Feedback

Honestly, feedback is one the most underrated things in agency and corporate worlds. When you give feedback to interns on a consistent basis, they gain the knowledge to do their jobs more efficiently and effectively. Now here’s something to think about–when you get feedback from your intern, you can learn how to set better expectations, improve the internship program structure, and determine the types of projects that can and can’t be accomplished. It’s all about alignment, and most likely your program isn’t in it.

Take on your interns and give them something to own and get excited about. Challenge them to break the stereotypes so you don’t have to create your own meme out of them. Internships should be a beneficial experience for everyone involved as long as objectives are clearly established, communication is open, and respect is mutual. Your expectations need to be realistic too; everyone makes mistakes (see below).

Can't blame the intern for this one, buddy.

Can’t blame the intern for this one, big guy.

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